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|Monday, May 16th, 2016|
|Fangs for the memories
My featured review of Joe Hill's The Fireman
went live at Cemetery Dance online this morning. The review will also appear in the Hill special double edition of the magazine, together with my interview with the author.
You know it's been raining a lot when the egrets and cranes start looking for fish in the ditches in front of the house...and finding something! I'm not quite sure what the egret found so yummy last night, but it put up a fight. Perhaps a crawfish or a frog. We had pea-sized hail on Saturday afternoon, and it has rained significantly each of the past couple of days and will probably do so for the next few.
We watched a strange and intriguing movie on Saturday night called The Family Fang
. It stars Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman (who also directed) as the children of a couple of performance artists (dad is played by Christopher Walken) who used them as kids in most of their public performances. They filmed the reactions of innocent bystanders to some outlandish behavior to capture the essence of life. Once Child A and Child B grew up and left home, the elder Fangs fell on hard times creatively, and they want to get the kids back in the game again. Child A (Kidman) is an actress who has a reputation for outlandish and unpredictable behavior and Child B (Bateman) had a successful novel and a less than successful sophomore book, and is currently blocked to the extent that he's willing to go on assignment to cover a bunch of rednecks who like to shoot potato guns into cornfields.
The story takes a strange twist when the elder Fangs go missing. Their car is found at a rest stop in a region where a number of people have been murdered in recent years, and there's blood in the car. Kidman is convinced this is another bit of performance art and doesn't take it seriously whereas Bateman is somewhat convinced they may have been murdered because he prefers that to the possibility that their parents want them to think they're dead. In the ensuing weeks, the siblings delve into their pasts and make some discoveries. I'd never heard of the film, but it's quite good. Kidman is spectacular, as usual, Bateman is solid and a fine director, and Walken is, well, pretty much Walken.
|Tuesday, May 10th, 2016|
|And now it can be told
Now that the contract is signed, I am pleased to announce that I will have a short story published in a forthcoming (yet to be determined which) issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
, which has long been one of my dream markets. I already cracked their sibling publication, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
, so I've had my eyes set on this one for some time now.
I was invited to be part of the Literary Track at Comicpalooza
in Houston next month. I'll be sitting on two panels, one on "Horror Explorations in Literature" on Friday afternoon (Lee Thomas and Nate Southard are two of my co-panelists) and one on "Writing in the Thriller Genre" on Sunday afternoon. I'll also have a signing at the Barnes & Noble booth on Friday afternoon immediately after my panel. This is quite a growing concern, this convention. Among the actors who will be attending are Sigourney Weaver, Paul Reiser, Kate Beckinsale, Sean Patrick Flannery, Norman Reedus, Bill Paxton, Tara Reid, Lou Ferrigno, Lennie James, Walter Koenig (!!), Peter Mayhew, and David Prowse. Not to mention the extensive slate of authors, musicians, and people from the comics and gaming worlds. Should be a blast.
We saw Mother's Day
on the weekend, directed by Garry Marshall. OK, so it's not Wuthering Heights
, but we enjoyed it. There were several parallel storylines, some of which interlinked. It stars Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudekis, Kate Hudson, Timothy Olyphant, Margo Martindale, Hector Elizondo, Britt Robertson (Under the Dome
) and others. Lots of preposterous and unlikely situations, but it was fun. The "bloopers" with the closing credits were amusing, too. We got a kick out of the one where Olyphant's character is trapped in a collapsing inflatable backyard slide and Aniston looks to the camera and says, "Justified!" The movie has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score I've ever seen (7% from 98 critics) but it fares better among the general audience. We'd shared a bottle of wine before seeing it, so that may be the recommended approach to it.
|Monday, May 2nd, 2016|
I've probably sunburned most of my body at one time or another in my life. Rarely much of it at the same time. There was the time I forgot to put sunblock on the back of my knees when I was walking around the beaches of France. Or the time I sunburned (severely) the tops of my feet while I was writing my doctoral thesis. Or the time I sunburned my scalp when we were driving around northern California in a convertible. Add to that list my shins, which I managed to sunburn this past weekend.
We spent four days at our favorite beachside getaway, Surfside Beach, which is less than two hours away by car. The place we usually rent is no longer available, so we tried a new rental property, which was quite nice. Centrally located, good view of the beach, nice big outdoor deck—two of them, in fact. After the first day, we limited ourselves mostly to the lower deck, where we were afforded the shade of the upper deck. Although it was hazy (the threatened torrential rains never materialized, thankfully), the sun was still doing what it does best, which is to fricassee exposed flesh.
We treasure these getaway weekends. They're a kind of reboot. The sound of the crashing waves does something for the soul. Plus the chance to be completely off the grid for a few days is rejuvenating, too.
This year I was a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards. The nominees for 2015 were just announced this morning
. Congratulations to all those who made the final cut. I still have a little reading and considering to do as we prepare to vote on the winner. It's been an interesting experience, which has exposed me to a number of works I probably wouldn't have otherwise read.
My latest post at News From the Dead Zone
went up on Friday while we were off the grid. Amazing how that happens. I was greeted by an enormous box on the front porch when we returned. It contains over 1000 sheets of paper needing my signature for a project that has yet to be announced but is really cool, I think. I can't wait to see how it turns out.
A couple of weeks ago we watched an interesting documentary called 1971
. It was about a group of "radicals" who decided to break into an F.B.I. substation in Media, PA and steal every document they could find. Which they did, successfully. They then began to dole the documents out to the media, exposing illegal surveillance activities by the agency and ultimately leading to the first Congressional investigation into the F.B.I. They were never caught, despite an intensive search for the culprits. Now that the statute of limitations is long expired, they are telling their story for the first time. I thought it ended a little abruptly, because I would have liked to have known more about the reactions among their friends and colleagues and family members to the truth coming out. I would also like to have heard a little about any discussions they might have had with the ninth conspirator, who dropped out before the plan was executed, about whether he or she would agree to be named. Still, it is a fascinating look at a moment in time. Interesting, too, how these activists have become more conservative over the years. Also fascinating that The Washington Post was the only one of several involved newspapers that agreed to publish the documents. All the other papers, including the New York Times, turned them back over to the FBI.
|Friday, April 22nd, 2016|
|Patience; the virtue of
You get used to rejection letters after a while; in fact, you even grow to expect them. I know that when I submit something, the odds are about 10:1 in favor of it generating a rejection versus an acceptance. So, when I see a response to a submission, my gut tells me to prepare for the worst.
