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Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 20 most recent ones recorded in bev_vincent's LiveJournal:

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Tuesday, April 12th, 2016
2:41 pm
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
1:37 pm
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 Watch (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 11.22.63 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. movies.

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
4:23 pm
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 Polo series, which returns this summer.
Monday, March 21st, 2016
1:38 pm
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, Fringe) 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
3:45 pm
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 Magazine, 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
11:12 am
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
2:20 pm
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
2:13 pm
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
10:58 am
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
1:49 pm
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
1:04 pm
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
3:46 pm
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:

  1. Sunshine on Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith

  2. The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons

  3. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

  4. Archie in the Crosshairs by Robert Goldsborough

  5. Texas Vigilante by Bill Crider

  6. The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

  7. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (audio)

  8. Finders Keepers by Stephen King

  9. Niceville by Carsten Stroud

  10. Ireland by Frank Delaney

  11. Elimination by Ed Gorman

  12. Tales from the Lake, edited by Joe Mynhardt

  13. The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl

  14. Gray Mountain by John Grisham

  15. Tipperary by Frank Delaney

  16. Tin Men by Christopher Golden

  17. Perdido by Peter Straub

  18. The Last Drive and Other Stories by Rex Stout

  19. Brothers by Ed Gorman and Richard Chizmar

  20. Double Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

  21. The Complete Crime Stories by James M. Cain

  22. Dry Bones by Craig Johnson

  23. Pale Gray for Guilt by John D. MacDonald

  24. Charlie Martz and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard

  25. Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami

  26. Last Words by Michael Koryta

  27. Drunken Fireworks by Stephen King (audio)

  28. Numero Zero by Umberto Eco

  29. The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

  30. The Murderer's Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

  31. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

  32. The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper by John D. MacDonald

  33. The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film edited by Danel Olson

  34. Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay

  35. Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? by Stephen Dobyns

  36. The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

  37. Dress Her in Indigo by John D. MacDonald

  38. Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay

  39. The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton

  40. Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

  41. The Tomb by F. Paul Wilson

  42. The Long Lavender Look by John D. MacDonald

  43. Simple Courage: A True Story of Peril on the Sea by Frank Delaney

  44. A Tan and Sandy Silence by John D. MacDonald

  45. Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (Audio)

  46. Dead Ringers by Christopher Golden

  47. Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin

  48. The Crossing by Michael Connelly

  49. The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

  50. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

  51. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

  52. The Log of the Snark by Charmian Kittredge London

  53. A Long December by Richard Chizmar

  54. Interior Darkness by Peter Straub

  55. The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

  56. The Scarlet Ruse by John D. MacDonald

  57. The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates

  58. Hap and Leonard by Joe R. Lansdale

  59. The Last Interview by Ernest Hemingway

  60. The Turquoise Lament by John D. MacDonald

  61. The Opium-Eater by David Morrell

  62. Teaching the Dog to Read by Jonathan Carroll

  63. The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall

  64. The Dreadful Lemon Sky by John D. MacDonald

  65. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Monday, January 4th, 2016
1:10 pm
Möbius Dick
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
11:10 am
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
1:42 pm
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.
Tuesday, December 15th, 2015
11:56 am
Green Shadows, White Whale
It was a soggy weekend. Mild, but it rained more or less non-stop. Since we aren't caught up in the pre-holidays rush, we took it easy. Thought we'd stay in, but ended up going to our favorite pizza place for supper on Saturday. My wife asked me if there were any movies I wanted to see. There was one, and it started in fifteen minutes. Fortunately, we were only a block from the theater.

I was surprised to learn later that In the Heart of the Sea "flopped" during its opening weekend. It may not be Citizen Kane, but we enjoyed the heck out of it. I thought that some of the matte paintings that formed the background of Nantucket looked stage-y, but once the adventure got out onto the open ocean, everything worked. The whale, when it puts in its appearance, is convincing and terrifying, but there's also the various survivor stories. We came away feeling like we got our money's worth.

The movie is based on the real events that inspired Melville to write Moby-Dick. It has as a framing device Melville calling upon one of the survivors of the Essex, an older man who was but fourteen at the time of the incident. The man is reluctant to speak about his experiences but his wife, some cash and some liquor all conspire to loosen his tongue and he reveals the darkest secrets of that long-ago misadventure. For some strange reason we've been watching and/or reading a lot of nautical adventures lately, so this one played into an ongoing theme.

