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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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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.
Monday, October 26th, 2015
2:24 pm
Patricia and the bulls
My wife was away for the weekend, so I decided to catch up on a few movies that I knew wouldn't interest her while doing my best to stay dry. The remnants of the Pacific hurricane known as Patricia crossed into the Gulf of Mexico, bringing with it an impressive amount of rain. The most recent total I saw for our community was something like 5.7" between Saturday morning and yesterday afternoon. Parts of downtown Houston got as much as 10". There was some localized flooding, but it wasn't as bad as it might have been. Everything was pretty dry before this batch of rain came.

On Friday night, I saw Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak. This film has a few genuine scares, but it is mostly a Gothic movie that revels in atmosphere and setting. It's about a young woman who marries a mysterious man and moves to England to live with him at his isolated and crumbling estate. The ceiling in the main entrance hall has collapsed, and a constant stream of stuff falls through it: leaves, petals, snow. It's a magical and captivating concept. The young woman has prior experience with ghosts, and her new home has more than its fair share of them. They are depicted in an innovative manner: crawling specters that look like they are composed of the humans' circulatory systems, with things (blood?) streaming off them at the edges in wisps and swirls. The whole thing is visually impressive, worth seeing on the big screen. Stick around for at least the first section of the credits for more of these fantastic visuals. Oh, it's also a very stabby movie.

On Saturday morning, I saw Sicario, which is a good follow-up to the Netflix series Narcos, where I first heard that word, which is defined as "hit man" in the context of this movie. Emily Blunt is an FBI agent who volunteers to attach herself to a task force led by Josh Brolin whose intent is to do some major damage to Mexican drug lords operating near the US border. Also on the team is a mysterious figure played by Benecio del Toro (unrelated to Guillermo), a man with some odd quirks and a way of speaking in philosophical metaphors. Blunt's character is highly motivated because her team was damaged by a booby trap, and she's coming to understand that the normal ways of doing things simply aren't effective. She's the audience's avatar, the person to whom the film is explained, and there's a lot more going on than she at first realizes, which places her in some difficult situations. It's all very impressive and disturbing because it seems real and realistic. Possibly one of Blunt's best-ever performances, and del Toro is terrific.

By the time I left that matinee showing, the rain had started, so I hunkered down at home for the rest of the weekend. Yesterday I finally got around to seeing Chappie, which was not at all what I was expecting. William Gibson has been talking about the movie a lot on Twitter (very favorably). I thought it was going to be something like Short Circuit, and the trailers I saw in the distant past didn't give me any sense of its South African setting or its "hip hop" sensibility. It stars Dev Patel (from the Marigold Hotel movies) as the inventor of robotic police, one of which he implants with consciousness. However, this robot is stolen by a bunch of criminals played by members of a rap/rave group called Die Antwoord. They give surprisingly effective performances as they "pervert" this sentient robot, implanting their particular South African accents and jargon onto it and convincing it to do things that are against its fundamental programming. Lurking in the wings is Hugh Jackman, who has built a prototype of a much more expensive robot that the company won't give him the green light to test. The movie got a critical drubbing, and only middling audience response, but it's really quite good. Funny and sad. A little maudlin toward the end, and a tad tidy, but it's well worth the journey, especially since I got a coupon to see it free OnDemand.
Friday, October 16th, 2015
11:38 am
I don't really speak Portuguese
I love it when I think I've run out of time to start writing in the morning because I'm busy doing other things and I still manage to get 1000 words done. My goal for this novel is a conservative 5000 words per week. More if I can get 'em, but that pace would be satisfactory.

My essay The Halloween Tree is now up at the blog formerly know as Not Now...Mommy's Reading, rebranded for October (to acknowledge its takeover by a motley crew of horror writers) as Not Now...Mommy's Screaming. There's also a contest where you can win a trade paperback copy of The Dark Tower Companion, so check it out, and also the other entries from my compatriots in horror.

My most recent essay for Stephen King Revisited is online this week, too. It's called Can You See Me Running? and it details the historical context behind the publication of The Running Man, the last of the paperback original books published as Richard Bachman.

