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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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Wednesday, January 4th, 2017
11:39 am
We watched quite a few movies over the past week or so. First there was Manchester By the Sea, which deserves all of the praise it has been getting. There's a scene late in the film between Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck that is simply devastating. Essentially the movie is about how there are some things people are unwilling to forgive—in others or in themselves. The big reveal is a major gut punch, when it comes, it makes everything clear. Plus the scenery is gorgeous: reminds me of Eastern Canada, where I grew up, or the drive from PVD to NECON, except in winter.

Then we watched Barry on Netflix, which makes a good companion piece to Southside With You. This movie covers the year when Obama transferred to Columbia University. It's a time when he's not sure where he's from (it's a complicated story, and you get to see him fine-tune his answer to the question) or where he belongs. He doesn't feel comfortable with the black community but he faces all the expected bias from the white community. He also has a serious girlfriend, but he wonders why she's with him—his perception is somewhat skewed by his mother's (Ashley Judd) relationship with his father.

Then we saw La La Land. Our decision to go came at the last minute, and we ended up in a tiny auditorium that was mostly full, having to sit in the third of those rows at the front where no one ever sits. If there was ever going to be a movie to see from that perspective, this would be the one. It's larger than life and slightly skewed from reality. I thought it was beautiful—I was swept away by it completely, and I would happily have sat there and watched it all over again straightaway. The story is fairly simple: man and woman meet, eventually connect, but are thwarted by their careers—at first because of a lack of a success and then, later, the opposite. It doesn't have the expected outcome, except you get that, too, kind of. The fact that people break into song-and-dance routines bothered me not the slightest, and the show-stopper by Emma Stone during her big audition was incredible. I'm also impressed by the fact that Ryan Gosling did all of the keyboard work for real. He's very good.

We also enjoyed the Doctor Who Christmas special, which was a riff on superheroes. And I watched a British series called Paranoid that opens with a shocking murder and then gets a bit bogged down with some of the most screwed-up coppers to grace a miniseries. Their personal problems got in the way of the investigation time and time again. It stars Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones) and features a rather manic Kevin Doyle (Molsely from Downton Abbey). I liked Danny Huston in this—he was also in American Horror Story (as the Axeman), but on the whole I wasn't terribly satisfied with the series compared to some of the others that have come out of the UK recently. We haven't seen the new Sherlock yet, but soon.
Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017
12:58 pm
Maybe a record! 2016 Books
I read a lot of books last year.

In large part, the increase over previous years is thanks to my tenure on the jury for the Shirley Jackson Awards. I read a lot of anthologies and collections, plus a whole stack of standalone short stories that don't appear on this list (I estimate that I read at least a thousand short stories in 2016). Plus a number of novels, novellas, novelettes, novelishes, and other variations on the theme.

I also read the five existing Game of Thrones novels, which was an accomplishment in its own right. Plus I finished my reread of the Travis McGee books.

Without further ado, here is my 2016 reading list. Hyperlinks lead to reviews. I didn't do as many of those this year. Not enough time. Can't do everything!

  1. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

  2. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin

  3. The Dreadful Lemon Sky - John D. MacDonald

  4. The Fireman - Joe Hill

  5. The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine - Alexander McCall Smith

  6. The Empty Copper Sea - John D. MacDonald

  7. What We Become - Arturo Perez-Reverte

  8. Hap and Leonard by Joe R. Lansdale

  9. The Green Ripper - John D. MacDonald

  10. The City of Mirrors - Justin Cronin

  11. Isaac's Storm - Erik Larson

  12. Free Fall in Crimson - John D. MacDonald

  13. Cinnamon Skin - John D. MacDonald

  14. End of Watch - Stephen King

  15. The Road to Little Dribbling - Bill Bryson

  16. The Lonely Silver Rain - John D. MacDonald

  17. The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins

  18. The Glittering World - Robert Levy

  19. Song of Kali - Dan Simmons

  20. When We Were Animals - Joshua Gaylord

  21. Eileen - Ottessa Moshfegh

  22. Lord Byron's Prophecy - Sean Eads

  23. Dollar Deal: The Stephen King Dollar Baby Filmmakers -  Shawn S.Lealos

  24. Experimental Film - Gemma Files

  25. In the Lovecraft Museum - Steve Tem

  26. Wylding Hall - Elizabeth Hand

  27. The End of the End of Everything - Dale Bailey

  28. Get in Trouble - Kelly Link

  29. Gutshot - Amelia Gray

  30. The Nameless Dark - T.E. Grau

  31. You Have Never Been Here - Mary Rickert

  32. Nightscript I: An Anthology of Strange & Darksome Tales - C.M Muller, ed

  33. She Walks in Shadows - Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, eds

  34. Ain't Superstitious - Juliana Rew, ed

  35. Blurring the Line - Marty Young, ed

  36. Midian Unmade - Del Howison & Joe Nassise, eds

  37. Insert Title Here - Tehani Wessely, ed

  38. Licence Expired - Madeline Ashby & David Nickle, eds

  39. Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond - Scott A. Jones, eds