Last night, I received an email response to a submission that had been out for quite a while. So long, in fact, that I had deemed the submission beyond salvation and I had sent the story to a new market.
The original submission was to one of my "bucket list" markets, one I've been trying to crack for as long as I've been writing. And, lo and behold, the email was not
a rejection but an acceptance. What was the first thing I did (after a brief but energetic happy dance in the living room)? Get on my computer and withdraw the submission from the more recent place I'd sent the story. Happy ending: the editor wasn't the least bit put out that I'd withdrawn the story.
The story in question has an interesting genesis. I originally wrote it for a themed anthology, but it didn't make the cut. So I made a second pass at it and de-themed it, which didn't actually take very much doing. I changed the story's location at the same time. And off it went, 323 days ago. Yes, that's right—the story had been in the queue for about 11 months. In this biz, 3-6 months is the norm.
If the story had been accepted by the original market for which it was written, or to the more recent one that I sent it to, it would have earned 1/8 to 1/4 of what it will make in its new home. But it's not specifically about the money. The story will have far greater visibility in its new home, and that's even more important.
I hadn't read the tale in a while, and my wife had never read it at all, so I read it to her last night. It pleases me immensely that she liked it a lot, and I still like it a lot, too. I'm very proud of it, and I look forward to seeing it in print, though that might take a while.
I haven't received the contract yet. That should take another 30 days or so. I'll announce it more officially once that happens.
|Tuesday, April 19th, 2016|
|A Rancher and a Gentleman
We don't often get snow days here in Southeast Texas, but rain days we get. Yesterday we had the (according to one source) rainiest day ever in the Houston area. Harris County, the county that contains Houston and comes to within a few miles of where I live, received enough rain yesterday alone to fuel Niagara Falls for three and a half days.
The rain started Sunday night, and thunder and lightning occurred throughout the night. When I got up at my usual time and looked out the window from my exercise machine, the water was flowing fast and furious in the ditch out front, and the yard was soggy. Our subdivision must be just a few inches higher than everywhere else around us, though, because we've always been able to withstand these heavy storms (10-12" in one day, apparently) without any threat of flooding. Lots of people in the vicinity weren't so lucky. At least five people died, many in their cars when they were inundated or attempted to drive through standing water. The city came to a standstill. All schools closed. All government agencies closed. The IRS is going to try to extend the deadline for people who waited until the last moment and then couldn't make it to the post office to file returns.
I'm always amazed by how much water is involved. Imagine looking out your front window and seeing six, eight, ten feet of water and then try to figure out how much water that involves everywhere around you to achieve that level! That's what it was like in downtown Houston, which is prone to flooding. Apparently we're going to get more rain today and tomorrow—nothing like what we got yesterday, but with the ground saturated, it probably means more flooding. A lot of schools are still closed today because feeder roads and surface roads are still covered in water in a lot of places, and the rivers and bayous are still rising.
This from a storm that didn't even get a name. It wasn't even a tropical depression.
My wife and I like Sam Elliott, so we decided to give the new Netflix series The Ranch
a try. Elliott is the patriarch, Debra Winger plays his somewhat estranged wife (they live apart but they still hook up regularly), and Ashton Kutcher plays the prodigal son who left to pursue a pro football career but now has to slink back home to small town Colorado and nurse his wounds and ego. The "responsible" brother is played by his That 70s Show
costar Danny Masterson, whose brother Chris I met when I visited the set of Haven
a couple of summers ago.
The humor is fairly sophomoric, but it's Debra Winger who saves the show. Elliott is good, but Winger is the only one who plays it straight. She gets some good, funny lines, but she doesn't play them for laughs, with a deliberate pause for yuks. She delivers them like they're normal, regular dialog, and that works so much better. We're five episodes in (out of ten) and we'll probably watch the rest. Not "must-see" TV but it's okay. Sitcoms seem to have left me behind over the years. The lafftrak on this one gets on my nerves. The only sitcom we watch regularly is The Big Bang Theory
and even that one is starting to wear thin. We also came to realize that sitcoms aren't really binge-able. Two episodes in a row is about our limit.
I'm not at all happy to hear that ABC has decided to not renew Stana Katic's contract for Castle
. I'm hoping it is a ploy to build suspense at the end of the season. Nathan Fillion is fun, but Katic has always been the bigger attraction for me. She's the kind of actor who I enjoy watching when the focus is on another character, because she's always doing something interesting. Not upstaging, but she's present in the scene, not waiting to say her lines. The show won't be the same without her. In fact, I can't think of any way for them to have her leave that maintains the show's premise for another season.
Funny thing—we saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that said "Muir" something or other, which led to a discussion of the TV show The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
, which led to the mutual realization that neither of us had ever seen the 1947 movie on which it is based, so we queued it up on Amazon video last night. The TV show was set in Maine, but the original is on the British coast, with Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders, and a very young Natalie Wood. Tierney is a feminist in 1900, unwilling to let anyone tell her how she should feel or live. The score was by Bernard Herrmann, which lends the movie a Hitchcockian atmosphere. It's not perfect: Mrs. Muir ignores her daughter for huge chunks of time, and it leaps ahead twice at the end to a kind of saccharine finale, but it was pretty good, if you can adapt to the glacial pacing of the era. The "coarse language" (blasted this and blast that) is amusing.
|Tuesday, April 12th, 2016|
|Don't let the fire rush to your head
The previews looked good, and it starred Helen Mirren, a household favorite, so we checked out Eye in the Sky
last weekend. Highly recommended. It's about a covert operation in Kenya where a group of terrorists, including an American and a woman from England, are convening. UK military and intelligence want to capture the woman and take her back to England, so they have operatives on the ground and an American piloted drone in the sky. Circumstances change, causing the various entities to debate launching a Hellfire missile at the compound.