I was also interviewed recently for Ficção Terror, a Brazilian blog about horror movies and books. The interview is now available in both Portuguese and in English, so you can read it in the language of your choosing.
Monday, October 5th, 2015
4:04 pm
Not the Kind of Place to Raise Your Kids
I finished the first season of Fortitude this weekend. An impressive original series set in a remote Arctic island, population 700-something. Mostly miners and people who support the mining town (inn keepers, shopkeepers, cops). It's in the permafrost, a place where it is illegal to die because there's no place to bury anyone. It starts with a killing and a discovery, and things go very, very badly from there. A lot of people break the law by dying. The local governor (played by Sofie Gråbøl from the Danish original of The Killing) wants to build a hotel in the glacier, but she comes to realize that perhaps a bigger morgue is what's called for. The story flirts with science fiction and it is definitely horrific at times, but all somewhat credible. A good cast, including Stanley Tucci as a DI in from London to supervise some investigations and Michael Gambon as an aging photographer battling cancer. Filming of Season 2 is underway in Iceland and I can't wait to see where they take the story.

We saw The Martian yesterday. A very good science-driven space opera about a guy struggling to survive under the worst imaginable conditions: lots of potatoes but no ketchup. A strong ensemble cast, and an intriguing and captivating plot. No aliens or star wars, just the kinds of things a space program has to deal with: the unforgiving nature of space. Damon is the Jimmy Stewart of our time. Always pretty much the same character, but a calm, reassuring force within a film. The audience avatar. The guy we trust to get us home. If I have an issue with the movie at all, it's that it downplayed the passage of time and the psychological stresses that must cause. The people on Earth were under enormous pressure to produce solutions in an insanely short period of time, but the people in space had to deal with a ton of tedium, and it would have been nice to see that acknowledged a bit more. Tedium and disco. What a combination. Actually, the choice of disco songs was so on the nose at times it was hilarious. Hot Stuff when he's carting around the radioactive material, the obligatory David Bowie space song, Waterloo by Abba when defeat seems at hand and Donna Summer's triumphant anthem over the closing parts. All in a all, a well conceived and executed adventure tale. But I expect Damon's character never wants fries with that again.

There are probably weirder TV shows in current production than The Leftovers, but I'm hard pressed to think of one. For the first 10 minutes of last night's season 2 premiere, I kept wondering if maybe I'd stumbled into the wrong show by accident. And then another show started, and it wasn't until very late in the game that we see some familiar faces. Talk about a way to build suspense, though. Have a "psychic" character tell someone else that something bad is going to happen, then watch the second guy stick his hand in a garbage disposal. There's definitely some weird stuff going on in Miracle, TX. Reminds me a bit of "The End of the Whole Mess" and the waters that prolong life. I get the impression that miracles aren't all that welcome in Miracle. And what was the deal with the pie? And the cricket? So many questions.

My biggest question about The Affair is the timeline. When does the jail stuff happen with respect to everything else. Much later than the brunt of the episode? So I gather. I'm always intrigued by the way the show recreates certain scenes from different characters' points of view. Even the clothing is different at times, but definitely the tone and specifics of, for example, the mediation meeting. Totally different. And that had to be one of the most awkward sex scenes I've ever seen. Lots of buzz on the 'net today about the full frontal shot, brief and blurry though it was, but nary a whisper about all the nudity on The Leftovers.
Monday, September 28th, 2015
2:34 pm
Alas poor Walter Blunt, I knew him, Patrick Stewart
I found it odd that I hadn't heard there was a sitcom starring Patrick Stewart. Then, when I discovered it was on Starz, I began to have my doubts. But my wife's coworker thought it was a scream, so we gave Blunt Talk a shot this weekend. We made it through three 30-minute episodes, but that's it for us. It is regrettably unfunny. Blunt is despicable from the opening moments of the show, and he gets no better. There were a few funny moments over the ninety-minute span, but on the whole it's a waste of talent.

CSI went out with a few bangs. Fifteen years is a pretty good run and they gave us the "riding off into the sunset" finale that put a nice ribbon on the series. I never cottoned to the spin-offs, not even the one remaining that will now benefit from Ted Danson's migration, but I always had a soft spot for Gris and the gang.

