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|Friday, July 10th, 2015|
|Four stories: CD Select
I'm happy to announce the publication of my entry in the new Cemetery Dance Select series of eBooks
. This mini-collection contains the following stories:
- A Murder of Vampires
- Overtoun Bridge
- Centralia Is Still Burning
- What David Was Doing When the Lights Went Out
Plus an afterword by the author (that would be me). These ebooks are a great way to sample a new author, and the price is right, at $2.99. Among the other authors in the first wave
: Kealan Patrick Burke, John R. Little, Lisa Tuttle, Michael Marshall Smith, Kaaron Warren, Lisa Morton, Terry Dowling, Lee Thomas, Jeff Strand, Peter Atkins.
This morning I finished The Loney
by Andrew Michael Hurley, currently only available in a fine limited edition of 300 copies from Tartarus Press. If you've had your ear to the ground, you might have heard mention of it. It was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I respect, and I'm glad I tracked a copy down. Apparently it's getting a wider release this year, and it is most deserving. It's a difficult book to describe, but it has drawn comparisons to Henry James and The Wicker Man
. Moody, with a very strong sense of place. Almost claustrophobic. Mesmerizing writing. I'll be reviewing it at greater length soon, but keep an eye out for this one. It's an impressive debut novel.
|Tuesday, July 7th, 2015|
My new short story "The Bottle of Red Zinfandel" is now available in Sci Phi Journal issue 6
. Electronic and paper copies of this periodical are available.
My essay for Stephen King Revisted on Roadwork
is now available, as is Rich's commentary essay: The First Energy Crisis
.Stanley Kubrick's The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film
, edited by my buddy Danel Olson, got a nice mention by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post
. I haven't seen the book yet, but I hear it's quite spectacular.
The Thriller Awards will be presented at ThrillerFest X in NYC this weekend. My short story "The Honey Trap" is vying with four others in the Best Short Story category. I figure my odds of winning are slim, but it was both an honor and a surprise to be nominated.
The past couple of weeks have been exciting and eventful. As I mentioned last time, my daughter got married in mid-June. However, they elected to have the reception this past weekend instead of immediately after the ceremony, and it was held here in Texas. So we've had lots of people visiting for the big event, which was on Friday evening. Music was by a "small big band" and a Frank Sinatra cover singer. We had fireworks at the end of the evening, too, a prelude for the July 4th celebration.
On Saturday, we took our visitors to the nearby park, where we understood the viewing would be favorable. Afternoon showers passed through, but it was clear and dry at the park and we essentially had front row seats to the fireworks. Our community launched them from two different locations, in sync with each other. We could see the second batch cresting the trees on the other side of the lake, but the primary fireworks went off right in front of us. Lasted 20 minutes—quite a spectacle. The dog with the people sitting near us wasn't quite so impressed, though. It bolted during the grand finale, and I was surprised that its owners were able to recapture it in the darkness.
We watched the World Cup final on Sunday evening, which was thrilling in its own right. No one expected the game to start out the way it did, with four US goals in 16 minutes. The one from mid-field was especially impressive. We were glad Japan got back into the game a little, at least, so it wasn't a total rout. Apparently it was the most-watched soccer match in the US ever.
Less than two weeks until Necon!
|Monday, June 22nd, 2015|
My essay about Firestarter
for Stephen King Revisited
went online a few days ago, along with Rich Chizmar's reminiscences about the book.
I'd be most curious to hear what Thomas Harris thinks of the Hannibal
series. They are doing most interesting things with his stories. It's a mesmerizing series. Truly hypnotic.
I'm going to give Season 2 of True Detectives
a few episodes to see if it picks up, but the first episode wasn't gripping at all, although it had its moments. I've never been a huge fan of either Colin Farrell (too bad he doesn't speak in his normal accent) or Vince Vaughn.
After we left the airport on Thursday, we passed two consecutive intersections that had Tim Hortons restaurants. My wife tuned in CBC Radio 2. But we weren't in Canada—we were in Michigan, driving between Detroit and the northwestern part of the Upper Peninsula, a place called Frankfort and its environs. The reason? Our daughter's wedding, which has been in the planning stage for so long that it seems like it has always been!
It was a small affair. Just the parental units and their attendants. The ceremony took place outside of the famous lighthouse at Point Betsie, which the tour guides say is the second most photographed lighthouse in the US (the first being in Maine).
We kept a wary eye on the weather during the preceding days. Thursday and Friday both showed a 30% chance of rain for the time of the wedding, but luck was with us. It was brisk and a bit breezy, definitely overcast, but not a drop fell. Apparently the conditions were ideal for the photographer because it meant no one was squinting in the sun. The ceremony was followed by a dinner at a nearby restaurant. The reception proper will take place here in Texas in the near future, with a larger contingent present.
It was a terrific weekend. We got to meet our new son-in-law's parents for the first time, and take in a part of the country neither of us had ever seen before. In fact, we're both quite sure neither of us has been to Michigan in the past except when making connections through the Detroit airport. We envision return trips in the future. There are a lot of wineries in the area. Apparently it's at the same latitude as the wine regions of France and California.
On Friday, after the rehearsal dinner, a local told us to watch out for deer as we returned to our hotel. We left the restaurant on Saturday evening at about 9:45, which was still twilight that far north. As we skirted the western coast of Crystal Lake, I remembered that advice, but then I told myself that deer probably wouldn't cross the road here because there was nowhere for them to go on the other side. Just the lake. Not a mile later, I saw out of the corner of my eye something moving fast toward us. A young deer bolted across the road in front of us. I'm not sure we were in danger of hitting it, but I slammed on the brakes all the same, and it zigged and zagged and dashed off into the darkness.
|Wednesday, June 17th, 2015|
|Bill, with the long tail
Bill came calling, but we had plenty of advanced warning. He turned into a tropical storm the other evening. People went crazy, emptying the shelves in the grocery stores, concentrating on water and bread, apparently. I guess they were expecting some sort of apocalyptic event instead of just what we around here affectionately call "showers." Granted, it rained a fair amount, but I think the storm we had on Memorial Day was worse, and that one didn't even merit a name. Some wag on Twitter suggested there were going to be a lot of homemade croutons next week as people tried to figure out what to do with the excess bread.