Besides the physical location in Kenya (actually South Africa), there are three distinct silos. Mirren is orchestrating everything from her command bunker. Alan Rickman (in his final role) is acting as military liaison with the British politicians who can decide whether certain things are legal or justifiable. And Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox are in a silo of their own, piloting the drone, analyzing its feedback and targeting the missiles.
The movie is all about collateral damage and risk assessment. How much is allowable given the intelligence on the ground? Barkhad Abdi from Captain Thomas
has some high-tech gadgetry to surveil the compound, but is in a tenuous position. Not since Les Miserables
has so much importance rested on loaves of bread. One would like to hope that the same amount of soul-searching goes on before every strike of this type. I was interested and amused to see the way the two different groups were depicted. The British debated and delayed, passing the buck up the chain of command, unwilling to pull the trigger, whereas the Americans consulted at various points had no compunction about authorizing a strike, almost regardless of the collateral damage. It's a taut thriller that will leave you with plenty to talk about once its over.
Only one episode of Better Call Saul
left, and whoa, are things ever getting intense. The series could equally be called Don't Mess with Mike
. Or Kim, for that matter, as she got one of the series' best scenes when she confronted Chuck. Rhea Seehorn isn't a showy actress, but you can always tell there's a lot going on in her head all the time. There was also a moment early in the episode when Bob Odenkirk almost looked straight into the camera. It was quite disconcerting.
I'm into episode three of The Path
, still not quite sure where it's going to go. I'm intrigued but not 100% hooked.
|Wednesday, April 6th, 2016|
|Stories and stories and stories
Being the judge for a literary award means you have to do a lot of reading. A lot. A lot. A lot. I've been up to my eyeballs in anthologies and short stories for the past few months. Some novelettes, too. But mostly short stories and collections thereof. Easily a thousand short stories.
I won't be sorry when that part of the process is over. The only novel I've read recently is End of Watc
h (how could I not?). I've had a galley of Justin Cronin's City of Mirrors
for over a month and really want to dig into it, but I'm waiting for a time when I can tackle it without interruption. This morning, though, I picked up The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins and tore through the first sixty or seventy pages. It has an interesting structure. One set of chapters is narrated by an alcoholic woman, divorced, prone to blackouts, and another is narrated by a somewhat depressed woman, though the timeframe of her story is a year earlier. It will be interesting to see how it all joins up.
My wife and I binged through 11.22.6
3 last weekend, finishing up last night. This was my second time through the eight episodes, and it was good to refresh my memory of it for my News from the Dead Zone overview
, which went up yesterday at Cemetery Dance Online. I don't have much more to say about the series than I did there, but my wife really enjoyed it. She thought the first episode was okay, not compelling, but it got its hooks into her after that and she was as eager to see the next batch of episodes as I was. She hadn't read the book, so it was good to get her fresh opinion of the adaptation. She was especially pleased with the ending.
I also finished Season 4 of House of Cards
this morning. It was what I've been watching during my weekday exercise regimen. More of the same, more or less. Nothing too earth shattering, but it's always interesting to see where they take the story. I wish they'd found more use for Neve Campbell, but it was terrific to see her again. It took me a while to realize where I knew Governor Conway from—he was played by the Swedish actor who played Holder in the US version of The Killing
Speaking of Swedish actors, my wife had read part of a book called The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
by Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. I stumbled across the movie adaptation on Amazon Prime a couple of weeks ago, so we decided to give it a go. It's about a centenarian who absconds during his birthday party and soon thereafter winds up coming into possession of a suitcase full of money. Hilarity ensues. It's a quirky story, like something Roald Dahl might have written for adults. It has a surprising amount of explicit violence and some absurd coincidences, but it's always interesting to see the sorts of things that other cultures enjoy. The stuff with Albert Einstein's lesser known brother Herbert was particularly amusing. It's the third highest grossing Swedish movie of all time, up there with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
We also watched The Grand Budapest Hotel
, which was a lot different than I thought it was going to be. For some reason I thought it was going to be about shenanigans at the aforementioned hotel, but it was actually more about shenanigans involving the concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and the lobby boy (who grows up to be F. Murray Abraham). It's just as absurd as the Swedish movie, but we liked it. More than I expected we would, in fact.
|Monday, March 28th, 2016|
|The Revolution Starts Now
I was very nervous about that bag of money on this week's episode of Vinyl
. When Richie was playing blackjack, I had a bad feeling. And then it played out the way I thought it might once they went back to the room. Only, in a twist that O. Henry would have loved, the reality was different than Richie allowed his long-time friend to believe. It was a great twist.
We watched a bunch of movies this weekend. Started with Gosford Park
, a murder mystery written by the guy who wrote Downton Abbey
and directed by Robert Altman. You can see where the idea for the dowager countess came from, although Maggie Smith was cattier and nastier in this film. It was also fairly obvious who the murder victim would be: the guy everyone had a motive to kill. Altman's directing style is interesting, especially for big group scenes. Seems chaotic, with multiple people talking at the same time, and yet it also seems real.
Then we watched The Big Short
, and I couldn't help thinking that Steve Earle (pictured), who was so incensed in 2004 that he wrote the energetic album that gives this post its title, along with the memorable song "F the CC," could have written an equally vitriolic album about the 2008 crisis.The Big Short
takes a complicated financial disaster and makes it entertaining. One thing I like about movies of this type (also: Spotlight
) is that they take a scenario where everyone knows the outcome and still manage to make it suspenseful. I liked the movie's conceit of using unlikely people in cameo roles to explain complicated economic concepts. Selena Gomez, for example, explaining synthetic CDOs or Margot Robbie in a bubble bath drinking champagne while she explains mortgage-backed securities. I still have a hard time taking Steve Carell seriously, but he's winning me over. A great ensemble cast and a script that doesn't take itself too seriously, but at the same time dives deep into a serious subject. Highly recommended.