  40. Whispers from the Abyss - Kat Rocha, ed

  41. The Doll Collection - Ellen Datlow, ed

  42. Exigencies - Richard Thomas, ed

  43. Cassilda's Song - Joe Pulver, ed

  44. Dreams from the Witch House - Lynne Jameck, ed

  45. Ghost in the Cogs - Scott Gable, Scott & C. Dombrowski, eds

  46. Hanzai Japan - Nick Mamatas & Masumi Washington, eds

  47. Seize the Night - Christopher Golden, ed

  48. Aickman's Heirs - Simon Strantzas, ed

  49. 18 Wheels of Horror - Eric Miller, ed

  50. Penumbrae - Richard Gavin, Patricia Cram, and Daniel A. Schulke, eds

  51. The Bestiary - Ann VanderMeer, ed

  52. Black Wings IV - S.T. Joshi, ed

  53. Innsmouth Nightmares - Lois H. Gresh, ed

  54. That is Not Dead - Darrell Schweitzer, ed

  55. Kill for a Copy - Rob McEwan, ed

  56. Giallo Fantastique - Ross E. Lockhart, ed

  57. Cthulhu Fhtagn! - Ross E. Lockhart, ed

  58. nEvermore! - Nancy Kilpatrick & Caro Soles, eds

  59. Hides the Dark Tower - Kelly A. Harmon and Vonnie Winslow Crist, eds

  60. The Burning Maiden - Greg Kishbaugh, ed

  61. Breakout - Nick Gevers, ed

  62. The Box Jumper - Lisa Mannetti

  63. Unusual Concentrations - S.J. Spurrier

  64. Nightjack by Tom Piccirilli

  65. In a Sunburned Country - Bill Bryson

  66. Vinyl Cafe Turns the Page - Stuart McLean

  67. Shadow Season - Tom Piccirilli

  68. Arson Plus and Other Stories - Dashiell Hammett

  69. Modern Lovers - Emma Straub

  70. Stop the Presses - Robert Goldsborough

  71. A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin

  72. A Clash of Kings - George R. R. Martin

  73. A Storm of Swords - George R. R. Martin

  74. A Feast for Crows - George R. R. Martin

  75. A Dance with Dragons - George R.R. Martin

  76. The Highwayman - Craig Johnson

  77. Disappearance at Devil's Rock - Paul Tremblay

  78. Rise the Dark - Michael Koryta

  79. You Will Know Me - Megan Abbott

  80. Revolver - Duane Swierczynski

  81. I Am Providence - Nick Mamatas

  82. Top Suspense: 13 Classic Stories by 12 Masters of the Genre

  83. The End of Everything - Megan Abbott

  84. Six Scary Stories selected and introduced by Stephen King

  85. Burial - Neil Cross

  86. Alex - Pierre Lemaitre

  87. Irene - Pierre Lemaitre

  88. The Girl from Venice - Martin Cruz Smith

  89. The Wrong Side of Goodbye - Michael Connelly

  90. Camille - Pierre Lemaitre

  91. An Obvious Fact - Craig Johnson

  92. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms - George R.R. Martin

  93. In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper - Lawrence Block, ed.

  94. Witness to a Trial - John Grisham

  95. The Trespasser - Tana French

  96. The Princess and the Queen, or, the Blacks and the Greens - George R.R. Martin

  97. Last Wish and The Gulf - Poppy Z. Brite

  98. The Whistler - John Grisham

  99. The Godsend - Bernard Taylor

  100. Hearts in Suspension - Jim Bishop, ed.

  101. Blink - Malcolm Gladwell

  102. Ararat - Christopher Golden

  103. Precious and Grace - Alexander McCall Smith

  104. The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life - John le Carré

  105. Rather Be The Devil - Ian Rankin

  106. Blood and Lemonade - Joe R. Lansdale

  107. Quicksand: What it Means to Be a Human Being - Henning Mankell

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016
2:03 pm
The third day of Christmas
We had a brief cold spell last week where the temperatures dropped to below freezing. So, when it suddenly went back up to the eighties again, the flora and fauna in the area became understandably confused. The azalea bush in front of our house produced a single flower over the past couple of days. Presumably it thinks spring is here. Who knows—maybe it is? The unseasonably warm temperatures show no signs of abating any time soon. We sat on the patio of a nearby restaurant for a mid-afternoon dinner on Christmas Eve and again last night at our local pizzeria. I had to switch the climate control back from heating to cooling. I guess it's better than snow.

We saw Passengers last week, the space odyssey starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, with Michael Sheen and Lawrence Fishburn. It was pretty good. I certainly understand the controversy surrounding the movie, but I'm having a hard time condemning it in as strong words as some have done. There's an assumption in movies that if someone does something bad or wrong or ill-considered that he must pay for it at some point, but the real world doesn't operate that way, so I don't always expect that divine justice will be meted out for all cinematic transgressions. I know that the hand-waving explanations ("yes, but later in the movie he...") won't satisfy everyone, but they did me. And my wife, as well, who hadn't read about the complaints about the film. On an unrelated note, every time I saw Michael Sheen, I thought of Lloyd the bartender from The Shining. We were standing at the food counter when I realized that the millennial working the ticket booth had given me the senior discount. It must have been the bad light outside the multiplex that led her to believe I looked over 62, right?

On Christmas Eve we went to the local church to watch the pageant and sing carols, something that always takes me back to my childhood, when I was involved in such productions. Then we watched Love, Actually, which was on a round-the-clock loop up against A Christmas Story. However, we soon discovered that the movie had been edited (most notably during Nighy's early colorful rant), so I pulled it up on Amazon Prime and we watched it uncensored. We'd seen it on VHS, probably, when it first came out, so I remembered some but not all of it. I tend to agree that the movie doesn't get falling in love right in most of the stories, where the prime ingredient seems to be physical attraction (other than the Martin Freeman storyline where the characters actually fall in love while talking to each other). The Liam Neeson storyline is just a ton of fun, especially in the way that this step-dad relates to the boy, very direct, honest and coarse. I didn't care for the way the Laura Linney story petered out, either. It's easy to watch, but the movie doesn't really stand up to close scrutiny.

On Christmas Day, I put an iPod loaded with every Christmas song we own (about 400 of them, with a total running time of nearly 24 hours) on random shuffle and we listened to the music while we read and relaxed. I don't normally like shuffle—I'm an album kinda guy—but it was fun to hear Sarah McLaughlin one minute and Trans Siberian Orchestra the next and Twisted Sister the next. We also watched Southside With You, the movie about Barack Obama's first date with Michelle Robinson, who was his supervisor at a Chicago law firm and very reluctant to get involved with him. Parker Sawyers looks a lot like Obama from certain angles, and he certainly mastered his rhythms and styles. I had a harder time seeing Michelle Obama in Tika Sumpter, but it's a nice story, mostly based on fact, although the meeting they attend might not have happened on their first date.

Last night we saw Lion, starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman. It's based on the true story of a little boy (4-5 years old), who lives in rural India in abject poverty. Through a series of misadventures, he ends up trapped on an out-of-service train that takes him over a thousand kilometers from home, to Calcutta. Not only can he not convey the name of the village where he comes from, he can't speak Bengali, the local language, only Hindi. After some Oliver Twist-esque experiences, he ends up being adopted by a family in Tasmania, where he grows up to be Dev Patel. It's about 2008 and he's introduced to Google Earth, which sends him on a years-long quest to try to figure out where he came from based on only his geographic memories. It's a feel-good movie, probably Patel's best work. We liked it a lot. Interestingly, you don't find out why the movie has that title until the text updates just before the closing credits. It's a funny reveal.
Wednesday, December 21st, 2016
10:02 am
Interpretive Dance
We watched Coming Through the Rye this weekend. It's about Jamie Schwartz, a teenager at prep school who decides to adapt Catcher in the Rye into a play for his class project. His advisers tell him he needs to get permission from Salinger. So he does a little bit of sleuthing, figures out where the reclusive author probably lives and goes on a road trip with a female companion who's a little bit in love with him.