Even though the center of the storm, now a Tropical Depression instead of a Tropical Storm, has moved well past us, Bill has a long tail, as you can see from the accompanying satellite image. That means the storm is still pulling moisture from the Gulf and occasionally dumping it on us. So there could still be some local street flooding but, for the most part, T.S. Bill was a bit of a fizzle. Not that anyone's complaining. Except the people who bought all that bread.
My short story "The Bottle of Red Zinfandel" will be in issue 6 of SciPhi Journal
, due out soon. Their illustrator, Cat Leonard, did spot illustrations for each story. Here's what she conjured up for mine.
The journal features science fiction stories with a philosophical context and mine contemplates the repercussions of teleportation.
We're into the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica
, after the stunning reveal at the end of the third season: the identities of four of the sleeper cylons. That means there's just one remaining to be revealed. My money is on the cigarette-smoking doctor! I have to say that this is a more sophisticated and complex series that tackles some interesting issues and develops strong character relationships than anything Star Trek
ever managed to do. I still can't believe I overlooked it for so many years.
In learning some basic guitar chords, I have discovered that the lower-E string, the thickest, is more trouble than it's worth much of the time. How many of the major chords require you to skip it? The F, B and D chords sound light-weight to my ear without that lower component, compared to the other chords.
I'm reading Last Words
by Michael Koryta, who I met at Necon last year. Our hero has just been placed unconscious deep inside a cave. When he comes to, he's wearing only his underwear and it's completely dark. Totally. He has no idea where he is (he figures out it's a cave fairly soon) or how to get out. This is very creepy stuff.
|Tuesday, June 9th, 2015|
|Zero Hour: 5 p.m.
I haven't owned a suit since I was in high school. I have a tux that I've worn a couple of times in recent years, but for other occasions, I've relied upon the blazer/dress pants ensemble. Patches on the elbows and everything. However, that won't do for a wedding, so last night we went out and bought me a suit. Two, in fact, since it was buy-one-get-one-free week at the haberdasher (there's a word that's fallen into disuse!). We made a romp of it. Got a lot of laughs from the salesman. At one point, a mustachioed tailor who reminded me of Gepetto sneaked up behind me and took a few rapid measurements with a tape and a piece of chalk.
On a whim, I decided to pick up the guitar and try to learn to play it. After a week, I can now find A, D, E and G without too much trouble and my fingertips are tender. I can also manage C, as well as Emin, Dmin and Amin, although my current favorite is Cadd9. I'm playing around with "Dreamboat Annie" by Heart, but the F chord is a challenge and Fmin even worse. I've strummed the guitar many times over the years—I even taught my daughter to pluck the opening to "Dust in the Wind" once—but it's never stuck with me. Maybe this time will be different.
It's slow going for TV during these summer months, but there are a few interesting shows all the same. I raced through Aquarius
, but was frustrated by its multiple cliff-hangers. Sure hope it gets renewed. Wayward Pines
is intriguing, though strongly reminiscent of The Prisoner. Melissa Leo looks like she's having a great time in it. They've already chewed through a couple of big-name actors. I was recommended The Whispers
, so I watched the first two episodes of that. The only thing it's missing is that creepy girl from Intruders
. It's inspired by a Ray Bradbury short story called "Zero Hour" from The Illustrated Man
that's about six pages long. Murder in the First
returned last night with a bang, an episode that features a Columbine-style duo on a school bus. And Hannibal
is back, that lush, artistic, confounding series that is at least as much style as substance.
On the reading front, I seem to have acquired electronic galleys to a lot of short story collections lately. First I read The Last Drive and Other Stories
by Rex Stout, early stories by the creator of Nero Wolfe, many of them involving golf. Then it was The Complete Crime Stories
by James M. Cain (author of The Postman Always Rings Twice
and Double Indemnity
), though in truth a good many of them aren't crime stories at all. Now it's Charlie Martz and Other Stories
by Elmore Leonard, a short collection of mostly unpublished Leonard stories in which he breaks some of his "10 rules
." For good measure, I'm also reading Pale Grey for Guilt
, the ninth Travis McGee novel. I'm slowly working my way through the McGee books in order at the pace of one or two a year.
|Monday, June 8th, 2015|
I'm thrilled that, over a decade after its release, The Road to the Dark Tower
is still delivering semi-annual royalty checks. The latest, through the end of December 2014, was actually nearly twice as much as the one for the previous six-month period.
I'm told by the publisher, Centipede Press, that The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film
will ship out starting next Monday, June 15.
I'm not sure that John Cusack would have sprung to mind to play Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, but that's who's the older version of the wunderkind in Love & Mercy
, the new biopic that also stars Paul Dano as the pre- and mid-collapse Wilson. Elizabeth Banks is the woman who recognizes the unhealthy control Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) exerts over him. It's an interesting telling of the story, with lots of music. We were particularly fascinated by the bits in the studio where Wilson used the professional studio musicians known as "the Wrecking Crew" to lay down the tracks for Pet Sounds
according to the things he was hearing in his head. (We saw a documentary about the Wrecking Crew several weeks ago.) The vocals were all added later, a process that absolutely baffles me. The film has a few spacey moments, especially in the 1960s section, but Cusack and Banks hold it together even when things are spiraling out of control for Wilson. Dano resembles Wilson more than Cusack does, and Cusack only occasionally attempts some of Wilson's more notable quirks and tics to remind us who he's supposed to be.