Finally, we saw Like Summer, Like Rain
, a light drama about a young woman played by Leighton Meester who falls on her feet when she gets fired and ends up as a nanny for a 12-year-old musical and mathematical prodigy with a neglectful, mostly absentee mother (Debra Messing). I found some of Meester's characters's decisions toward the end somewhat improbable (where the heck did Idaho come from?), but it's one of those feel-good movies. Bonus points for a small part played by Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day. We also watched the short "One Hundred Eyes," which is the origin story of a character from the Netflix Marco Pol
o series, which returns this summer.
|Monday, March 21st, 2016|
|And Then There Were...
I saw 10 Cloverfield Lane
on the weekend. It's a movie best enjoyed by knowing absolutely nothing about it going in. I was intrigued by the trailer, featuring John Goodman and (to me) a couple of unknown actors. The premise is pretty straightforward: A young woman who's just had a row with her boyfriend is driving through Louisiana when she gets in a wreck. She wakes up in an underground room shackled to the wall with an IV drip in one arm and a jury-rigged cast on one leg.
Okay, so this is Room
redux, right? Not so fast. John Goodman tells her that there's been some sort of event outside this bomb shelter and it could be a year or two before it's safe to venture out. Not to worry. Goodman is a good paranoid conspiracy freak, so he's got everything they need to survive. Just him, her and a neighbor who helped him build the shelter who pushed his way in at the last second. So, the question is: did something happen to the rest of the world, or is this all an elaborate ruse to keep her prisoner? The answers, as they come, are surprising but, mostly, foreshadowed. Or at least the basis is laid for them. On the other hand, not every question is answered. We're left to wonder about Meghan's fate, as well as that of the woman in the photograph. Goodman's performance is compelling.
It's almost like a three-person play, given that the set is limited. Some really good surprises and jolts. And then comes the third act, which starts with a chemical bath and ends with...whoa. Wow-eee. Don't read anything more about it: go see it. You won't be sorry.
We watched the Lifetime version of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None
over the weekend. There have been many adaptations of this classic novel: Original title: 10 Little very-non-PCs
. Renamed 10 Little Also non-PCs
. In this version, they're soldiers, so I guess that's okay. This is the most faithful adaptation with which I'm familiar. Most movies pull the punch at the end. Not so here. Some familiar faces: Miranda Richardson, Sam Neill, Burn Gorman (Torchwood
). If you like a good locked-island mystery and are jonesing for some Downton Abbey
vibe (it's set in 1939), check this out.
I watched the second season of Bosch
on Amazon Prime. The premise is that instead of exploring how cops work on crimes, the series (based on the Michael Connelly novels) looks at how the crimes work on the cops. A pornographer is shot by the side of the interstate—that's the main case. His widow is played by Jeri Ryan. The story pulls in the Armenian mob and a cadre of bad cops. One "problem" with the season is that there's a very recognizable actor playing what seems to be a minor role, so it's apparent early on that he'll figure more into the story. He ends up being the Big Bad, ultimately. It's a minor quibble. The plot involves Bosch's ex-wife (a former profiler who is now a pro gambler) and his teenage daughter, so the stakes are elevated. One of my favorite things about the series is the look of Los Angeles: it looks much more genuine than in anything else on film. Also, a lot of the locations are real and real cops came out to fill in the background in a shootout scene and a police funeral, for example. Titus Welliver (Lost
) plays Bosch: he's a guy who'll do anything to get the job done, even if it's off the books. Especially if it's off the books. Lance Reddick (The Wire
) plays a Deputy Chief whose character I like a lot more in the series than in the books. Good stuff. Definitely binge-worthy.
I guess I should have known that I was straying into Twin Peaks
territory when I cued up Mulholland Drive
but I honestly didn't expect the movie to be so
weird. There's something highly artificial about the way characters look in his movies. Take the couple Naomi Watts meets on her flight to L.A. How creepy do they look when they get into their car after they part company? Rictus grins on their faces. Justin Theroux is virtually unrecognizable as the movie director. My favorite scene, though is the one where Mark Pellegrino plays a hit man who totally botches the job, accidentally shooting someone through the wall and then having to try to clean up that mess, only to create worse messes. It's pretty hilarious. Ultimately, though, I guess I don't get the movie. Not in the sense of it being "one of the greatest films of all time" (according to the British Film Institute).
|Tuesday, March 1st, 2016|
|Having my head examined
So, what's this Dark Tower thing all about, the one that's all over the news today because it's going to start filming in 7 weeks, with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey (some day I'll learn how to spell his name without having to look it up every time) as Roland and the Man in Black respectively? Funny you should ask, as I have a couple of books that might help you out with that: The Road to the Dark Tower
and The Dark Tower Companion
. Both available as trade paperbacks or eBooks.
Today's news is exciting. There's actually a date when filming will begin and confirmation of the casting rumors. The only bummer from my perspective is that the movie is going to be made in South Africa, which means I won't be able to wrangle an invitation to the set because that's a little farther than my travel budget allows!
Of course, there's lots of controversy over the casting, but I'm delighted. I can't wait to see what they do with this massive project. And when you've got cool dudes like this working on it...
Robin Lindzer interviewed me for Suspense Magazin
e, and I even got my name on the cover along with Peter Straub, who is also interviewed in the issue. Cool stuff.
My latest historical context essay is up at Stephen King Revisited. This time I dig deep into the circumstances surrounding Pet Sematary, in a little piece I call A Man's Heart is Stonier.
|Monday, February 29th, 2016|
|And the 'droid goes to
We watched two Academy Award-nominated movies this weekend. On Friday, we saw Bridge of Spies
, starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, the latter the winner of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. I loved Rylance's character's response (perhaps a tad overused) whenever anyone asked him if he was worried. "Would it do any good?" I have an affinity for Berlin Wall stories: that was the setting for my Ice Cold story "The Honey Trap," which was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award last year. I researched Berlin in the early 1960s extensively for that story and watched a movie filmed and set in the era as well (Michael Caine's Funeral in Berlin
). I was in Berlin in 1986 and crossed through Check Point Charlie into East Berlin, where I stayed for nearly two weeks. I'd love to go back to Berlin some day to see how different it is now.Bridge of Spies
was pretty good. Low-level people working behind the scenes to do things that authorized people at higher, more official levels of government couldn't. Also interesting to see the tension between the Soviets and the East Germans during that turbulent period.