Even though I'm from Canada, and I remember well when 2112 was released (I was in grade 9), and they've been a constant background presence during my life, I can't say I'm a huge Rush fan. I like a handful of their songs, and I'm okay with a bunch more, but I've never had any desire to see them in concert, even though I had ample opportunity to do so over the years. I actually like Max Webster, their perennial opening band, better. However, Netflix is now streaming the 2010 documentary Behind the Lighted Stage, so we checked it out yesterday. Major props to the dudes from Ontario—they seem to be one of the healthiest (mentally) rock groups in existence. Granted, a 100-minute synopsis of a 40-year career can't delve into everything, but if there was ever any acrimony or dissension within the group, you figure you'd see some hint of it. But they just did the job and continued to improve themselves and, despite a lack of respect from the critical establishment, kept on keeping on. There's is an interesting trajectory—how they were pulled from obscurity in Cleveland because "Working Man" tapped into the city's ethos at the time and how they stood up to the record company and pretty much everyone by refusing to kowtow to their demands and choosing to go out on their own terms, if 2112 had been a failure. How they tried out different things over the years and regrouped when some of the experimentation didn't quite work out. How they managed to preserve long-term family relationships and how the other two members of the band refused to consider replacing Peart when he went off the grid for a few years following some personal tragedies. Good, solid blokes, all round. Quirky as hell, but they have my respect. And they finally made it onto the cover of Rolling Stone this year.
Friday, September 25th, 2015
2:26 pm
So it goes like this: We see Yes. I start listening to old Yes albums. That leads me back to Buggles, who I loved in the 1980s. You know, "Video Killed the Radio Star." Good keyboards. So I wonder what else Geoff Downes has done. Yes, I know he was in Asia, but what else? That leads me to New Dance Orchestra, which is electronica with a strong disco/dance influence. The new album features vocals by Anne-Marie Helder. Reminds me of Sarah Brightman. Research her a bit and discover she does lead vocals for a Welsh group called Panic Room. Find a couple of tracks on YouTube. I like. And thus is a new group discovered by me. I read that the band was formed out of a previous endeavor called Karnataka, which I've also never heard. So maybe there's something else to check out. I like finding new music.

I haven't said much about this, but since it seems to be moving right along, I guess it's safe to say that I've finally started working on that novel I've been thinking about for lo these many months and years. I'm doing it longhand, as I did with the novella I wrote earlier this year, and since September 9 I've completed over fifty handwritten pages. I have no idea if all of it will make it into the book once it's finished, because some of it involves feeling around for the right direction and figuring out for myself what it's really all about, but I think I'm well on my way. I'm not going to make any promises, even to myself, as to when I hope to get the first draft finished, but it would be nice to think I could get a lot of it done before the leap year begins.

I finished the Netflix original Narcos last night. Open for a second season, which I'd watch. The first season manages to turn the narrating character into a bit of a jerk by the end, but at least he's not Walter White. Just a guy tainted by the things he has to deal with and do to get his job done.

This morning, while exercising I decided to go back to House of Cards, Season 3, which we'd abandoned after a few episodes. I didn't mind it, but my wife got bored with it. We're going to try out a comedy series called Blunt Talk that stars Patrick Stewart this weekend. I'm also watching a series called Fortitude that has Michael Gambon, Sofie Gråbøl, Christopher Eccleston and Stanley Tucci. It's set on a remote northern island (filmed in Iceland) where it is unlawful for anyone to die or be buried.
Monday, September 21st, 2015
1:07 pm
Under the Influence
Skype is down all over the world. I guess we broke it during our hour-long videoconference with our daughter in Japan last night! It's the first time we called since she moved to Okinawa. It was a little like that episode of The Big Bang Theory where Raj shows his family around. Technology is pretty cool, though, except when it breaks down.

I posted a couple of book reviews over the weekend: Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay and Zer0es by Chuck Wendig.

We finished Season 4 of Longmire on Friday night. The switch to Netflix was a positive change, with longer episodes, a more natural structure (no commercial breaks), and a good mix between episode-specific plot and multi-episode arcs. I was glad they resolved the situation that launched the season within a few episodes rather than drag it out, even though its tentacles reached all the way to the end of the season. Episode 3 was intense. I also like that the relationship between Walt and Mathias, the tribal police chief, has evolved from purely antagonistic to at least a working kinship. And it was also an interesting development that Henry should go from stopping Walt from acting like a vigilante in the first episode to embracing that persona later in the season. The relation between Vic and Walt is much more credible than in the novels, I think. Complicated, but not cliched. Ally Walker is a good addition to the show, and I suppose the outcome of the cliff-hanger will depend upon her availability, should the show be renewed. All in all: well done, Netflix.

I'm not the world's biggest Rolling Stones fan. I like some of their stuff and I loathe some of it (I'm looking at you, Emotional Rescue). I have a collection of their greatest hits, but I don't think I've ever bought an album. Still, the new documentary about Keith Richards, Under the Influence, just out on Netflix, looked intriguing. There's always been something about the way he plays, that kind of shruggy, counter-tempo thing he does, that has intrigued me. The documentary started out as a promo video for his new solo album and expanded into a 90-minute film. Given its genesis, it doesn't delve into any of the conflicts or troubles from the past, other than a brief statement by Richards that he referred to his relationship with Jagger in the later 1980s as World War III. It's all about the music that has influenced him over the years, from Muddy Waters to reggae, and how he got to meet and play with some of the musicians who influenced the Stones. It has some nice historical footage and Richards is in good form, laughing giddily half the time, between puffs on his cigarette.
Tuesday, September 15th, 2015
2:06 pm
Death of a Salesman
It's early days—there isn't even a cover yet—but it's never too early to pimp forthcoming projects. Amazon is now taking pre-orders for Volume 2 of The X-Files: The Truth is Out There anthology, which contains my short story "Phase Shift." I don't know the entire list of contributors, but these folks are mentioned on the order page: Kelley Armstrong, Jon McGoran, Hank Schwaeble, Kami Garcia, Hank Phillippi Ryan, David Sakmyster, Sarah Stegall, Glenn Grenberg, Tim Waggoner, David Farland. The anthology, edited by Jonathan Maberry, will be out in February 2016.