I read a bit about Landy after we saw the movie yesterday afternoon, and it's an interesting story. He pretty much saved Wilson's life. Got him off drugs and back to a normal weight, eating healthy, but at some point he took his work to an extreme, monitored Wilson 24/7, took control of his life, his finances, everything, all apparently because he had unfulfilled musical aspirations of his own. Finally a court intervened, stripped him of his medical license in California and banned him from seeing Wilson ever again. However, that wasn't the end of his medical practice. Apparently he moved first to New Mexico and then to Hawaii, where he continued to be a psychotherapist. This was before the age of Google, of course. Giamatti chews up the scenery in a terrible mop-top wig. His Landy seems maniacal.
My wife got me a Doctor Who-themed Monopoly game for my birthday, so we played with our daughter and her fiance on Saturday evening. I think it's the first time I've ever played Monopoly through to completion. Usually someone gets bored and we mutually decide to tally up our assets and quit. This time we had three bankruptcies and my wife was victorious, all in under two hours.
|Monday, June 1st, 2015|
I contributed to the King for a Year blogging site today with my thoughts about Finders Keepers
, which is out tomorrow. I also posted the review that will appear in the next issue of Cemetery Dance magazine at News from the Dead Zone
My wife was away at a conference last weekend, so I watched some things that she wouldn't typically enjoy. On Friday night, I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road
, and I think my synapses are still firing. I decided against the 3D version, but even so it is visually stunning and appealing. I read that one thing they did to keep everything coherent was to put the major action always at the exact center of the screen so that when there's a jump cut the viewer doesn't have to search around. It's an amazingly coherent movie, given how outlandish and chaotic the action is. It's an interesting choice to pull Mad Max into the story against his own volition. He's there more by mischance than design, and he doesn't really have a dog in the race other than to get free and survive. It's definitely one that you'd want to see on the big screen. It's fairly relentless once the action starts, which is about 22 seconds into the film.
I finished Oz
, the HBO series that might be considered the precursor to Orange is the New Black
. Just about every male actor over 40 who's been in a TV series in the past decade was probably in this series at some point. It takes place in a Maximum Security prison. One thing it made me think is that it's a mistake to put prisoners who have committed deliberate acts of violence in with people who have committed "accidental" crimes or non-violent crimes. The through-line character, Beecher, was there because he killed a girl in a DWI accident. During his years of incarceration he is subjected to acts of terrible violence, but is also put in the position of perpetrating them himself.
On Saturday, I binged through the first seven episodes of the third season of Orphan Black
. I really liked the first season, but was so-so on the second season. The third one is better than the second so far, I think. Then I watched the two-hour premiere of Aquarius
, the NBC series about a cop on the trail of Charles Manson. David Duchovny plays the cop. His face seems to have broadened in recent years, and it's mottled, which might be a make-up job to indicate his alcoholic past. My first thought was that a cop who can't find his car keys probably isn't the best guy to go to when your daughter disappears, but the dynamic between him and his partner is good. It's all very 60s flower power hippy dippy summer of love, and not quite as strong a series as I'd hoped, but I see all 12 episodes are available on NBC.com so I'll probably binge through it.
On a recommendation, I also tried out Wayward Pines
, which is this summer's BIG MYSTERY series. It's about a Secret Service agent looking for a couple of missing agents who ends up in the eponymous little town after having a car accident. Except it's a strange, strange town that you can't escape from. The series opens like Lost
, with the eyeball shot pulling back to show the protagonist on his back in a remote location, but it quickly switches to full-on McGoohan's The Prisoner
mode. There's a strong cast (Toby Jones from The Mist
, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, etc.) and a wacky, off-kilter sense of mystery, so I'll probably keep up with it.
My wife and I are in the third season of Battlestar Galactica
. I can't believe I was totally oblivious to this series until now. There were cast members at Comicpalooza last summer, and a full-scale viper, and I walked right past them without even a hint of interest. It's a well done series that tackles a lot of contemporary subjects (war, invading forces, elections where those in the know realize that the populace has made the wrong choice) and has a full slate of fascinating characters.
|Tuesday, May 26th, 2015|
|Glug, glug, glug
It's been raining pretty regularly for the past two weeks around here, but nothing compared with the storm that blew through here on Monday evening. We went out for TCBY at 6:30 and half an hour after we got home, the storm arrived. I don't think we've ever gotten so many calls from the Emergency Weather Service in one evening. It rained solidly until at least 11 pm, and off and on throughout the night. There was probably some hail mixed in, the thunder was loud enough to shake the house, and the lightening was almost constant.
Still, the place where we live is just a tad higher than the surroundings, so while we probably got 4 or 5" of rain, the ditches handled most of it. The yard got soggy, but that happens during most downpours. We heard about flooding a few miles from us, closer to the interstate, where surface streets were impassable, but our streets were clear.
Still, nothing compared to what happened downtown, which was reminiscent of what happened with Tropical Storm Allison a dozen or more years ago. The ground was already saturated, so the bayous filled up and overflowed fast. People attending the Houston Rockets game at the Toyota Center were advised to stay put after the game ended, and many complied, including one of the Rockets players. Some people were still trying to get home at 7 am.
When we got up this morning, we started checking the media to find out about the situation. The first traffic maps we looked at showed a couple of accidents, but nothing serious. They lied! As we dug in deeper, we found out that many of the major roads were way underwater. I saw a picture that looked like a nice, sedate river well within its banks, only to read the caption and see that it was Highway 288, a major Houston artery that runs past the med center down to the gulf coast. There were abandoned cars all over the place, transports stranded in feet of water. Another picture showed water lapping at the undersides of an overpass under which there was normally 13 feet of clearance. Finally we found an accurate map that showed which roads were flooded. Darned near all of them downtown. Fortunately, neither of us had to go into town, so we can go about our business up here, where it's relatively high and dry.
|Tuesday, May 12th, 2015|
|The post has no title, just words and a tune
No drought issues in eastern Texas this year. I've been riding my bike to work lately—it's a little over 2 miles each way, mostly on bike trails—but not this week. Every day on the 10-day forecast except for one has a 30-70% chance of rain, some of it heavy. We've been spared the brutal winds and tornadoes experienced by the northern part of the state, but I'm not biking in this weather. I rolled the dice and won on Friday: when I left the house in the morning it was sprinkling a little and I almost turned back, but I ploughed ahead and managed to not get wet. Ditto on my return trip. I figure anything more than that would be pressing my luck.