This was the first time we experienced DBox, those theater chairs that rock you around to enhance the viewing experience. I wondered if we'd be tossed about like ships on the ocean, but the usage was mild and didn't really contribute much. I don't think I'd pay extra for it in the future.

We also watched a Netflix documentary called Chaos on the Bridge. It's a 60-minute documentary written and directed by William Shatner that explores the problems Star Trek: The Next Generation had during the first couple of years of its run. Brian Keene mentioned it as a cautionary tale about the perils of writing for TV, and when you hear how many writers left the show or were fired in the first couple of years, you'll see why. It was a power struggle among massive egos with vastly different visions of what the series should be about, and the show only got on its true course with new blood (including Michael Piller, father of Haven's Shawn Piller) and a better vision in its third season. Nautical connection: Captain Horatio Hornblower—those were the books given to Patrick Stewart when he wanted to know more about his character.

Fargo ended on a solid note. The ties to season 1 crystallized, and the fates of the various characters resolved, though I still wonder if Peggy got her room with a view of San Francisco Bay's pelicans. Some wag offered the opinion that Ted Danson's character invented emojis, which is pretty funny. Was it better than Season 1? I never know how to resolve issues like that, but I think so. It felt more invested in humanity.

Lots of other shows coming to a close soon. The Affair—they're sure trying hard to make us think that Noah was the hit-and-run driver. Why else all those visions on the road? Homeland—it's up to Carrie to save Berlin next week. Haven—the two-hour series finale this week. The Returned—I wonder how much of this convoluted story they can clarify in one more episode. I want to at least know more about Victor/Louis. Where he comes from, what he is, really. Creepy, creepy kid. Survivor—I'll have to work hard to avoid spoilers because I rarely see the show live. And we get a one-off Luther this week, too.

I read a short story collection by Joyce Carol Oates (The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror) and am in the midst of another by Joe R. Lansdale (Hap and Leonard). I also read Ernest Hemingway: The Last Interview, which actually consists of two real interviews and a couple of interview attempts, all of which took place while Hemingway still lived in Cuba. It was interesting to compare some of the things Hemingway said between the two formal interviews. He definitely had pat answers that he delivered in certain contexts, and he was irascible and testy at times, impatient with stupid questions and totally unwilling to discuss writing in any detail. This is the second book in this series that I've read recently (the other was about Ray Bradbury, thus the call-out in this post's title), and they're well worth exploring. This one was only 90 pages and I was able to read it in an evening.

Here are some recent reviews, books that I read during our cruise: Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin, Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith, The Crossing by Michael Connelly, and Dead Wake by Erik  Larson.
Monday, December 7th, 2015
11:12 am
It's all denouement
The Leftovers (HBO) begins where most speculative fiction ends. Once the characters in a horror novel defeat the Big Bad, the story wraps up quickly. You don't often get to spend time with them to see the lasting impact of the experience.

The events of October 14 that are so integral to the story are long over before the show starts. What was behind the sudden departure of 2% of the planet's population at that remarkable instant in time? The show will never answer that question, because that's not what it's about. The characters might seek the answer, but they won't find it.

The big picture question of The Leftovers is: how do individuals and society respond in the face of something inexplicable. The departure isn't apocalyptic. Society isn't decimated and, for the most part, can continue to function as before. Most people know someone who departed, or know someone who knows someone. If you worked in a company with a hundred employees, a couple might have vanished, but business can continue, with a few adjustments. If you worked in a company with ten employees, maybe no one vanished that day.

Owing to the vagaries of randomness, though, there can be clusters. Nora Durst lost her husband and both of her children that day. She was in the kitchen making breakfast and they were at the table in the adjoining room. One minute they were there; the next, they weren't. It's easy to take the event personally when something like that happens.

Then there's a place like Jardine, TX, the only town where absolutely no one vanished. Again, random chance can explain this apparent aberration, but the residents choose to see it as a sign that they're special. People flock to the town to drink the water or see if there's something about the town that can help protect them if the departure happens again. Residents keep doing the same thing they were doing on October 14, like superstitious athletes warding off bad luck.