Though the locals are protective and obstructive, Jamie eventually finds Salinger (Chris Cooper), who refuses to give him permission. More than that, he tells Jamie that he would be stealing from him if he did it. Jamie returns to school (there's a lot more to the story than that), and reports his findings, at which point the advisers tell him to go ahead and stage the play anyway. "No one's going to make any money from it," they say, uttering the false justification many copyright violators use. "And he's never going to find out."

At which point, I could only shake my head. First of all, if they didn't have any respect for Salinger's copyright, why did they bother sending the boy on this difficult mission to obtain permission? And then, given that Jamie held Salinger in such high esteem, how could he not refuse his advisers by telling them what Salinger had told him...that to do so would be stealing? The film was generally good, but that element ruined it for me, I'm afraid.

To cleanse our palate, we watched a few Christmas specials. I've heard of Pentatonix, but haven't seen them, so we saw their special. They remind me a lot of The Nylons, the Canadian a capella group that was popular in the eighties. This was followed by  Amy Grant's special. The next night we watched the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's show, which ended with a retelling of the events surrounding the creation and early performances of Handel's Messiah. I'd heard some of the details before, but having it interspersed with the performance was nice.

I binge-watched Goliath, the Amazon series starring Billy Bob Thornton that I mentioned last time. It's quite good. Very Grisham-esque. Some of the characters are overly quirky, a David E. Kelley trope, but Thornton plays it straight and the show wouldn't be much without him. Funny, though: I thought there were 10 episodes, but mid-way through the eighth it seemed like they were starting to wrap things up, and indeed they were. Caught me a bit by surprise.

The promo trailer for Netflix's The OA intrigued me, and I was familiar with Brit Marling from the series Babylon where she plays an American hired as a publicist for the London Metropolitan Police. It was an oddball show, half camp-half drama, but I liked it. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person who saw it.

The premise of The OA seemed interesting, too. A young woman who has been missing for seven years shows up under mysterious circumstances. When she vanished, she was blind; now she can see, but has strange scars on her back and is somewhat unstable emotionally.

The first indication that something weird was going on with the show (not the story) was when the "opening" credits started crawling at the 50 minute mark of the first episode (out of 70 minutes). It made what came before feel like the longest "cold open" in television history. And, in fact, it was, because at that point the show changes radically, and it turns into (mostly) a narrated flashback of the main character's life. Wow, did that rob the story of any dramatic impact. It becomes tedious to listen to someone telling you what you're seeing (in abbreviated fashion) on the screen. Apparently it's all about the benefits of having near death experiences, but by the mid-point of the second episode I was starting to have a near-death experience of my own, so I bailed. I don't quit shows easily, but I couldn't imagine going through several more hours of that. And apparently that's what the remaining episodes were: more of the same, until an unearned shocking event in the final minutes.
Friday, December 16th, 2016
10:55 am
A Star Wars Story
We were looking at a list of movies we might like to see over the coming weeks when I mentioned that Rogue One was playing right now and I wanted to see it. This was at 7:00 last night and the next screening, we learned, was at 7:05. But the next one after that was at 7:30 and there was another at 8:00.

So we got in the car and zipped over to the multiplex five miles away and by 7:20 were seated in the biggest auditorium. The place was quite full when we got there, but we got decent seats, up high and to the right of the side aisle. Not a place I'd normally pick, but the seats turned out to be not bad at all.

I saw a trailer for Rogue One a long time ago, and read or skimmed a few articles about it in the interim, but it was a movie that I wanted to see without too much advanced knowledge. I didn't watch any of the subsequent trailers or read any reviews...just a few headlines from reviews to see that they were generally positive.

The movie is a ton-o-fun. A little bit complicated in terms of where all these planets are in relation to each other and who all these people are. There are very few familiar Star Wars lynch pins to anchor you. Everything is shiny and new, except it's mostly gritty and lived-in. The scene-stealer of the movie is Alan Tudyk's K2 robot, who is a hoot. Not quite as dismal as Marvin the Paranoid Android but trending in that direction. There's a character who seems like a direct rip-off of Hundred Eyes from Marco Polo. The battle scenes—in space, but particularly on the ground—are grueling, like something out of Saving Private Ryan or a Vietnam War reel. A couple of familiar faces are created via CGI, to interesting effect. Mixed in with all of the frenetic action are some good character moments and arcs. We enjoyed it, and I'll probably see it again before long.

A friend recommended a series I hadn't heard of. It's called Goliath, and it's streaming on Amazon. Stars Billy Bob Thornton as a lawyer who co-founded a firm that has grown to mammoth size, but he's no long associated with it, for reasons I don't yet know, but his name is still on the masthead. His ex-wife (Maria Bello) still works there, though, and William Hurt, the other partner, rules the place like a tyrant. In the first episode, Thornton is hired to pursue a civil case against a private military contractor that is represented by his old firm. Thornton doesn't have a drinking problem ("I drink just the right amount"), lives in a seedy hotel, has a part-time prostitute working as his legal aide, and in general looks to be a ghost of his former self. He also has a 17-year-old daughter with whom he has a good, albeit strained, relationship. The show itself has the visual appeal of Bosch. It's set in Los Angeles (Venice Beach) and mostly seen in the daylight instead of at night, and it looks mighty fine. The other side doesn't play by the rules (Thronton finds his car, a Mustang convertible covered in fish guts at one point), so he is David rather than Goliath. Looking forward to seeing where it goes.
Monday, December 12th, 2016
3:13 pm
Spring is here. Winter is over. So say we all.

We had our days of near-freezing temperatures. Now it's 66. Tomorrow 72. That's okay by us.

I had to sign my name 265 or so times yesterday. The project hasn't been announced yet, so I can't say exactly why.

We watched The Hollars on the weekend, enticed by the presence of Margo Martindale (from Justified and The Americans). It's a family drama about a man (whose girlfriend, Anna Kendrick, is profoundly pregnant) who returns to home after his mother (Martindale) falls and is found to be very ill. His brother is living at home again and his father's plumbing business is failing. It's a nice movie with a good heart. There's always one character in these things, though, who destroys any semblance of reality by being over-the-top outrageous, and in this case it's the brother, who takes comic relief and turns it into some cringe-worthy moments. Josh Groban has a small part, and the father is played by Richard Jenkins, who was the father in Six Feet Under, which makes the scene where he has to lie down in the back of a hearse all that much funnier.