We went to see Woman in Gold
on the weekend. The film stars Helen Mirren as a woman who escaped from Austria as WWII was about to begin, leaving behind her parents. The family's apartment was plundered of all of its artwork, most prominent among which was a Klimt painting of her aunt that is adorned in gold foil (hence the title). In the late 1990s, she hires the son (Ryan Reynolds) of a friend to attempt restitution, even though everyone tells her the painting is Austria's Mona Lisa and they'll never get it back. Based on a true story. Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black
plays the younger German-speaking version of Mirren's character. An interesting exploration of Austria's attitude toward the war. Jonathan Pryce has a bit part as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which is where the case ends up at one point. Beautiful Viennese scenery as an added bonus. I visited the city twice in the 1980s.
Last night I read Perdido
, the novel fragment by Peter Straub published by Subterranean Press. I hope someday he finds the time to go back to this story. It has his trademarked unreliable narrator aspect, as well as a mysterious setting (and, only alluded to, two even more mysterious settings beyond). I'd love to see how the performance piece Murder Among Friends
This morning I started Tin Men
by Christopher Golden. It's a near-future military thriller with a fascinating premise. The US is now policing the world with soldiers who are tucked up safe and sound in pods in a bunker while wired up to virtually indestructible robots assigned to foreign lands. Unlike many military thrillers I've read (for example, Tom Clancy, who I eventually gave up in disgust), this isn't a jingoistic story. The US isn't pursuing world peace for altruistic reasons, but rather to further its own agenda. Any border crisis that threatens the US's interests is immediately put down, even if the conflict might have shaken out naturally in the long run. It's a fascinating and refreshing approach to the world stage.
We watched the first two episodes of Grace and Frankie
last night. It's a Netflix original starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin about two couples broken up by divorce when the husbands finally come out of the closet and announce their lifelong love for each other (Martin Sheen and Law & Order's
Sam Waterston). Alas, I think the series' best moment was probably the last part of the first episode, where Tomlin's character is on a vision quest and Fonda's accidentally ingests some of her peyote beverage (worst-tasting iced-tea ever) and they stumble around on the beach while the visions play out. Hilarious and almost impossible to top. "Stop yelling," Tomlin's character says. "You're upsetting the sand." Otherwise it's a bit tedious and boring. Not sure we'll return to it.
|Friday, May 8th, 2015|
For the last four days, I've been proofing "Dead of Winter," the novella that I'll be publishing with a Brian Keene novella in a book to be called Dissonant Harmonies
. I haven't looked at the manuscript for several weeks, so I was able to approach it with fresh eyes, and I was quite pleased. I only found one real typo (a missing "the"), but I made quite a few minor changes and expanded a section that was unclear to my first reader. I also noticed one verbal tic: In a 40,000 word manuscript, there were 175 instances of the word "up." Some of them are legitimate orientational and directional usages, but a lot of things "ended up" or "wound up." A quick skim through the MS searching for " up " allowed me to remove at least twenty of them.
How did I end up here? It's the sort of phrase Osvald Knop (pronounced with a hard K), the senior of my two doctoral advisors, would probably have stopped and scrutinized after he uttered it. What does "up" signify in this context? He was a polyglot born in what is now the Czech Republic who once worked in Linus Pauling's lab. He was around sixty when I first encountered him in a third year undergraduate inorganic chemistry course. He had a strange halting and stammering manner of speaking, the result of a rumored lab incident many years before, that rendered him difficult to understand for many, but I was fascinated by what he had to say, so I listened. He was amazingly au courant about contemporary things, and was one of my few professors who confessed to watching prime time TV shows. When we learned symmetery, he used the letter R as the object that was rotated and inverted and mirrored because it lacks internal symmetery, but has a mirror image in the Russian alphabet: я, pronounced "ya." For the longest time, I thought he was just pronouncing "r" backwards.
I was intrigued by an assignment we did where we had to solve the unit cell dimensions based on a printout of diffraction angles. That was my introduction to crystallography, in 1983. (When I talk to young people who are distraught by not knowing what they want to be when they grow up, I tell them that I didn't even know the field of science that I ended up specializing in existed
until I was 22.) When it came time to choose an Honours Project for my fourth year, I chose Knop because I liked him and remembered that assignment. That project led to my interest in the real world of X-ray crystallography, and I went on to do my PhD with him and another faculty member. I found out today that Ossie Knop died last week at the age of 93. I hadn't seen or heard from him in many, many years, but choosing to work with him set me on a course that defined just about everything in my life that came after. I wouldn't be in Texas if I hadn't liked his class. Wouldn't have met my wife of twenty years. Life's funny that way.
|Saturday, May 2nd, 2015|
|He's still standing
I'm sure everyone has a similar story: the moment they really became aware of popular music as a kid. I grew up in a rural area, far away from record stores. The department stores, small as they were, had record bins, but it wasn't exactly cutting-edge stuff.
Remember K-Tel records? They were to music what Readers Digest Condensed Books are to literature. Songs were brutally trimmed of verses and choruses to cram as many as possible onto an LP. Often there were 10-12 songs on each side of the record. I had one that had "Rocket Man" on one side and "Crocodile Rock" on the other, so it must have been 1972-3. I didn't know anything about Elton John at the time, but those two songs stood out. My brother told me that, yes, "Crocodile Rock" was a good song, but not ten or fifteen times in a row.