On Saturday we saw Room
, the story of a woman who had been kidnapped at seventeen and spent seven years in captivity, living in a shed in her captor's back yard, most of it with her son Jack. The first half of the movie shows their daily routine while in captivity and the second half shows what their lives are like after they are free. Obviously inspired by real events, but it's a brave story all the same because taking on the scope of the emotional impact of this kind of experience is pretty daunting. Brie Larson won the Oscar for Best Actress, but the Canadian kid who plays Jack could have taken home a trophy, too. He was probably only eight when he made the movie, and he's in it a lot. Impressive.
We were amused to see a preview for a new TV series called The Family
starring Joan Allen as the mother of a son who was kidnapped and returns at some point years later. Same as her character in Room
. It's an unusual niche category.
|Wednesday, February 24th, 2016|
|The needle and the damage done
One of the cool things about being a Canadian is that I get a check every year from the Public Lending Right Commission just for having my books in libraries across the country. They do a random polling of 7 locations (for each eligible book) and you get credit based on the number of times it's found. There's a depreciation factor, so you don't get as much for older books over time, but I'm still doing well with The Road to the Dark Tower
a dozen years out. I even get credit for When the Night Comes Down
from Dark Arts books, because I contributed ¼ of the content, which is the minimum amount to be eligible. I've made as much from the PLRC as in royalties for that particular title! Unfortunately, the check arrived when the Canadian dollar is in the sub-basement. Think I'll hold onto it for a few months to see if it rebounds.
I became a US citizen in time to vote in the last Presidential election, but I've never voted in a primary before. The Texas primary is next week (on Super Tuesday), but we went to early voting last Saturday, when the line was small (read: non-existent). There were several referenda on the ballot. I was also surprised by the number of Democrats running for president
. Who are all these people? Star Locke?
I finished my binge rewatch of the X-files, polishing off Season 9 and the 2008 movie and the new Season 10. I'd never seen the movie before. I hear it was a commercial and critical failure, but it wasn't all that bad. I'm glad I refreshed my memory about Reyes so I knew who she was when she returned in the finale of the new season. The last episode was a hot mess. Way too much crammed into way too little time, and not a lot of it made sense. So they managed to shoe-horn in the 2012 prophecy from the end of S9, but I think they should have done a two-hour final instead of cramming all that action into 45 minutes. The mythology episodes were generally the weakest of the lot anyway.
I'd heard good things about Jessica Jones
on Netflix, so I decided to give it a shot next. I'm not a superhero fan, in general. The only movies I've seen in recent years are the Iron Man ones. I know nothing about the character's history. Doesn't matter: this is a decent contemporary noir where the main character (Kristen Ritter from Breaking Bad
) happens to be extraordinarily strong and she can jump from considerable heights. Getting David Tennant as the nefarious nemesis, a guy who can compel people to do things, was a stroke of genius. I especially liked his scene where he negotiated to buy a guy's house without
using his superpower. It was a challenge for the character. I'm only five episodes in, but liking it very much.
I have to confess that I was a naive young man who thought the Neil Young song was about vinyl records being scratched by the tone arm needle! There's a new show on HBO called Vinyl
, starring Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Mick Jagger's son, the Danish actress who was the reporter on Borgen, Olivia Wilde and a host of others. It's set in the seventies, with Cannavale as the head of a failing record company that's about to be bought out by Polygram. He's in a bit of a spiral, falling off the wagon. Oh, and there's also a brutal killing and a building collapse, all in the first episode. Plus Andrew Dice Clay—remember him? And, to top it all off, it's directed by Scorsese and co-written by Mick Jagger. Among the characters we see: Lou Reed, Andy Warhol and, I think, David Bowie, plus a young punk musician who seems like Sid Vicious (played by Jagger's son). There's a lot of jumping around in time, leaving you to figure out when it is based on the state of Cannavale's hair. But I'm enjoying it so far.
Oh, and we saw the Bill Murray movie Rock the Kasbah. My advice: don't.
|Tuesday, February 9th, 2016|
|The Dowager in the Van
I'm interviewed today at the Nerd Girl Power website. The piece is called Every Gunslinger Needs a Companion
We saw The Lady in the Van
this weekend. The obvious pun is that it's a vehicle for Maggie Smith. It's about an old woman who lives in a van that she parks on the street in a residential London neighborhood. She has a colorful past as a pianist, ambulance driver during the war and a nun, but now she's haunted and tormented, as well as crotchety and foul, both of mouth and of bodily odor. She befriends (as much as that is possible) a writer named Alan Bennett, a man who struggles with his sexuality and with his relationship with his mother. He sees the lady as a model for his mother and decides to write about her. The interesting thing the movie does is to split him into two: there is the version of Alan who lives life and observes, and the version who writes about things, and they banter with each other. It's a visually interesting way to show a person talking to himself. The story is mostly true (and one Bennett comments to the other in passing when they put something on the page that didn't really happen), and Maggie Smith first portrayed the woman in the van in the stage version 15 years ago. She's a hoot as this uncouth Dowager Countess. A real delight.
Watched a BBC series called London Spy
, which stars Ben Whishaw from The Hour
(and also from Suffragette
) as a guy who gets romantically entangled with a man who has created something that no one wants publicized. There's sex and murder and intrigue, all in a somewhat leisurely John Le Carré vein. It's five episodes and features the likes of Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Mark Gatiss, as well as a brief appearance by Clarke Peters (The Wire
). Some of it is highly improbable, but it's a compelling drama about families and secrets and the surveillance state.
Speaking of Suffragette
, we finally saw that this weekend, too. It's an interesting story, and I always like Carey Mulligan, but it plods a bit. Hard to believe the state of things just a hundred or so years ago, though. Not only couldn't women vote in the UK, they didn't have any ownership of their children.