I finished watching the first season of Spotless on Netflix, although it apparently originated with Esquire TV, which I didn't even know was a thing. It's a French/British production about two brothers who did something terrible when they were boys growing up in France. One brother moved to London and has a family there (wife, 13-year-old daughter, 10-ish-year-old son). His business is crime scene cleaning, hence the series' title. He knows how to remove every last spot left from a murder scene or a house where someone died and wasn't found for a while. The other brother shows up from France in possession of some stolen property that leads to trouble upon trouble upon trouble for both. The series has a strong Breaking Bad vibe as this previously honest guy gets pulled into doing work for a crime boss, played by Brendan Coyle of Downton Abbey, who is even more dapper than Gus Fring, a gentleman crook with sharp fangs. As with Breaking Bad, everything keeps going from bad to worse. A lot is resolved by the end of episode 10, but far from everything, and Season 2 is scheduled for next year, although when it will make its way to Netflix I don't know. Well worth checking out if you like crime shows.
Friday, December 9th, 2016
3:43 pm
Not nearly enough wine
Our first significant cold front arrived yesterday. Overnight temperatures dipped down to within a few degrees of freezing, and we'll see the same thing again tonight. Today's high temperature was only 47° (about 8° C). Of course, this being Texas, we'll be back up into the seventies on Sunday and nearly up to 80 on Monday.

Amongst everything else I've been working on lately (mostly short stories), I've been revisiting a couple of novels I wrote a number of years ago. The first was one that I spent quite a bit of time with my agent getting it up to speed, but it didn't go anywhere. However, I met an editor this summer who was interested in my work, so that manuscript is now sitting on her desk (or, more likely, in a stack on the floor somewhere, always supposing it's been printed, which may not be the case). The other is one that I finished in first draft, but my agent had some fairly significant notes that I couldn't quite figure out how to address while maintaining the story I wanted to tell, so it languished, too. I decided to pick it back up again and see if it was as satisfying as I remembered. Happily, I still like it a lot, so I gave it three good passes to update it, fix some logic holes and whip it into shape and submitted it to the Minotaur/MWA first crime novel contest. It's a long shot, of course—probably a very long shot—but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Reading these two manuscripts has renewed my faith in my novel-writing abilities, so in 2017 I'm going to put as much of the other diversionary projects aside as I possibly can and concentrate on writing another one.

We watched the Ab-Fab movie last weekend. We had finished dinner, during which we'd shared a bottle of wine, which seemed like the best way to approach the film. We had another glass each during the movie. That wasn't enough to make it enjoyable, alas. I've had a complicated relationship to Ab-Fab, which I first discovered not long after I moved to Texas. Some of it I think is hilarious and some of it is total crap, in about equal portions. One of our biggest issues with this movie is the number of cameos by people we were probably supposed to recognize but didn't. The closing credits were chock full of "as herself" and "as himself" listings, but they weren't people we were familiar with, so some of the stuff probably went over our head. I knew who Kate Moss was, and Emma Bunton and Lulu, but that was about it. The film had its moments, but on the whole I wouldn't recommend it.

We're all caught up with This is Us, which continues to be enjoyable. Jimmi Simpson (Hap & Leonard, Westworld) has a small but memorable part in the winter finale. He impresses me every time I see him in something. Speaking of Westworld, I was very happy with how the first season finished. It's a fascinating show, a little reminiscent of Lost except the perspective is from "the Others" rather than from the "castaways trying to escape" for the most part. Thandie Newton was amazing, and I got a huge kick out of the way Armistice reacted to her new high-powered toy in the finale. Anthony Hopkins added a necessary layer of gravitas to the proceedings. Alas, now we have to wait until 2018 for new episodes. That's a long, long time. Who knows what the world will look like then?
Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016
1:52 pm
I've been reading A.O. Scott's movie reviews in the New York Times for many years. One of my favorite parts is the rating at the end, wherein he explains what gave rise to the R or PG-13 or whatever. They're usually pithy and funny.

I follow him on Twitter. Today, he posted a link to an article about two celebrities of dubious repute. "I've always wondered what the opposite of clickbait was," he wrote. "Now I know." So I wondered what one would call the opposite of clickbait and, after a couple of seconds, it dawned on me: clickbane. I was gratified when Mr. Scott approved!

The last two times we went to the local multiplex, first to see Arrival and then again last weekend when we saw The Accountant, the house lights came up about five minutes before the movie ended. Once we could handle, but it seemed to be becoming a trend, and not a good one. It was as distracting as if a bunch of people around us had suddenly turned on their cell phones. So after the second incident, we sought out a manager to report the problem. He apologized, of course, and gave us a couple of passes for free movies, which was nice. That wasn't what we were looking for, but free is good. We just wanted the problem to stop. I also wrote to the theater chain via their website and received a prompt response. I was glad to hear that the manager had taken our complaint seriously and passed it along to the General Manager, who investigated, found the source of the problem and rectified it. That's good customer service.

As far as The Accountant—it was okay. My takeaway message was that even if you register somewhere on the autism scale, you, too, can become a deadly and highly efficient assassin. Anna Kendrick was good, and it's always nice to see J. K. Simmons. The surprise reveal toward the end wasn't such a big surprise.

I went to see David Morrell at Murder by the Book last week. He was promoting the third and final volume in his Thomas De Quincey series, Ruler of the Night. It was good to visit with him again. I've been fortunate in that I've gotten to spend time with him on a number of occasions over the years, and worked with him as the editor of an anthology containing one of my stories once—and I look forward to reading this latest work.

We finished off the first season of The Crown on Netflix, which was really very well done. We're also watching a quirky Japanese comedy called Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories. It's an anthology show set in a diner that's only open from midnight to seven a.m. Each week, a different meal or food is featured, and there's a little drama that goes along with it among the patrons of the diner. Apparently it's based on a long-running manga of the same name. It's weird, but we're enjoying it.