Event-filled days chez Vincent lately. Our daughter, who got married this summer, moved to Okinawa over the weekend, which meant a lot of organizing and re-organizing in advance of the Sunday morning flight. The biggest issue was the cat, which required a lot of special preparations and planning for the flight. My daughter and her husband hired a company to handle most of it, but there were still a lot of last-minute issues. The cat departed on Wednesday and arrived at her destination on Friday evening (local time).

It takes a long time to get to Okinawa. In general, about 24 real hours of travel time, plus the fourteen-hour time change. Our daughter left on Sunday morning and got to her new home on Monday evening, after three flights and a harrowing taxi ride. As a result of the big move, we inherited a lot of stuff, either for storage for the 4-5 years they'll be overseas or to donate/sell.

One of the major items was her car. I decided that, since it was nearly a decade newer than the one I drive, I'd take it on and get rid of my 11-year-old Scion tC, which had less than 44,000 miles on it. I wasn't looking forward to the process of selling it, though. Can be a hassle. If we took it to CarMax, I figured we wouldn't get nearly what we could through a private sale, but I wasn't relishing the though of having to deal with all that folderol. My daughter had sold a bunch of stuff through a community website, which I figured had less of a crazy quotient than Craigslist, so I decided to give it a shot. I took a few pictures of the car in the driveway and posted a 250-word classified on the website. Within a few hours I had no less than seven or eight inquiries about it. Apparently there's a lot of interest in low-mileage cars, no matter the age. Made me think I should have asked for more!

Anyhow, I showed it to one family for their teenage son after work. They liked it but were going to look at another car. Then I heard from someone who really wanted it. They had cash in hand and wanted it right now! So I had them come over to look at it. I couldn't believe it—just as I was about to start it up to demonstrate something, the battery chose that moment to kick the bucket. Fortunately, they were highly motivated buyers and we were able to swap out the battery and seal the deal. So, in just under 12 hours, I managed to sell my car. End of ordeal. They should all be so easy. (Well, it could have been easier if not for the stupid battery.) But my days as a huckster are over, I hope. I'm no salesman.

Now we just have to unload all the extra stuff stacked up in the garage and our house will be more or less back to normal.

I've been watching Narcos on Netflix during my morning exercise sessions. It's a fictionalized account of a couple of DEA agents in Colombia during the time when Pablo Escobar rose to prominence. Interesting stuff. They dub in a lot of period news footage (Nancy Reagan and the "just say no" campaign, shots of the real people being portrayed). It's quite good.

Then we started tearing through the fourth season of Longmire on the weekend. The move to Netflix means that the episodes jump from 42 minutes to pretty much an hour each, without the need to stage mini-crises around commercial breaks, and the show benefits from this. The third episode is especially harrowing. The camera angles are experimental at times, and the production values are quite good, giving the show a richer look. For some reason, though, I seem to have gotten a pretty good knack for identifying when a character is telling a big fat lie, even though the cops on the show don't glom onto the fact until later. Still a decent show, worth a binge.

I also did a binge rewatch of Season 5A of Haven so I can prepare a recap essay for News from the Dead Zone and to refresh my memory of the show for the launch of 5B in a few weeks. I'm supposed to get a screener of the first two episodes this week, too, so I can help promote the final season. I'm glad to see that Kris Lemche will be back in his role as the Darkside Seeker. He was on the set when we visited last year and I had a lot of fun joking around with him. Unfortunately the nice long interview I did in the morgue that Lemche "crashed" has yet to surface, and I'm beginning to think it never will.
Tuesday, September 8th, 2015
1:22 pm
Everywhere we looked...Sam Elliott
We saw a lot of movies this weekend. It seemed like Sam Elliott was in most of them, but it was only a couple.