I'm up to the "Mulder's back" section of the eighth season of The X-files
. I probably saw these episodes before, but I don't have a very strong memory of them. Also saw the fourth episode of the new season, which was very good. I think someone got the wrong end of the stick last year when they saw the episode title "Home Again" and assumed that the show would be revisiting the "Home" plot. That wasn't it at all. This was a monster-of-the-week episode, but also a very personal one for Scully. Very well done, I thought. People in Philly probably aren't very happy by Mulder's thoughts on their basketball team, though.
|Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016|
|He seemed prett-ty crazy
I posted an update at News from the Dead Zone
yesterday, including the news that Josh Boone is planning to film King's Revival
this year, assuming he can get a studio on board.
I received my contributor copies of the second X-files anthology, The Truth is Out There
, yesterday. One of the super cool things about this book is that the introduction was written by Dean Haglund, who played Langly, the long-haired member of The Lone Gunmen. There's also an audio version available, which I look forward to listening to. It's always interesting to hear someone else read your work.
I've been enjoying the new season of The X-files
. The third episode was hilarious, with all these funny little set pieces and great supporting characters, including the stoners sniffing paint (who appeared in two early X-files episodes), the motel manager and the psychiatrist, who opined that the antipsychotics he'd prescribed for Guy Mann probably wouldn't do much good because he was "pretty crazy." I figured out who the killer was very early, but the banter was great and so was the were-twist.
I finished reading Joe Hill's The Fireman
yesterday morning. I had to tear through it fairly quickly (as quickly as you can tear through a 730-page book) to get my review in to Cemetery Dance for the next issue. This is easily Hill's best novel to date, and I really want to go back and read it again at a more leisurely pace in a few months. My casual reading is going to be pretty sparse for a while as I have a ton of material to read for the Shirley Jackson Awards. The couriers and mail delivery people are probably cursing my name. Every day they bring more boxes of books, and they're really starting to pile up. That's in addition to the electronic books and stories. One intern, I presume, heard the instructions "send out five books to the judges" and took them literally, so I received five copies of one of the submissions, and so did the other judges. When this is all over, I'll take a photograph of the stacks and stacks of books I've received. It's crazy.
We only have one episode of I'll Have What Phil's Having
left, the one in Hong Kong. Last night we watched the Barcelona episode. That's one city I've always wanted to visit, and hearing it described as a cross between Paris and Florence only heightened that desire. One day.
|Monday, January 25th, 2016|
|Still out there
Stephen King Revisited is back for 2016! My historical context essay about Cycle of the Werewolf
(By the Light of the Silvery Moon
) is now live.
Had to go online to watch the first episode of the new X-files because the football game ran long (and the post-game even longer), so my DVR only captured the first 30 minutes. I think that happened to a lot of people. A good start, laying the groundwork for what is to come in the next handful of episodes. It was a little talky, but I like what I saw and I have high hopes. I'm ⅓ of the way through season 7 in my long-term rewatch of the series, something I started when I had the chance to write a story for the second X-files anthology, which comes out in a month
After watching Making of a Murderer
, I heard about an earlier documentary called The Staircase
, in which an Oscar-winning French filmmaker had complete access to the defendant and defense team in the Michael Peterson murder trial in Durham, NC over a decade ago. The victim was found dead at the bottom of a staircase. The prosecution insists she was beaten to death (despite a lack of blood spatter, minimal skull injuries and no weapon), whereas the defense maintained she fell (despite some rather inexplicable injuries). Peterson, a novelist, had written some scathing editorials about local politics that put him in political crosshairs. He had a large, loving, extended family, most of whom supported him (all but one step-daughter), but he comes off as a rather cold, dispassionate man. He didn't testify, so the jury didn't get to see him "in action," which was probably just as well.
There was no implication that evidence was fabricated, as with the Avery case, but there was still some questionable forensics, and then it was discovered that a family friend had died under similar circumstances a number of years before, and the prosecution successfully got that introduced into the trial. That and the fact that Peterson was a bisexual who had hooked up with men while married. The assistant district attorney got a lot of mileage out of that. It's definitely worth watching, especially since it appears there will be a retrial this year. One theory that has arisen over the years is that she was attacked by an owl. Twin Peaks anyone? I also saw a BBC program hosted by Ian Rankin about the documentary in which a number of British crimewriters (including PD James) discuss their fascination with this insight into the American trial system.
|Tuesday, January 19th, 2016|
|One says she's a friend of mine
On July 1, 1994, I was in Atlanta working at a scientific conference. I had driven the company van filled with gear, which was an adventure in its own right. When I got into Louisiana, I encountered torrential rain crossing the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, just about the most severe deluge I'd ever driven in. The bridge is 18 miles long and there's nowhere to pull off, so the freeway traffic traveled at stupid speeds in tight formation and if anyone had made a mistake it would have been a huge accident. When I got to the other end, I pulled into a rest area, in part because my nerves were frazzled and in part because the van was making strange noises. Turns out both rear shocks had broken and were dangling. So I had to find somewhere to get it fixed and fast, because I had to get the equipment to Atlanta the following day. Fortunately it wasn't as big a problem as I feared and I was on the way and into Mississippi before I stopped for the night.
For my return trip, I planned to stop somewhere along the way for the night—it's almost 700 miles—but I was also meeting an electronic pen pal the next afternoon, so I decided to drive all the way through, getting home late that night after over 12 hours on the freeway.
I met my friend at the Hard Rock Cafe in Houston for supper before we went to Rice Stadium to see Melissa Etheridge open for The Eagles on their Hell Freezes Over
tour. It was a great concert and a great day. I didn't see my pen-pal friend again until early the following year, but things moved along quickly after that, and now we have been married for over 20 years. So I have a special place in my heart for The Eagles and was shocked when we saw that Glenn Frey had died. I've always been a fan, bought Hotel California when it was a new record, and I think I own all their albums. But they will forever be linked with the day that I met my future wife face to face for the first time.
We watched a couple of episodes of a Netflix series called I'll Have What Phil's Having
. Phil is Phil Rosenthal, who was a writer on Everyone Loves Raymond
. He travels around the world sampling the cuisine. The first episode is in Tokyo and the last one is in Los Angeles, and features a host of special guests, including Norman Lear, Martin Short, Paul Reiser and Allison. It's fun, light entertainment, and reinforces my belief that Martin Short is one of the funniest humans alive.