A lot of people are concerned with identifying the commonality among the departed. The government sets up a questionnaire to look for trends. Did everyone who vanished have blood type B-, for example? The questionnaire is far-ranging, because no one has a clue. It probably wasn't a Biblical rapture, because some of the people who vanished weren't very nice, and some of those who remained behind are. One minister makes it his mission to demonstrate that fact. A lot of people are invested in lending some meaning to the incident. Others are equally determined to show that it had no meaning, and neither does life in general. People go crazy. They commit suicide. They abandon their families and join cults. Some of them realize the inefficacy of the cults and attempt to rejoin their families.

For most people, though, life goes on. Society continues to function. But everyone is a little bit less confident. The ground feels less solid, as if it might disappear from underfoot without warning. There's no denying the departures. It's not like vampires in a small town that are ultimately defeated. As the Season 2 opening credits demonstrate so well, there are a lot of gaps that can't be filled or explained. It happened. Now people have to deal with it, each in his or her own way. It's one of those moments everyone has a story about. Where were you when everyone vanished?

The show doesn't exactly have a through-line. There's no goal. No problem to be solved each season. It's all about the characters. Many of the episodes are more-or-less stand-alones, although dependent upon our understanding of the featured characters. It's a rich world peopled by characters of every type imaginable. The show allows viewers to come to conclusions and doesn't spoon-feed every detail. What exactly was the first fifteen minutes of the first episode of Season 2 about? How did it relate to the rest of the show? You're free to draw your own conclusions. There is no answer.

There are no answers.
Monday, November 30th, 2015
2:18 pm
Moving pictures
I made the best hambone-bean soup yesterday. Normally, I follow recipes to the letter, but in this case I took two different recipes and picked and chose from them. I'm also very strict about using the exact quantities specified (I don't do "dashes" or "pinches"), but I varied some of the quantities, too. I figured it was either going to be a disaster or palatable. Turned out it was really, really good. Probably my best ham soup to date.

It was good soup weather. The long weekend was mostly rainy. The first couple of days were warmer, the last two days less warm. We didn't venture out very much. We're not shoppers, we're hunters, and if it can be purchased online so much the better. But we didn't even do that. We made meals, did some work and watched movies and TV shows.

Thursday was our big movie day. We started with Man Up, a rom-com starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell (who I was astonished to learn after the fact is an American). Bell plays a 30-something who's having a rough go of it with relationships. She's trying to "put herself out there." However, she ends up in an awkward situation when she accidentally steals someone else's blind date (Pegg) and then doesn't fess up for a while. It's a cute story with some agonizingly painful moments (mostly due to Rory Kinnear's character). If we're keeping score, I'd give it a lowish B. Pegg is very watchable, ever so charming and natural.

Then we went out to see Brooklyn, starring Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones) and based on the novel by Colm Tóibín. Ronan plays a girl who emigrates from Ireland to New York, sponsored by the local priest (Jim Broadbent) because she has no prospects for work back in County Wexford. The story takes her across on a ship and gets her installed in a boarding house for similar young girls (run by the delightful Julie Walters). She grows from a diffident and homesick lass into a self-assured, confident young woman after she falls in love with an Italian boy. But then the pull of Ireland rears its head and she's forced to make some difficult choices. For a long time it seemed like the story had no antagonist. She has no nemesis to battle, and most of her relationships are thoroughly benign. It's her against herself for the most part (although there is one evil shrew who pops up from time to time). Ronan is the reason to see this movie. It's a powerful performance. I found myself fascinated by her eyes, which were conspicuously in different forms of dilation in different contexts. A to A-minus.

Then we watched Ashby, starring Nat Wolff (The Fault in our Stars), Mickey Rourke (!!) and Emma Roberts, who looks totally different every time I see her in something. Sarah Silverman has a supporting role that gives her a couple of good zingers but doesn't really challenge her much. Wolff is the new kid in town, and when he's assigned to write a paper by interviewing somebody old, he chooses his next door neighbor, Rourke, who just happens to be a retired CIA hitman. Wolff also tries out for the football team and Roberts' character is conducting a study on the brains of student players, using the CAT scan machine she has in the basement. It's all as ludicrous as it sounds, but it has its moments and I'd put it again in the lowish B category. Check your expectations at the door. Rourke is actually pretty hilarious.