The first real LP I ever purchased was his first Greatest Hits album. I quickly became an Elton completist, saving up my money for shopping trips to Moncton, where there were record stores, scouring the bins for rarities like the Friends
soundtrack (with its garish and hideous cover) and early albums like Empty Sky
. I followed his career from that point onward, and was rarely disappointed, although his experiment into disco, "Victim of Love," which my friends and I disparaged as "Victim of Disco," was a low point. Living in eastern Canada, I never thought I'd ever get to see him in concert. I had no idea then that at some point in the future I would be living in the larger world.
Then, in 1984, I spent a couple of months in Oxford, England as part of my graduate studies. I found out soon after I arrived that Elton John would be the headliner at a day-long concert at Wemblay Stadium...the day after I was scheduled to return to Halifax. I immediately went to Heathrow to get my tickets changed (things were so much more complicated back then) and took the bus into London on the day tickets for the "Summer of '84" concert went on sale. The day finally came, the last day of June, and I was crammed into Wemblay with 72,000 other fans from noon until 10 or 10:30 pm. Saw a bunch of great acts that day, including Nik Kershaw, Kool and the Gang, Big Country and Wang Chung, but Elton was definitely the highlight. He played for two-and-a-half hours solid. The concert was simulcast on BBC Radio, and a fellow I met in the lab at Oxford kindly taped it for me and sent it to me after I got back to Canada.
I've seen him a few times since then, including a previous concert at the Woodlands Pavilion, about three miles from my back yard, that was just him and his piano, with Ray Cooper providing percussion support.
My wife and I went to see him at the Pavilion last night. I was on the website the moment tickets went on sale and the best I could do was lawn seats, but that didn't matter. It was a great, cool, clear evening, a near-full moon, and a sea of adoring fans. He came on without benefit of a warm-up band, only a few minutes past the scheduled starting time of 8:00 and he played until 10:30 without intermission. Started with "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding" and continued with three more tracks from "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," including "All the Young Girls Love Alice." (Last year was the album's 40th anniversary.)
The concert was heavy on the hits, but with a catalog like his, he can play for that long and still leave out a bunch of popular songs (He didn't play "Someone Saved My Life Tonight," for example). He played three other songs I've never heard him do in concert before: "Holiday Inn," "Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock & Roll)" and "Hey Ahab," the latter from his duet album with Leon Russell. That song and "Believe" are the only ones that dated from the past twenty years. Everything else was early catalog stuff, but no one minded. He ended with "Crocodile Rock" (see how it all comes full circle?) and the crowd happily supplied all of the falsetto la-la-las. His voice is a bit gruffer and he has changed around some of the melodies so he doesn't have to try to hit some of the high notes, but he was still fantastic, and it's amazing to watch those stubby little fingers do what they do to those ebonies and ivories. His arrangements, especially the extended piano interludes, have changed over the years, giving those old classics new life.
Good, too, to see that drummer Nigel Olson is still with him, dressed like a politician (according to my wife) and Davey Johnston is still making those guitars and mandolins howl. There was an additional keyboard player, a percussionist and a bass player. That six-man band made the place rock. Dude's 68 years old, and he still seems to be enjoying the hell out of himself and those songs, and his longtime fans, of which I am one.
|Friday, April 24th, 2015|
I've been notified that the Cemetery Dance limited edition of The Dark Tower Companion
has been sent to the printer and should ship to customers sometime in July. Furthermore, this is the last week to order and get free shipping within the US.
I went up to Brooklyn on Tuesday for the round-table discussion featuring Stephen & Owen King, and Peter & Emma Straub at St. Francis College. Any time I've gone to NY before, I've always taken a taxi from the airport, but this time, since I had plenty of spare time, I decided to give public transportation a go. I was very pleased by the results. I took the M60 train from the airport to the subway station, where I picked up the Q train that took me to within 0.2 miles of my hotel in Brooklyn, all for a mere $5.75. Then I took a few wrong turns and it took me almost another half hour to actually find my hotel, so there's that. I had better luck on the return trip—it only took five minutes to get from the hotel to the Q station.
I met up with a few people who I know virtually from a Dark Tower message board before the event. Saw Peter and Susan Straub get accused of jumping the line when they went into the lecture hall! (I hear Emma Straub had a hard time getting into the building, too.) I sat with Nick Kaufmann and his wife and a friend of theirs, saw Gina & Jane Osnavich, and met up with Jordan Hahn, King's webmaster, after the event for drinks. I'll write more about the event itself at News from the Dead Zone either today or tomorrow, but it was fun. Video from the event should be available soon, but here are the official photographs
. You can see me near the top right in #101.
On the return flight, I watched Birdman
, which was an interesting experience. My flight had free WiFi for the entertainment system, so I watched it on my iPad. But I didn't bring any earphones, so I watched it with closed-captioning. It's an interesting film, with it's long dolly tracking shots and occasional flights of fancy. Lindsay Duncan was great as the theater critic who resents Hollywood types breathing the lofty Broadway air. It's dark and gloomy, intense, a little depressing, but worth seeing nonetheless. Great, great cast.
Quite impressed with the season finale of The Americans
. The theme seemed to be the burden that constantly telling lies takes on a person. Philip—who seems to be having a crisis of "faith"—felt it, as did their daughter, Paige, whose actions at the end could throw everything into a spin, assuming Pastor Tim doesn't just laugh her off. Reagan's "evil empire" speech was the soundtrack of the episode's closing moments, and the cold war just got a whole lot chillier.
And Grey's Anatomy
. Holy cow. I did not see that coming. Talk about a game changer.
|Monday, April 20th, 2015|
My latest essay, The Wheel of Fortune, is up at Stephen King Revisited
. It puts The Dead Zone
in its historical context.
I picked up a golf club yesterday for the first time in roughly 30 years. The only other time in my life I've "gone golfing," I was a grad student at Dalhousie University. A group of us took a weekday afternoon off and went to a par 3 course near the airport. I was the only one who told my advisor what we were doing. All the others made up excuses. I discovered that I couldn't tee off to save my life, but I was a pretty decent putter. My biggest problem was that I was forced to use right-handed clubs when my natural tendency is to swing left. We had a lot of fun, but I wasn't inspired to take up the sport.