I also binged on 11.22.63
—all eight episodes of the forthcoming Hulu series, thanks to a web screener provided by Hulu. I'll be writing previews and reviews in the near future, but I thought it was exceptionally well done. There are a lot of changes to the source material, but they still captured the essence and heart of the story.
|Tuesday, January 5th, 2016|
|Ripped from the headlines
A number of years ago, there was a call from the MWA for a member anthology where the stories all had to feature lawyers. I've had fairly good luck with these books, so I decided to give it a go.
I did a lot of research, and I stumbled upon this trial in Wisconsin where a lot of the proceedings were available as audio files. I read up on the defendant and used his story as general inspiration for my tale. At the time I wrote "The Best Defense," I don't think a verdict had been rendered yet. Maybe it had. I can't recall. My story didn't depend on it, because in my story, very little happened in the court room. It focused primarily on the relationship between the defendant and his public defender. It had nothing to do with the real case at all: this was just the launching point for my fiction.
The story wasn't accepted into the anthology (sad face), but sometime later I read about the Hofstra Law School/Mulholland Books Mystery Writing Competition, and my story fit the bill, so I entered it. Took third place out of over 130 submissions, much to my delight, because the judges were two lawyers and a law school graduate: author Alafair Burke (daughter of James Lee Burke), OJ Simpson prosecutor and author Marcia Clark, and thriller writer Lee Child, creator of Jack Reacher. The second and first place winners were a trial lawyer and a law professor, so I thought I must have done a decent job with the legal angle.
So, I've been hearing a lot about this Netflix documentary series, Making a Murderer
and I finally had some spare time to watch the first episode or two. Imagine my surprise when I heard the name Steven Avery in the opening seconds. I know that name, I thought! This was the case that had been the inspiration for my story. I know a lot about this case...I thought. But I'm still only on episode two, so there may be a lot more to come out than what I got from simply researching the published accounts at the time.
I had a fairly good year reading. Here is my list of works finished, in order and including audiobooks:
- Sunshine on Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
- The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
- Archie in the Crosshairs by Robert Goldsborough
- Texas Vigilante by Bill Crider
- The Death House by Sarah Pinborough
- Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (audio)
- Finders Keepers by Stephen King
- Niceville by Carsten Stroud
- Ireland by Frank Delaney
- Elimination by Ed Gorman
- Tales from the Lake, edited by Joe Mynhardt
- The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl
- Gray Mountain by John Grisham
- Tipperary by Frank Delaney
- Tin Men by Christopher Golden
- Perdido by Peter Straub
- The Last Drive and Other Stories by Rex Stout
- Brothers by Ed Gorman and Richard Chizmar
- Double Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
- The Complete Crime Stories by James M. Cain
- Dry Bones by Craig Johnson
- Pale Gray for Guilt by John D. MacDonald
- Charlie Martz and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard
- Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami
- Last Words by Michael Koryta
- Drunken Fireworks by Stephen King (audio)
- Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
- The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
- The Murderer's Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman
- Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
- The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper by John D. MacDonald
- The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film edited by Danel Olson
- Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay
- Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? by Stephen Dobyns
- The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
- Dress Her in Indigo by John D. MacDonald
- Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay
- The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton
- Zer0es by Chuck Wendig
- The Tomb by F. Paul Wilson
- The Long Lavender Look by John D. MacDonald
- Simple Courage: A True Story of Peril on the Sea by Frank Delaney
- A Tan and Sandy Silence by John D. MacDonald
- Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (Audio)
- Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden
- Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin
- The Crossing by Michael Connelly
- The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
- Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)
- Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
- The Log of the Snark by Charmian Kittredge London
- A Long December by Richard Chizmar
- Interior Darkness by Peter Straub
- The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow
- The Scarlet Ruse by John D. MacDonald
- The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates
- Hap and Leonard by Joe R. Lansdale
- The Last Interview by Ernest Hemingway
- The Turquoise Lament by John D. MacDonald
- The Opium-Eater by David Morrell
- Teaching the Dog to Read by Jonathan Carroll
- The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall
- The Dreadful Lemon Sky by John D. MacDonald
- You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
|Monday, January 4th, 2016|
I received my first copy of the Cemetery Dance limited edition of The Dark Tower Companion
the other day, and it's a beauty. I see that it is out of print from the publisher, which is a nice surprise.
Over the past several days, I read a book my daughter gave me for Christmas . It's called Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
, and it is a delight. It's about a guy who lost his job to the economic downturn who takes a job at the strangest bookstore in San Francisco. It is three stories high, but all one floor, with tall ladders required to access the books on the upper levels. Very few customers, except a group of people who are "members" who come in at odd hours to exchange one volume from the upper levels for another. They're trying to solve a puzzle related to a book from hundreds of years ago. The main character has a lot of spare time on his hands, so he uses his computer to solve the first part of the puzzle, which sets him on the way to the bigger goal. It's a nerdy literary book, with a character who works for Google bringing in all the modern tech tools, an ancient order out of Umberto Eco, a love of literature and puzzles: it has it all. Great fun. The first book I've ever read where the climax is in the form of a PowerPoint presentation.
Didn't stray very far from home over the past week since my last post. We didn't even go out to see any other movies, since none appealed to us. We don't generally watch live TV very often, but we found all sorts of things to entertain us while we visited. We watched the Adele concert and a couple of Christmas specials, plus an Austrian version of The Nutcracker.
A lot of older TV shows don't stand the test of time all that well, but we stumbled upon The Andy Griffith Show
and watched several of them. They're obviously dated, but the show was pretty good, with only a minimum of bumbling and pratfalls and some decent storylines. The best of them have Opie reflecting something bone-headed Andy did.
On New Years Eve, rather than watching the increasingly insufferable countdown shows, we stumbled upon something called Drunk History
on Comedy Central. Drunk comedians and actors recount interesting incidents from American history while other actors and comedians recreate the incidents and lip-sync the drunk person's narrative. It's as hilarious as it sounds, especially when the narrator loses the thread or stumbles over words and the re-enactors have to deal with it. I didn't know most of the narrators, but one was the guy who played Badger on Breaking Bad
and another was Jane Curtain's daughter. Familiar faces popped up in the re-enactments, though, some of them surprising. It was the best way to ring in the new year, I swear.