On Friday night we watched Unbroken, Angelina Jolie's movie about the Olympic athlete who is lost at sea for 45 days with two of his fellow soldiers during WWII, only to be "rescued" by the Japanese navy and spend the final two years in a prisoner of war camp. His celebrity and self confidence cause him to be singled out for the worst possible treatment by the particularly nasty leader of the camp. There are no surprises in the movie. It's just one damned thing after another and he endures them all, but it is a triumph of spirit/feel-good (even while you're cringing from all the terrible things happening) movie. A couple of my father's older brothers spent nearly four years in Japanese POW camps, so that part of the movie had particular resonance for me. How much has changed in the world in the past 80 or so years.

On Saturday we watched Doctor Who (we're caught up, finally) and Les Revenants (The Returned). The episode of Doctor Who was particularly mind blowing. We figure he could have knocked a few hundred million years off if he'd only taken that shovel with him. And we're still trying to figure out exactly what the heck is going on in The Returned. There are a lot of stories, characters and mysteries to try to keep straight. How much will they wrap up this season?

Last night, we had a blast from the past and watched Flashdance, which I saw in theaters when it first came out and which my wife had never seen. It's amazing now to think about how popular that movie was in its day. People were talking about it a lot and it did big box office. I think someone would have a hard time getting it green-lit for a Lifetime movie of the week today. It has very little substance, and almost no character development. And where the hell did an 18-year-old get a mentor? And what steel mill would hire a welder that age? It does not stand up to any sort of scrutiny. Fun music, though. Interesting to read that Alex's audition scene uses three different body-double dancers, one of them a guy!
Monday, November 16th, 2015
2:35 pm
T'was the witch of November come stealin'
Some people might question our choice of reading material before we went on a seven-day cruise. Not long before we departed, we finished reading Simple Courage by Frank Delaney, an account of the Flying Enterprise, which was hit by two rogue waves in the North Atlantic in late 1951. The first one "broke" the ship and the second one knocked her into a 60° list. Little wonder my wife was humming "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" while we drove to the Port of Houston for our cruise to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.

Little did we know: on the first full day at sea, the program listed a book club. The title on offer was Dead Wake, which sounded like a murder mystery, so we checked it out. Turns out it's a non-fiction book by Erik Larson about the last voyage (and, ultimately, the sinking) of the Lusitania. Inspired choice to pass out on a cruise ship. However, we really enjoyed it: it presented the historical context (and you know, I'm all about the historical context!), the personalities aboard the ship, the political situation at the time—as well as Woodrow Wilson's personal anguish—and it also presented the point of view of the captain of the U-20 whose torpedo brought down the mighty ship, thanks to his log book. Being on a cruise ship allowed us to compare and contrast the experience in 2015 to that in 1915. I've never read Larson before, but I plan to tackle some of his other books. Maybe we'll read Isaac's Storm (about the 1900 Galveston hurricane) during our next hurricane. I emailed him when we got back to find out if he knew that his book was being featured on a cruise ship, but he said that neither he nor his publicist were responsible, and he seemed greatly amused.

We splurged and got a suite at the back of the ship, with a balcony. The room was comparable to what you'd get at an extended-stay motel, with a bedroom, living room (divided by a pull-curtain), bathroom with separate spa tub and shower area, and a sink, mini-fridge area. Also a DVD player and two TVs, one facing in each direction, which were surplus to requirements. We received a lot of special perqs throughout the cruise as suite residents, which made us feel pampered.

The main feature for us was the balcony. It was about ⅓ the width of the ship, big enough for two deck chairs side by side and a small round table that could seat four. We spent a lot of time on the balcony, watching the Gulf and the Caribbean roll out behind us. There was an overhang, so we were only rarely in direct sun, which meant we didn't have to ration our time for fear of sun burn. Except when we were in port, it was never too hot to sit out there, nor too cool. We even took a couple of our meals out there. Did I mention we loved the balcony? So much so that we decided not to go on any shore excursions (Grand Cayman, Costa Maya and Cozumel). We preferred to stay on board, taking advantage of the lower census of passengers.