Yesterday, my daughter's fiance and I went to a place called Top Golf. You rent a "booth," which is sort of like a lane at a bowling alley. It's a bit like a driving range, I guess, except it's game-based. The one we picked made use of the half a dozen or so targets in the field that were divided up into rings and segments. You got more points for putting your drive into a ring closer to the flag, and for hitting a farther target. No points at all if you hit it really well, but missed all the targets. I got left-handed clubs, and found that all of a sudden I could hit the ball pretty well. I couldn't bring myself to do a full swing by bringing the club back over my shoulder—I didn't have that much confidence—but I could drive the ball 150 yards or so with a three-quarter swing. It was fun. Might try it again.
We watched a movie called 5 to 7
this weekend. It starred Anton Yelchin, who I first remember from Hearts in Atlantis
and, more recently, as Chekov in the Star Trek
reboot. He plays an aspiring writer living in Manhattan who nails his copious rejection letters to his wall and takes encouragement when an editor hand-writes "sorry" at the bottom of a rejection. He meets a French woman during a smoke break, and things take off from there. The title refers to a euphemism in France for an affair, because during those hours a wayward spouse's whereabouts are generally less certain, but in this woman's case she takes them literally. If the young writer wants to see her, it must be between those hours. Her husband has a mistress. It's all very natural in their culture. The young writer even gets invited to the house to meet the rest of the family and the mistress. His parents are less accepting of the situation, especially his father (a delightful Frank Langella), though his mother (Glenn Close) is rocked on her heels a bit by it, too. It's all very fanciful, but it treats both cultures respectfully. A fun, frilly film.
I've never seen a single episode of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica
before last weekend. I watched the 3-hour miniseries and then went right into season 1. I can see a kinship with its contemporary, Firefly
, especially in the way the cameras track when filming the spaceships from the outside. I'm liking it so far.
One of my favorite shows came to an end last week. It's always a sad moment when I pull up the DVR menu and delete a show from the series recordings listing. I've been watching Justified since day 1
and I've always enjoyed its laconic dialog, fascinating characters and iconic feel. It's a modern-day western mixed with crime fiction, populated by stupid criminals, that had a fantastic, morbid sense of humor. It was Elmore Leonard to the core, and even when it sagged a bit, it was better than anything else on the tube. I knew the end was coming and I dreaded it, but they pulled it off far better than I could have expected. Life doesn't come to an end for the characters just because the show does. Lives go on, just in a different context. I applaud Graham Yost and Olyphant and Goggins and Carter for a terrific send-off to a fine, fine show.
|Monday, April 13th, 2015|
|Stoking the star-maker machinery
We saw a couple of interesting movies this weekend. First was a documentary called The Wrecking Crew
that focused on a group of session musicians who worked on just about every famous album you can think of that was recorded in L.A. in the 1960s. The so-called "crew" wasn't an official name and it was applied to a group of as many as 20 or 30 musicians. I was familiar with the concept of the session musician—Toto was formed from a group of them—but I had no idea how pervasive or influential they were. They were far better musicians than many of the acts they supported. They created riffs that their counterparts in the bands couldn't duplicate. They invented some of the most famous bits of these songs. They appeared on albums by The Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, the Association, Jan & Dean, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Cher, Captain & Tennille, Nat King Cole, The Monkees, The Partridge Family, Elvis, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, and so many more, including Glen Campbell (did you know he played on Elvis and Sinatra albums? Or that he toured with the Beach Boys?), who arose from among their ranks and became a performing musician in his own right. These were the go-to musicians when you needed someone reliable. Some record producers wouldn't book studio time unless they knew certain of them would be available for the session. The documentary was written by the son of one of the best known, Tommy Tedesco. It's not a big budget production, but we came away from it with a better understanding of and appreciation for the music of that era.
Then, on Saturday we went out to the cinema to see Danny Collins
, a film I hadn't even heard of before that day. It stars Al Pacino as a rock star musician who hasn't written a new song in thirty years. He still packs in the audiences, but the crowd is getting noticeably older. He's almost become a lounge lizard, trotting out the same old favorites. Think Barry Manilow. Then one day his manager (Christopher Plummer) tells him that John Lennon had read an interview he did 30 years ago and wrote him a letter, only the letter went to the magazine instead of to him, and it's only just now come to light. It was a personal invitation by Lennon to call him up and talk about the perils of fame (this part of the story is based on a real event). This causes something of a personal crisis for Danny Collins. He sets up camp in a Hilton in NJ (managed by Annette Benning), starts writing songs again, and attempts to right some of his past wrongs. Bobby Cannivale and Jennifer Garner play a couple whose path crosses with his, and they have a delightful but frenetic little daughter. It's a charming movie that upends expectations to a certain extent. The banter between Benning and Pacino is terrific (Benning is utterly charming), and Jennifer Garner's compassion and honesty shine through, too. Plus Pacino seems to be having a blast. He embraces the aging rocker persona and plays it for all its worth.
I finished rewriting a short story and got it out the door this morning. It was originally written for a Canadian anthology where it wasn't accepted, and the new market had certain geographic constraints that meant I had to relocate the setting. There was one specific detail of the original version that I thought was going to play havoc with the move, but it turned out that this detail was also associated with the new location, so I didn't have to uproot it as much as I thought I would. And I was surprised by how delighted I was when I reread it for the first time in a few months. The last paragraph really made me grin. It's a long-shot market, but I'll have other places to send it if it doesn't make the cut.
|Tuesday, April 7th, 2015|
My interview on the Ka-tet podcast, Episode 41 is now live. This link takes you to the index page
rather than straight to the MP3 playing page. It's Dark Tower-oriented with an Australian accent. It contains spoilers, and it lasts for nearly three quarters of an hour.