We watched the twisty-curvy Christmas episode of Sherlock
: The Abominable Bride. Once it was finished, I described it as a Möbius strip. Sherlock2100 goes into his mind palace to try to solve a 19th century crime. Sherlock1880 extrapolates forward to the 21st century, envisioning himself in that era as someone who might create a mind palace to come back to the 19th century to solve a crime. It's enough to put your brain into a knot. There were a ton of touch-points to both the Conan Doyle works and to Sherlock
itself, many of them tongue-in-cheek. It was all highly enjoyable while at the same time highly improbable. It seems to be the setup for what we'll get in the next series in 2017. Did Moriarty kill himself to complete an impossible scheme? Will he be back as "the virus in the data"?
Last night, we watched the first episode of the final run of Downton Abbey
. The course of true love never did run smooth, especially on this show. The best parts were the scenes where Mrs. Padmore is delegated to find out from Mr. Carson what he expects from Mrs. Hughes in their impending marriage. Mrs. Padmore is so embarrassed, she can't even look in Carson's direction. And, finally, the Bates/Anna plot is laid to rest, although Anna (a character I used to like more) can't help but gainsay every good thing Bates claims about their future. It will be interesting to see how they wrap things up. Will the dowager survive the series? Will their be another wedding (or two or three) at the Abbey? Will the show end with everything being auctioned off?
|Tuesday, December 29th, 2015|
|Cinderella builds a better mop
What an unusual Christmas week we had. It was so warm, we had to turn on the air conditioner for a couple of days. There were high temperatures in the eighties and overnight lows in the seventies.
We celebrated a day early, because of family travel reasons. Christmas Day evening we walked through the neighborhood to see all the lights. I think I like these new laser gun star projectors. Plug it in, point it at the house and shazam--lights everywhere. The first time I saw one, I thought it was a net of lights. Then I realized that there were even lights in the surrounding trees. It's a cool effect.
The weather broke on Sunday, dropping thirty degrees during the daytime amid a heavy round of storms. Nothing near as bad as the tornadoes 200 miles to the north in Dallas, or the foot of snow at the panhandle, though. Now it's back to "normal" winter weather, and the heat is on again. We were even able to run the fireplace last night.
We've seen a few movies over the past week or so. We all went to The Force Awakens
last Wednesday, and had managed to avoid all spoilers so it was a thrilling experience. My first observation to my son-in-law and daughter was one that seems to have bothered a lot of people: the number of parallels between it and A New Hope
. I didn't mind them that much; it was just an observation. I really liked Rey. Two of her early scenes stood out. First was the one where she was being mugged for her droid. Finn starts moving toward her to help but sees she has things under control and just shrugs and leaves her to it. Then her insistence that he stop taking her hand. Fiercely independent. Even crusty old Han Solo liked her. I think I know who she's supposed to be, or who we're supposed to believe she is. Looking forward to the next installment.
Yesterday we saw Joy
, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert Deniro and a host of others, including Bradley Cooper. It's about a high school valedictorian whose life is derailed by her family and she spends years toiling in obscurity. She was always creative but stifled. It's built on the base of the Cinderella fairy tale, with camera angles and characters drawn from Roald Dahl, including a mother who almost never gets out of bed. The mother watches soap operas all the time, and a fictional soap opera created for the movie stars all sorts of old soap opera stars, including Donna Mills and Susan Lucci. Joy's home situation is dysfunctional to the max. Her ex-husband lives in the basement and, later, so does her father (DeNiro) after his latest break-up. She has two kids, a "wicked" half-sister (Elizabeth Rohm) and a live-in grandmother, who's the only one who supports her. She gets an idea for a revolutionary invention and meets up with Bradley Cooper, president of the new QVC shopping channel.
It's a difficult movie at times, because the hits just keep on coming and every piece of news comes with an even worse follow-up. Finally, the audience's patience is rewarded with some terrific scenes at the end. This is entirely Lawrence's movie and I can only watch her in awe of her ability to internalize and externalize all this stuff, realizing that she's four years younger than my daughter. I sincerely hope she manages to maintain an even keel in her personal life because she has greatness in her future. Heck, in her present.
Last night we watched the Doctor Who Christmas special, which was fun and entertaining. Lots of great gags with the head in a bag, and the Doctor getting to pretend to see the inside of the TARDIS for the first time. Then we watched Windtalkers
from 2002, the Nicholas Cage movie about the Navajos who learned to communicate over open frequencies to defeat the Japanese in the Pacific. It was a mediocre film, but has some good supporting performances from Mark Ruffalo, Christian Slater and Noah Emerich (The Americans
). Probably would have been better with someone with more acting chops than Cage in the lead role. Even Adam Beach looked good by comparison, and he's a stiff actor at the best of times. Some good battle sequences, though.
|Wednesday, December 16th, 2015|
|Without the Galaxy Trio
It's the gift that keeps on giving. Eleven years after it was first published, The Road to the Dark Tower
continues to sell, and twice a year I get an earnings statement from my agent. These now come with royalty checks, including the one I received yesterday, since the book earned out its advance a while back. I'm always interested in the ratio of physical copies to ebooks, which is about 25:1 over the lifespan of the book.
I hear that the first physical copies of the CD limited edition of The Dark Tower Companion
have been seen in the wild. I haven't received my copies yet, but I expect I will before long.
I sold another short story today. The anthology in which it will appear hasn't been announced yet, so I can only "vague-book" about it, but it's a story I first wrote for another themed anthology that didn't make the cut. I only sent it out once or twice after that, but I like the tale a lot and I'm glad it's going to make it into print in 2016.
Last night we watched Birdman
, the Michael Keaton film. I'd seen it before, but only as an in-flight feature and with subtitles since I didn't have earphones, so it was a little like seeing and hearing it for the first time. It's equally impressive on second viewing. It's a very strange film, with its long tracking shots that essentially make the movie one continuous timestream. Even the nights are shown, though in fast-forward/time-lapse. It makes me wonder what kind of drama goes on backstage (or behind the scenes) on any given theatrical production or movie set. As the actors are interacting, what else is going on in their heads.