Other shows I'm currently watching: The Fall (I'm four episodes into the most recent season): it's a slow burn this time as they prepare to bring the case against the strangler, who has a most unique potential defense strategy. Gillian Anderson is so much better here than she was in the X-files reboot; Westworld: Only two episodes left in the first season. It has a kind of Lost vibe and it has something to say about storytelling; Game of Thrones: I finally made it to the end of Season 5 and I just received the discs for the most recent season, which goes off the map because they ran out of source material; and The Affair, which just returned for a third season. The medieval French professor looks like she could be an interesting addition to the story.
Monday, November 14th, 2016
2:51 pm
On Arrival
I turned in an essay I've been working on for the past couple of weeks today and had it accepted by the editor. It's an introduction to a forthcoming reissue that hasn't quite been announced yet, so I won't say more, except that I had fun working on the piece.

My review of Hearts in Suspension was posted last week. This is the collection of essays produced by the University of Maine Press to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Stephen King's arrival at the UMO campus. It's fascinating to read all of these reminiscences from that long-ago era, especially considering the era on which we are currently embarking.

We received word today that the audiobook edition of The X-files: The Truth is Out There won the Voice Arts Award for best narration in an anthology. The readers were Hilary Huber and Bronson Pinchot. That's pretty cool. I haven't yet heard my story in audio, but I think I'll get a copy.

I also found a new review of The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film where the reviewer got a kick out of my somewhat irreverent essay.

We've been enjoying the Netflix series The Crown, which fictionalizes the early years of Queen Elizabeth's reign. John Lithgow is terrific as Winston Churchill, especially when he's getting dressed down by the young monarch. I'm still having a hard time adjusting to Matt Smith as Prince Philip, but I'm getting there.

On Saturday, we saw the new film Arrival, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. Adams plays a linguist who is conscripted to help the army attempt to communicate with aliens who have parked a great huge space ship over Montana, one of twelve spread around the world. Renner is a scientist of some ilk, although his character doesn't contribute a lot to the story. It's a fascinating look at how communication works, our relationship with time, and the decisions a person might make given significant information about what is to come. It's based on a Nebula-award winning story by Ted Chiang, and we really enjoyed it. For an alien invasion movie, it wasn't all science-y and shoot-y.

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016
2:05 pm
Election Day 2016
I became an American citizen four years ago. The reasons I did so were many and varied, but one of them was because I wanted to vote in the federal election in 2012. I wanted to vote for President Obama. I hadn't been able to in 2008. My wife and I are the same age as he is, and we felt that he was someone who truly represented us. I really liked the guy—and the more I've seen him over the years in various contexts, the more I like him. I don't think we'll see another president like him in our lifetime. Some of you may think that's a good thing—that's okay. That's your right.

This year, I started out with a little less certitude. I liked a lot of things I heard Bernie Sanders say, and I was willing to give him a fair hearing. I had doubts about his electability, and I found him increasingly strident over the course of the campaign. Ultimately, I supported Hillary Clinton in the primary, and I do so now in the election. I gave money to her campaign. I happily cast my vote for her about two weeks ago, at the onset of early voting in Texas.

A number of people are commenting on the preponderance of campaign signs for the Republican candidate. Often this is in areas where that guy has strong support, so it isn't surprising. However, I think there may be another explanation in some places.

Four years ago, I affixed a magnetic Obama/Biden campaign sticker to the back of my car. An elderly woman accosted me in the parking lot of a local Walmart. She swore at me and she cussed out the president. She vanished before I had a chance to respond—even though I'd formulated a response that would have satisfied me, if not her. I would have said: I became a citizen so I could express my opinion, have a say in the political process. But she was gone, and she probably wouldn't have listened to me, anyway.

Sometime thereafter, someone removed the magnetic sticker from the back of my car. I probably got off easy.

I have stickers and other campaign material that I could use to show my support for the Democratic candidate. However, I didn't dare put them anywhere public. In this environment, I thought it would be like waving a red flag. I figured at a minimum, it would get my car keyed or otherwise defaced. So if you don't see a Clinton/Kaine sign on our front lawn, it's because I don't want someone to vandalize our house, not because we don't support her.

At least it's not as bad here as in some places, where if you don't have a sign supporting the Republican candidate you get nasty-grams from the extremists.
Tuesday, November 1st, 2016
11:59 am
Shining in the Dark
We had a most enjoyable Hallowe'en. It was quite mild, so we put a couple of folding chairs in the driveway and sat outside with glasses of wine and a bowl of candy, waiting for the little ones to come to us. I liked that a lot better than sitting inside and having to respond to the door every time the bell rang, as we've done in the past. I think it encouraged more people to stop by, too. We got to meet some new neighbors and had fun with the little costumed tykes. We didn't get many older kids. Virtually no teenagers, but a good run of toddlers. More Iron Man costumes than anything else, although we had our fair share of princesses.

Between visits, my wife played one of her favorite 70s-era disco compilation CDs and we danced in the driveway. We shut down a little after 8 pm when it seemed like we weren't going to be getting any more visitors.

Lilja and CD announced yesterday the publication of the new anthology Shining in the Dark, which celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the Lilja's Library website. In addition to stories from Stephen King ("The Blue Air Compressor), Poe, Jack Ketchum & PD Cacek, Brian Keene, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Stewart O'Nan, Brian Freeman, Rich Chizmar and Kevin Quigley, there's a new story from me called "Aeliana."
Thursday, October 27th, 2016
2:01 pm
Gonna buy five copies
I received a copy of the new double issue (#74/75) of Cemetery Dance magazine the other night, and it is a beauty to behold. I thought I'd contributed "only" four items to this issue, but it turns out I have a fifth, surprise essay in it:

  1. News from the Dead Zone column

  2. Interview with Joe Hill

  3. The Fireman featured review

  4. End of Watch featured review

  5. A Man's Heart is Stonier (Stephen King Revisited)

As it happens, I also have an update to the online version of News from the Dead Zone. Check it out!

I also posted a new book review: The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly.

Early voting started in Texas on Monday morning at 8:00 am. We decided we wanted to be done with this election, so we showed up at 7:45 after spending a couple of hours on the weekend researching the down-ballot candidates. The railroad commissioner does what, exactly? There were about 50 people in line ahead of us when we got there, and many more arrived while we waited. The doors opened on time and we were in and out in about twenty minutes. No hiccups or delays. Glad to have that behind us. This was my second time voting in a presidential election. It's always a thrill.