I received my contributor copies of October Dreams 2
last night. What a beautiful volume. My story is called "The Boy in the White Sheet." I look forward to reading all of the other contributions.
After watching The Imitation Game
, I decided that Alan Turing, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, is a cross between Sherlock (as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch) and Sheldon from Big Bang Theory
. Apparently it's not quite an accurate representation of the man, and there's a substantial controversy surrounding other inaccuracies in the film, but we enjoyed it. I especially liked the director's response to the criticism. He said that this was art: you don't look at Monet's water lilies and expecting to see what water lilies really look like. It's a representation of water lilies, just as this movie is a representation of Turing's life as a code breaker. It's not a documentary.
The first season of Better Call Saul
finished up last night. The series doesn't have the huge dramatic moments that Breaking Bad
did, at least not very often, but it has some terrific character moments. That Bingo game from hell was almost a torment to watch as Jimmy worked though his hurt feelings and anger. Lots of "Easter eggs" from breaking bad, too, including the stories behind some of Saul's anecdotes, like the time he pretended to be Kevin Costner. It'll be interesting to see where they go with it next season, but it seems to me it has a built-in expiration date: the day Walt hires him. Unless, that is, they decide to go off in parallel, because Saul had other things going on besides Walt.
|Monday, March 30th, 2015|
|This is thriller
I received a very nice email late yesterday afternoon advising me that my short story "The Honey Trap," published in the MWA anthology Ice Cold
, edited by Raymond Benson and Jeffery Deaver, had been nominated for a Thriller Award from the International Thriller Writers. This came as quite a surprise, as I hadn't even thought that it would be under consideration. Someone must have recommended it, or perhaps the editors or the MWA made the stories available for consideration. I was very pleased when the story made the cut for this anthology, so now I'm doubly thrilled by this accolade. I don't know yet who the other nominees in the short story category are, but I imagine the competition will be stiff. The winner will be announced at Thillerfest in July.The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film
, edited by Danel Olson, is now available for pre-order
. And a bargain at only $25 for a 752-page volume. It contains essays (including one by me) and cast and crew interviews. In addition, there is a special gallery of alternate film poster art. There are many behind the scenes photographs as well, provided by crew members. An illuminating introduction from acclaimed Oscar-winning writer/director/producer Lee Unkrich ushers the discussion forward, asking why the snowbound story still means so much for pop culture, filmmakers, and us. The book is scheduled to ship in late May, approximately.
I turned in my column for Cemetery Dance issue 73 yesterday. I still have to write my review of Finders Keepers
for that issue. I still have to do a blog post about it for King of the Year, but that's not due until June, and something for Overlook Connection, by which time I should have said everything I have to about the book.
I thought the season finale of The Walking Dead
was a little low-key. Oh, sure, lots of fights and struggles but what did it all come to? I found the scene between Elizabeth and the old woman on The Americans
quite powerful last week, but couldn't help but think that if she'd just stayed downstairs, all of that messiness could have been avoided.
|Wednesday, March 25th, 2015|
|Things I learned from CSI: MoCo
My latest Stephen King Revisited essay went live today. It's called "Only Death Can Keep You from the Finish Line
," and it's about the history of The Long Walk
I went down to Murder By the Book in Houston last night to meet Dan Simmons (photo
) on the first leg of his The Fifth Heart
tour. I've been corresponding with Dan for at least 15 years, but this is the first time we've ever met. I wrote the tribute to him for the souvenir book when he was Grand Master of the World Horror Convention in New Orleans, but alas he was not able to make that meeting. He talked for a while, then read a section from the novel and then answered questions. He's currently working on a book called Omega Canyon that deals with the Manhattan Project and espionage and Richard Feynman.
Our local community has a lunchtime talk every month related to law enforcement and safety. I've gone a few times in the past. Today, the speaker was a local CSI, who explained the reality of the job versus what we see on TV. Most of it was common sense, but a few things surprised me. Luminol, used to detect the presence of blood, something CSIs squirt around on TV like air freshener, is a carcinogen, so they use it sparingly. (The luminol glow also fades within 30 seconds, so they have to act quickly when something is detected or else spray again.) Fingerprints sent to AFIS (or related services) generate a batch of hits that are then returned to the CSI for visual comparison. It's not done automatically by the computer. Our sheriff's department has the only dedicated crime scene reconstruction room in the country. The clay in the ground around here is so heavy that most people attempting to bury bodies give up after 6-12" and just cover the corpse over with debris.
|Monday, March 23rd, 2015|
|What. Did We. Just See?
I did a Skype interview yesterday afternoon for the Ka-tet podcast. My interviewer was located in Australia, so it was Monday morning (quite early) for him. We talked for about 35-40 minutes about many Dark Tower topics. The podcast will be up within a week, I'm told.
This weekend, I worked on a batch of new essays for Stephen King Revisited
. I'm up to Cujo
, which gives me a bit of breathing room since The Stand
(original) is the most recent one posted. I've been struck, while working on this project, by the difference between when a book was written and when it was released. For example, King started working on Cujo
in 1977, before Night Shift
was published. Doubleday books were in the publication queue when he moved to Viking. It's a little bit of cognitive dissonance.