It was also a good perspective from which to watch the docking and departing process. Seeing these great ships almost parallel parking, backing up, going sideways, it's quite impressive. In Costa Maya, we left at 7:30 PM, when it was dark and drizzling. A couple of workers on the wharf were waiting for the ropes to slacken so they could pull them off the bollards. They were in yellow rain slickers and one guy was dancing to pass the time. We could just barely hear him whistling "La Cucaracha." My wife is a world-class whistler, so she whistled the song back at him. We were four or five decks above the waterline, so maybe fifty feet up, but he heard us all the same, and we had a little back and forth with them. They were all alone on the wharf. It was a fun little moment.

We partook of some of the entertainment options, but we didn't darken the doorways of the casino (not our thing) nor any of the shops. A lot of the on-board activities are thinly disguised infomercials, so we tended to steer clear of those, too. Lots of music, which was nice. Great dining options. I'm amazed I didn't put on any weight, because we ate multi-course meals and had desserts galore, which we don't often do. We ended up sharing tables with total strangers on a few occasions, but we always enjoyed the encounters. A lot of our fellow travelers were multiple-repeat cruisers, having logged tens of trips. One couple goes on a cruise every other week. The record-holder on this cruise was a man who'd spent something like 1400 days on cruises, or four solid years at sea.

Given that this wasn't a holiday week, there weren't so many younger people and we were at the younger edge of the median range, I'd say. For some reason, I also noticed a lot of the older men had pony tails. We met up with one interesting "couple" (I won't say why they were interesting or why I put "couple" in quotes, because that would spoil things) at the bar one afternoon and I came away from the encounter with a great idea for a short story.

In addition to Dead Wake, which I read to my wife, I finished two novels (Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin and The Crossing by Michael Connelly), one novella (The Grownup by Gillian Flynn) and most of a third novel (Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling). I did no writing at all, even though I'd planned to proof a novella. We were completely off the grid for the seven days we were away. We didn't even bring our cell phones on board. No phone, texts or emails, no internet, no TV. I turned on our set a couple of times to get to the channel that showed our location and flew past any of the news channels along the way.

Someone insisted on telling us about the terror attacks in Paris on Friday evening, but if we hadn't happened to sit next to them while waiting for dinner, we wouldn't have heard about it at all. (My association with the Bataclan comes from the Supertramp album Paris. During a break between songs, John Anthony Helliwell marvels at the size of the crowd at this concert and he remembers back to the group's first show in the city, which had about eight people in the audience—at the Bataclan concert hall.)

While we were away, my historical context essay about Different Seasons went live: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, as well as Rich's essay about his recollections of the book then and now.

I was also delighted to learn that my story "Opposite Sides" was one of the finalists in the IV Edition of the Flash Fiction Competition César Egido Serrano, Museum of Words. There were 35,609 stories from 149 countries, so to be one of 18 Americans to make it to the final 250 or so out of that mass of submissions, as selected by 20 creative writing professors, is an honor indeed.
Friday, November 6th, 2015
10:27 am
Revisiting the Man in Black
This has been a busy week at Stephen King Revisited. A couple of days ago, my Historical Context essay about The Gunslinger went up: Five Easy Pieces. Then Rich Chizmar posted his reminiscences about the book. Finally, today, my Guest Essay about the first Dark Tower book went live: Stephen King crossed the desert and I followed.

I also posted a review of Christopher Golden's excellent new horror novel, Dead Ringers, at Onyx Reviews yesterday.

I completed a long interview for a magazine appearance early next year in which I was asked some fascinating questions. It ran long (I guess I ran long!) so it might not all get published in that venue and the interviewer is exploring alternate venues for any parts that might get edited out. There's a chance that a new short story might run with the interview, too, but that remains to be seen.

With season 2 of The Returned under way, I introduced my wife to the first season of the French series last night and we'll stack up the second season for later. It's a genuinely creepy show, especially the little boy Victor, beautifully filmed in idyllic surroundings. I also like the fact that the French speakers enunciate very clearly, so I can pick up a lot of the dialog, which can be at times subtly different from the subtitles. I'm pretty sure that character didn't just say, "Get lost."

We're keeping up with The Blacklist and Doctor Who, and we're eagerly awaiting the return of The Americans, which I hope will be back in January or February. Last weekend, we watched Back In Time, the Back to the Future documentary, which was interesting for a while but then it got tedious when it focused so much on some of the obsessed fans. It had its moments, but it wasn't nearly as good as some of the other documentaries we've seen lately. Possibly because I wasn't all that into Back to the Future. I saw each of the movies once, and that's it.
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