We watched the second season of The Ranch, starring Sam Elliott, Aston Kutcher, Danny Masterson, Elisha Cuthbert and Debra Winger. It's an okay series. It certainly tries hard, sometimes a little too hard. I've been watching another series called Spotless, a joint French-British production about a guy who runs a crime scene cleanup company in London. He and his brother are from France originally, and his brother arrives with a dead body stuffed with drugs, which is simultaneously the solution to a lot of problems and the source of many others. The series also features Brendan Coyle, who was Mr. Bates on Downton Abbey, as a sort of gentleman anarchist crime lord. Enjoying it so far. Also looking forward to the return of The Fall on Netflix this weekend. Trying to keep up with Westworld, but there aren't enough hours in the day...
Tuesday, October 11th, 2016
1:30 pm
Turkey Pot Roast?
Had a nice three-day weekend. On Sunday, we decided on the spur of the moment to spend the day in Huntsville State Park, about 45 miles north of us. It's a place where we've spent time over the years, but not so much recently. We made a light lunch, packed only our folding chairs, and spent the afternoon sitting on the edge of the lake under some trees. There was a light breeze, no flies to speak of, and the sounds of families having a good time all around us. I liked watching the cranes stilt-walking through the lake, occasionally dipping their heads in to claim some food. I also wrote the first three pages of a new short story.

Then we went home and watched the debate, which was not very relaxing at all.

I had yesterday off. Our company has always given us Columbus Day, which is also Canadian Thanksgiving. In the morning I finished the first draft of the short story I'd begun the day before and in the afternoon I did some yard work. I also finished the last two episodes of the second season of Happy Valley, which is a decent crime series with the most ironic title ever. A friend commented that one of the things he likes most about the series is how the characters look so real—not at all glamorous. Warts and all. And accents thick enough to cut with a knife. The revelation of the identity of the serial killer wasn't a huge surprise, but the way that turned out, as well as the fate of the copycat were surprises.

We don't cook a turkey for Thanksgiving, there being only the two of us, but our grocery's deli usually has a nice cooked turkey breast at the heating station where the roasted chickens are. When I went yesterday, the station was almost empty, but there was something they called a turkey pot roast. I had no idea what that could be, but I took it anyway. It looked like a roast, sort of oblong and roundish. I figured it would be some kind of processed turkey when I cut into it but, much to our surprise and delight, it was delicious. It was the leg/thigh portion of the turkey, all dark meat (which I don't normally like). Very moist and falling off the bone cooked to perfection. I'd definitely try that again.

I also watched the new Netflix documentary about the Amanda Knox story. They interview Knox, prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito, a defense lawyer and a journalist named Nick Pisa, as well as the occasional other interview with DNA specialists, etc. It's only 90 minutes and a little superficial, but I was surprised to be reminded that Knox and Sollecito had only known each other for five days before the murder took place. Also, to hear Magnini, in his own words, explain the arbitrary, random things that made him suspect Knox in the first place. None of it was based on evidence; it was about the way she acted around him. I think he read more Freud than Sherlock Holmes, although he professed a fondness for the latter.

The person who came off the worst was Nick Pisa, the British "journalist" with the Daily Mail who stumbled upon a story that suddenly got him a lot of attention. Front page stories with tawdry headlines. Everything the police fed to him, he published without any filter whatsoever. No confirmation. He comes right out and says, "It's not as if I can say, 'Right, hold on a minute. I just wanna double-check that myself in some other way,'" because to do so would mean that he might miss his scoop.

I think Occam's Razor applies to this case, and the simple explanation is that Rudy Guede, a known burglar, whose DNA was found all over the victim's room, including in her body, was the sole perpetrator. He admitted to being there but tried to say that someone else broke in while he was there and killed the young woman while he was in the bathroom. His story holds no water, and he stated that Knox wasn't present and then changed his story when it suited his purposes. No DNA evidence placed Amanda Knox in that bedroom, even though she lived in the same apartment.

Ultimately, the perceived interference in the "sovereign nation's" judicial system by American interests (the current Republican presidential candidate suggested boycotting Italy at the time) made the prosecutor double down and cling to his belief. The lawyer who defended Guede was equally dismissive of American intervention in the case. He points to a building from 1308, the first faculty of law in Europe, at which time, he says, people in America were in caves painting buffalo. Fortunately, cooler and more logical heads prevailed, though it took many years for the case to be dismissed once and for all and the acquittals upheld.
Wednesday, October 5th, 2016
1:41 pm
Chaba the Hutt
It was an interesting weekend because we were following the track of the hurricane. Not Matthew, thought I'm aware that one is threatening the coast, but Chaba, on the other side of the world. It was of interest to us because, for a while, it had Okinawa directly in its sights, and that's where our daughter and her family live.

The interesting thing about typhoons, unlike tornadoes, is that you have quite a bit of advanced notice, so we were able to communicate our concern and relay our advice. We've been through this a couple of times ourselves, here in southeast Texas, so we knew what things might be important. We had a Skype call with them on Sunday night/Monday morning, several hours before the storm was supposed to hit. Fortunately, it drifted farther west than early predictions indicated and it mostly missed Okinawa proper. It turned into a non-event for them, fortunately. Another interesting adventure living in Japan. That's not to dismiss the storm: it caused a lot of damage and several deaths in Korea, and it is still supposed to strike "mainland" Japan, though much diminished.

I received an email from USA Network advising that they had the entire season of Motive available for binge-watching last weekend. So I did. It's not a very well known show, but I've always enjoyed it. It is produced by CTV and filmed in Vancouver, though they down-played the Canadian setting in the early seasons. ABC picked up the first couple of seasons in the US, which is where I discovered it. I'm not sure if I saw Season 3 at all, because it vanished for a long time. Then USA got the fourth season, which apparently did fairly well for them. They even decided to request a fifth season, but by then production had already shut down, since CTV decided Season 4 would be the last. The final season really does bring the series to a satisfactory conclusion.

The conceit of the show is that, during the cold open, the audience is introduced to the killer and the victim, absent any context. We don't know how their paths will cross or why one wants to kill the other. Then the murder investigation starts and the able detectives of the homicide squad pull it all together. Kristin Lehman (The Killing) and  Louis Ferreira (Declan on Breaking Bad) are the detectives, though his character, Vega, is promoted to sergeant in the final season. Lauren Holly is the ME. Tommy Flanagan (Chib from Sons of Anarchy) appears as an Interpol agent for several episodes. Lehman is really good in this role. She has a natural style of acting that makes her seem genuine and honest. I bet they had a great time on the set. They had some strong guest stars as victims and killers in the final season, including Joanna Cassidy, Max Martini (The Unit), Alicia Witt (Justified), plus actors you'd probably recognize if you were a Canadian.