We went to see The Kingsman
on Friday night. It was a very rainy evening. We managed to get from the restaurant to the multiplex between downpours, but we got soaked during our mad dash from the movie theater to the parking garage afterward. What an odd movie. I'm not sure whether it lampoons spy movies or pays tribute to them. The violence is orchestrated to the extent that it's almost ballet or, in one case, disco dancing. The movie cues are hilarious: Pomp and Circumstance playing while peoples' heads explode in puffs of color like fireworks. One part of the film is about a series of tests that recruits have to go through to try to qualify for one open position in the spy agency where all of the members are known by Arthurian nicknames. These are even more grueling than the ones Wesley Crusher had to go through to try to join Starfleet Academy. In parallel, The Kingsmen have to stop a lisping billionaire played by Samuel L. Jackson from decimating the world's population to reduce global warming. My favorite character was Merlin (Mark Strong from Low Winter Sun
and Zero Dark Thirty
). Some of it was so over the top that my mouth gaped, and I had to laugh at other parts, but all in all it was fun. Mind-altering, but fun.
|Friday, March 20th, 2015|
|Spring has sprung
There's never any doubt around here when spring has officially arrived. All of a sudden everything is coated in yellow-green pollen. When I leave work in the afternoon, it streams up my windshield like tiny hailstones. I can see my tire tracks in the driveway, and my tires lay down green prints in the garage. For people with allergies, it hellacious. For everyone else, it's just messy. We've already had a couple of days over 80°. The heavy rain we're expecting over the next couple of days should wash some of the pollen away, but I have no doubt there will be more.
My short story "Groundwood" gets the audio treatment by Nelson W. Pyles at The Wicked Library
today. This is the second time they've adapted one of my stories to audio. Check it out when you have a spare half hour or so. The story is set in the groundwood division of a paper mill, something with which I was very familiar back in the late 70s and early 80s. In those days, students could work in the mill during summer vacation and get the same wage as the regular employees, so it was a great way to earn money for university. Of course, the work was grueling at times, and groundwood was one of my least favorite places. We were generally on call. If a regular didn't feel like showing up for work, he'd call in sick, and then one of us would get the phone call. Often it was the 12 - 8 overnight shift. I used to lie in bed, dreading the sound of the telephone until 11:30 or midnight had passed, especially on a Friday night. Even then, there was a chance that you'd get a call if a worker just didn't show up. I'd have to put on my work clothes and drive the 10 miles to the mill. If you were called in late, the hoppers or magazines would be near empty so you had to work twice as hard to get caught up. If you got into the rhythm, you could fill them up and then take a 30 minute break, so a good shift was 45 minutes of hard labor, a 30 minute break, then another 45 minutes of work and so on throughout the shift. The magazines were one floor above the grinders, which used steam to soften the wood, so it was a hot, dank place. We usually found someplace else to be during the 30 minute break. One time, my coworker on our line climbed onto the roof and went to sleep. Didn't come back. I had to find a foreman to take over, by which time the magazines were pretty much running on empty. Worst shift ever.
"Groundwood" is a zombie story that doesn't have any zombies in it. Well, it does, but they aren't lurching around.
I received my copy of the signed and numbered edition of 25 Years in the Word Mines
by Graham Joyce yesterday. A somewhat poignant arrival. This version has a "chapbook" of extra stories—the slim hardcover companion volume is signed by Owen King (foreword), Kelly Braffet (afterword) and Graham's daughter Ella. Both volumes fit snugly into a slipcase. I look forward to having the chance to read these stories.
|Monday, March 16th, 2015|
Saturday was an unexpectedly nice day. We had a 9 a.m. meeting at the town center and afterward decided to go see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
at a matinee. The old folks are still denizens of this outsourced elder-care hotel in Jaipur, India and life goes on. The owner is getting married and is looking to expand, so he and Maggie Smith go to L.A. to get investors, which means an undercover agent is going to stay with them to evaluate the existing property. These are quaint films that probably grossly underplay what it must really be like to live in India, but charming all the same. The subplots were all pretty good, except for one that was rather silly. It's always good to see Judi Densch and Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy chewing up the screen with a batch of other good actors, including Doctor Who's
Penelope Wilton and some Bollywood stars who put on some energetic and entertaining dance routines. Richard Gere is along for the ride this time, too. Afterward, it was nice enough to sit on the patio at our favorite local pub for a late lunch. I think the pub was taken by surprise by the weather, though, because they were severely understaffed. We didn't mind waiting for our food and drinks, but several groups either left or complained about the slow service.
A new review for The Dark Tower Companion
went up late last week, along with an interview I did with the reviewer
. I seem to be on a run of interviews. I did one for an Italian site last week, this one and then next weekend I'm doing a podcast with a guy from Australia. It'll be 5 a.m. where he is, so that should be interesting! I'm trying to get ahead on a batch of essays for Stephen King Revisited
so I can go back and take another run through my novella to see how it looks after a couple of weeks distance. I also have a CD column due at the end of the month, together with a review for a book that I'm hoping to receive this week. Never a dull moment.
I don't take on new TV series readily these days, but I thought I'd give American Crime
a shot. Good cast tempted me. However, I quit partway through the second episode. I didn't like any of the characters. I generally like Felicity Huffman, but her character is abhorrent. She's supposed to be, but that didn't make her any easier to take. And Timothy Hutton's character, who I guess is supposed to be the audience avatar, is simply dreary.Battle Creek
, on the other hand, is continuing to entertain me. It's a less serious crime show than many that I watch, and I fear that it's destined to be cancelled before long, but I'm enjoying the ride.
I've been hanging in with The Walking Dead
, but I only watch with one eye while I'm doing other things. I'm not even sure I know the name of the character who died this week, but boy was that ever gruesome. It's almost like they're trying to outdo themselves with the gore. My prediction is that the young woman exhibiting PTSD symptoms is going to go Charles Whitman next week, which is going to give "our guys" the excuse they need to take over Alexandria. It's clear they want to, but they can't just go ahead and do it without looking like villains.
It's interesting to see how the stress of the race for $1 million is starting to get to some of the "blind date" couples on The Amazing Race
. The gloves are starting to come off and they're sniping at each other. There's one woman in particular who is nagging her partner's ears off. "I don't want to rehash the problems we had yesterday, but..." I've always wanted to write a short story that takes place during a reality show. I'd been favoring Big Brother
as the template, but I think it would be cool if one of the teammates murdered the other one while on "a race around the world." Just totally lost it and pushed the other person off a bridge or a cliff or a tall building. But that's just me...