I also watched the first episode of Westworld on HBO, the series remake of the Michael Crichton movie that starred Yul Brynner. It's a lavish series with an interesting cast that includes Anthony Hopkins (who made me think of Malcolm McDowell the first time I saw him), Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden,  Sidse Babett Knudsen (from the Danish series Borgen) and Ed Harris as the mysterious man in black. It's a fascinating premise, exploring the notion of when does an android stop being an object and start being an entity deserving of respect and basic human consideration. It'll be interesting to see where it goes.

Monday, September 26th, 2016
2:52 pm
The Search for Spock
My wife had to call AAA yesterday when her car wouldn't start. They told her someone would be there in 30 minutes and gave her a hyperlink so she could monitor the responder's location. The guy got there not in 30 minutes, but in five. And he had just the right battery among his gear to replace hers. Quite impressed with the service.

I posted my review of The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith, who is best known for his Arkady Renko books set in Russia (including Gorky Park). This is a standalone set in northern Italy in the closing weeks of World War II.

I finally (finally!) finished the fifth Game of Thrones novel, having put it aside several times to read other things. We're about halfway through the fourth season of the TV series. We'll probably pause there to watch the new season of Longmire on Netflix. I also have just one episode of the second season of Narcos left to watch.

We watched the documentary For the Love of Spock on VOD this weekend. It was directed by Adam Nimoy, son of Leonard. It started out as an exploration of the fictional character, but then Leonard Nimoy died in the midst of this project, so Adam decided to expand it to include some of his father's life as well. It's quite—as Spock would say—fascinating. Nimoy cast a wide net when it came to interview subjects, including Nimoy's brother and daughter, many original cast members as well as the cast of the recent reboot, JJ Abrams, and a few random people like Jason Alexander. We were impressed by the massive block of credits. I only just realized that these were the people who had responded to the crowd-funding campaign to raise over $600,000 to cover the cost of licensing the photographs and video clips included in the documentary. Over 9000 people contributed, some as much as $10k, for which they got an associate producer credit.
Friday, September 16th, 2016
10:38 am
Netflix for short stories
This is my 27th anniversary at the day job. Technically, it's tomorrow, but I won't be at work on that day, so I'm calling today the anniversary. This time next year, I will have worked for the same company for exactly half my life (although the company has undergone a couple of name and ownership changes over the years). In this era, that's a pretty good record, but I still have a couple of decades to go to achieve the longevity my father did with his company.

I finished writing another new short story by hand the night before last and dictated it into Word yesterday morning, which has become my new way of doing things lately. The story is a little over 4000 words and it didn't change much during my first editing pass, other than to correct grammar and transcription errors. My favorite dictation error converted "Ghostbusters" to "Ghost bus tours," although I also liked the change for "Ghost Riders in the Sky" to "Ghostwriters in the Sky." This is my third new story in a few weeks. I have at least one more to write and a couple more markets to find submissions for. Then it's back to novel land.

I don't think I mentioned this review of the audio version of The X-files: The Truth is Out There. It says, in part:  “'Phase Shift' was easily the highlight of the anthology for me, and centers around a house and its inhabitants confronted by a strange anomaly. This is a really good story with a strong, and strongly executed, premise, the ending of which highlights the particular darkness one may confront in such an odd situation. Sorry for being vague, but this is a good one to go into blindly." I approve of this message!

A couple of weeks ago, Nick Mamatas contacted me about a new project called Great Jones Street, named after a New York/SoHo street that was also the title of a Don DeLillo novel. Their plan is to become the Spotify or Netflix of short fiction. Nick was curating the mystery section of the project and solicited a couple of reprints from me. So far, they've been great to work with: the contract came almost immediately and payment within a week after that. My stories aren't available yet, so I won't name them here. Stay tuned: there's an app for everything these days!

The cover and table of contents for the double issue (#74/75) of Cemetery Dance magazine is now available at their website. I have four pieces in this trade-magazine-formatted issue: an interview with Joe Hill (to be fair, most of the content in that piece is his, not mine), two featured reviews and one essay. But do I get my name on the cover? ;)

I finished Marcella on Netflix last week, and am now looking forward to the next season. It's a British crime series in which the main character, a female Detective Sargent, has violent fugues when put under great stress, so she has gaps in her memory. Sort of like the alcoholic fugues featured in The Girl on the Train. Now I'm onto season 2 of Narcos and enjoying it. It's very violent, but it's a fascinating look at a turbulent time and place. My wife and I are nearing the end of the third season of Game of Thrones. Looks like it's time for a...Red Wedding (to be heard in Billy Idol's voice).
Monday, September 12th, 2016
12:03 pm
Pate de foie gras
I finished a new short story this weekend and got it off to its potential market. I have a few more of these that I'd like to tackle in the next four to six weeks. Then it's back to novel land, a territory I haven't visited in a while.

We saw Sully this weekend, the Clint Eastwood biopic about Captain Chesley Sullenberger's successful landing of an Airbus 320 in the Hudson River after losing both engines when the aircraft encountered a flock of Canada geese. Tom Hanks is very good in portraying Sully as a man who was sure of his decision but who wasn't terribly comfortable with the spotlight of publicity.

Because the movie needed an antagonist, the NTSB investigation is depicted as confrontational. They argue that Sully made the wrong decision, that he could have made it back to La Guardia or over to Teterboro, NJ, according to all the computer simulations. The panel included Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) and Jamie Sheridan (The Stand). Laura Linney was Mrs. Sully, relegated to the wings (at home) while the drama unfolded.

The crash itself is depicted in a very straightforward manner. In fact, the entire picture is solid filmmaking without any unnecessary flash or pizzazz. There are a couple of scenes where Sully imagines what might have happened if he'd made different decisions that will probably be disturbing to New Yorkers, especially given the weekend the movie debuted. The only odd thing about the movie was the way it ended. It just stopped, after a joke made by the copilot during the NTSB hearing. Fade to black and then end credits. It felt abrupt.

At the end, the audience that saw the movie with us applauded. It's been a long time since I've experienced that. It is a feel-good film, with a few patriotic tugs, but I wonder at clapping for a motion picture, where there's no one present to receive the adulation. It was a spontaneous reaction. I was reminiscing with my wife afterward about how, in the very early days of air travel (in my lifetime), people used to applaud whenever a plane landed. Every time. I wonder when that stopped. Probably at around the same time that people stopped dressing up to go on a flight. (My father always wore a suit and a hat when he flew.)
Tuesday, September 6th, 2016
4:14 pm
High Seas
I got my semi-annual royalty check for When the Night Comes Down, the Dark Arts collection that contains four of my stories. I can now buy that pack of gum I've been saving up for! The book is available in both trade paperback and eBook if you ever want to sample a variety of my writings.

I also sold a new short story, which is always nice. I signed the contract but the book hasn't been announced, so I'll hold off announcing the details until later. I will say that the story involves a couple of characters who have appeared in other stories of mine.

My wife and I were off the grid on a four-day cruise over the long weekend to celebrate her birthday. People generally ask us where we went, but it doesn't really matter, because we didn't get off the ship! They used to have this thing called the cruise to nowhere, and that would suit us just fine. There was just one stop, in Cozumel, where we've spent time before, so we decided to avoid the throngs of tourists and enjoy the mostly empty ship. We even got in a round of minigolf on the upper deck! It was a very nice, relaxing four days indeed. We had some great meals, lots of wine, took in a couple of shows and read a bunch. The image above is the menagerie of towel animals that we ended up with in our stateroom by the end of the trip. A different one appeared each evening during the turn-down service.

After finishing The End of Everything by Megan Abbott, I read Burial by Neil Cross, the guy who created and writes Luther, a compelling crime novel about a guy who covers something up then gets involved with someone directly affected by what he covered up and then has the whole thing come crashing down around him a few years later. Gritty and tense.

Then I read Alex by Pierre Lemaitre, translated from the French. It's the second book in a trilogy, but it was the first to be translated into English of the three. It starts with a kidnapping, but by the end of the first section, you realize that the person who took the title character had understandable motivations and the victim is more than she seems. By the end of the second section, there's another reversal and you come to the conclusion that the victim-cum-villain had her own particularly understandable motives for what seems like a rash of random crimes. The book deftly plays with the readers sympathies. It has some quirky characters and a very tight plot. I went from there straight into Irene, the first book in the trilogy. Alas, I know the ultimate fate of the title character, but the story doesn't start with that situation, but with another set of gruesome murders. Good stuff.
Wednesday, August 24th, 2016
11:08 am
The Hip
I finished the first draft of a new short story this morning, my first in a while. The draft took about seven days, and the story came in at about 4900 words, which is quite a bit longer than I expected. However, it was over 5000 words before I did a pruning edit on it yesterday, and that was before I added the final two pages this morning.

I hand-wrote the first 4000 words and then I dictated it into Word on Monday morning so I could work on the computer from that point forward. I always have to proofread very carefully after I do that because the built-in voice recognition module of Windows 10 is quite good, but not perfect. I still have a couple of plot details to reconsider, but then it's on to the proofing/revising stage. I have a week to get it ready for submission, but I hope to have it mostly done by the end of the weekend.

I moved away from Canada in the late 1980s, so I mostly missed out on The Tragically Hip. However, with all the publicity around their final concert tour, culminating in the final show on Saturday night, I've been re-educating myself on their music. I picked up a copy of "Yer Favorites," a 2-CD collection of songs selected by the fans, which is a good introduction to their most popular songs. I watched some of the simulcast of the final concert on the CBC YouTube channel on Saturday, too.

I met Michael Koryta a couple of years ago at NECON and we've become friends ever since. He came into Houston for a signing at Murder By the Book last Friday. He almost didn't make it: his flight was scheduled to land around noon, but that was the middle of a torrential downpour, so he got diverted but finally made it into Houston with a little time to spare for the 6:30 event he was doing with local author Bill Crider. Afterward, we went out to dinner with a couple of the MBTB people, which was a lot of fun. If you haven't read any Koryta, check out his latest two books, which are part of a trilogy: Last Words and Rise the Dark. My introduction to him was The Prophet, which I can also highly recommend. Also high on my list: Those Who Wish Me Dead. I need to catch up on some of his back list.
Monday, August 15th, 2016
2:18 pm
Murder on the High Cs
After five or six consecutive days with the temperatures exceeding 100° and the heat index in the mid 100-teens, we've had some relief. In the form of torrential rain, but we'll take it. After a very soggy beginning to the year, we've been a while without any precipitation at all, so it's a welcome return.

It rained a bit during the day on Saturday, but it was Saturday evening when the heavy stuff started. We could hear it from inside the movie theater at the local multiplex, pounding on the roof. When we got out, our car was in the attached parking structure. It wasn't raining at the moment, anyway, so we contemplated going somewhere to eat. One glance at the dark, dark skies (it was 6:20 pm) had us reconsidering, so we headed toward home, thinking we might stop somewhere closer to the house. Then the skies opened up in a deluge, so we went straight home. Unlike many of our neighbors, we actually use our garage to store our cars, so we managed to avoid getting wet at all.

We saw Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg (from The Big Bang Theory). Streep played the title character, a real-life socialite who aspired to being an opera singer despite having no talent or aptitude whatsoever. By carefully curating the attendees and excluding any critical media, she manages to produce a number of engagements over the years, including a final event at Carnegie Hall where a more true response to her painful caterwauling bubbles to the surface. (I wish I could take credit for coming up with today's subject line, but someone else beat me to it.)

Helberg plays a young pianist hired to accompany her (apparently Helberg actually plays the piano throughout). His reactions to that first practice session are worth the price of admission alone. Afterward, we debated whether her husband (they had a chaste marriage because she developed syphilis thanks to her first husband when she was 18) was an enabler or was truly devoted. He allowed her to get into these situations and helped shield her from criticism by doling out wads of cash to compliant journalists. (By the same token, he was a mediocre actor and she confessed to hiding some of his worst reviews from him, too.) In the final analysis, she was happy doing what she did, so I guess there was no harm done, except to some eardrums and some musical sensibilities! Streep is her usual very good self, and Grant is a definite step above his usual bumbling, stammering persona. We won't, however, be buying the soundtrack.

I got caught up on some delinquent book reviews recently. Check out Onyx Reviews for the following:

I'm working on my first new short story in a while, too. Writing it longhand. I have no idea where it's going, but I'm getting there a day at a time.

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