First, we watched an oddball film called The Age of Adaline. It stars Blake Lively as a woman who has an accident in her late twenties that mysteriously causes her to stop aging. She has a daughter who catches up to her and surpasses her in apparent age, and she comes to the attention of some government agencies who want to study her, so she has to go off the radar, switching identities every decade or so. When she's about 107, she meets and falls in love with a man (Treme's Michael Huisman) but she knows that, like all the other times she's gotten involved, it must end because, as with Doctor Who, the other person will grow old and die while she remains the same. Then she meets the man's father (Harrison Ford) and all manner of mayhem breaks out. It's a cute movie. The stentorian narrator is a bit of a buzz kill, but Lively (who I've never seen in a movie before) is good and Harrison Ford is great.

We went retro on Saturday night and watched a couple of films from the early 1980s: Heavy Metal and The Wall. Here's the thing: I'd never seen either of them before. I couldn't have told you what Heavy Metal was about to save my soul, and I was under the impression that The Wall was mostly animated, that's how little I knew about them. Heavy Metal hasn't aged well. It was clearly targeted at teenage boys, who probably don't care that the film doesn't make a lick of sense whatsoever. At least it was short. The Wall, however, was worthwhile seeing, even thirty years after its release. It was a lot different than I expected. I think Geldof says about 15 words in total in the film, other than what he sings. The film does a fine job of amplifying on the album's story and themes, and it's clear that losing his father in WWII had a lasting impact on Roger Waters. The animation, when it happens, looks decent for its era. The marching hammers (about the only impression I had of what the film was like) still look cool.

Then we watched Mystic River because we inherited a copy of the DVD. Still an impressive film, one that I saw on the big screen when it came out. It has Marcia Gay Harden in it—I got to spend some time with her on the set of The Mist. That wouldn't be the last time we saw her this weekend, either.

On Sunday we saw A Walk in the Woods, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte, based on the memoir by Bill Bryson, which I read many years ago. We didn't even see the trailer. Redford and Nolte sold us on it, and we later discovered that it also has Emma Thompson and Mary Steenburgen. It's about a guy (Redford is quite a bit older than Bryson was in the memoir, I believe) who decides to walk the Appalachian Trail, which spans a distance of over 2100 miles from Georgia to Maine. His wife (Thompson) thinks he's crazy and forbids him to go unless he can find someone to go with him. His friends all think he's nuts, too, until his old friend (Nolte) hears about the adventure from another friend and volunteers to go with him. Nolte's character is a recovering alcoholic with two bad knees and incipient diabetes, but he's better than nothing. In fact, the two men are polar opposites and haven't spoken in years. The movie is a milder version of the Reese Witherspoon movie Wild. The two men get up to some hijinx and have some funny encounters (one with an annoying no-it-all hiker, another with a couple of grizzly bears, and the funniest of all with the husband of a woman Nolte tries to charm at a laundromat). They have some minor crises but for the most part it's just fun to watch the two together, and Nolte hasn't been this laugh-out-loud funny in a long time. He enters the movie looking not too different from that famous mug shot from a number of years ago and you'd think two months on the trail would slim him down a little more than it did, but we enjoyed the heck out of the film.

Then we saw I'll See You In My Dreams, which stars Blythe Danner (apparently in her first starring role in a feature), Rhea Perlman, Max Gail (from Barney Miller) and Sam Elliott. Danner plays a woman who has been a widow for decades. She has a group of women friends her age that she spends time with. Her dog dies early in the film, which is sort of a catalyst for change. She meets Sam Elliott, a suave and debonair guy who has decided to spend all his money before he dies. She has an adult daughter who drops by for a visit. She goes karaoke singing with the pool guy. Dope is smoked. It's just a nice film about growing older and deciding to entertain the possibility of one's life having a second or third act.

Finally, last night we saw Grandma, starring Lily Tomlin, and it was the best of the bunch. Ellie's (Tomlin) teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner from The Americans) needs $650 by the end of the day for an abortion and Ellie has no money so she has to go around visiting people from her past to try to raise the dough. She's just broken up with her recent lover (Judy Greer, cute as always). She'd had a 38-year relationship with a woman called Violet, who is only referenced but never seen, but she'd also knocked boots with Sam Elliott (hey, there he is again) a long time ago. He's not nearly as nice a guy in this movie, but it's still fun to watch and listen to him. Sage's mother is Marcia Gay Harden (her again!) and eventually they have to go visit her and put up with her disapproval. Along the way we run into Elizabeth Pena (in her last role) and a hilarious John Cho and we piece together all the parts of Ellie's life. The morality of abortion isn't a big part of the film (the only person who actively tries to talk Sage out of it is a protester at a clinic) but Ellie knows the lasting impact the procedure will have on Sage, so it isn't dismissed out of hand, either. Lily Tomlin has rarely been more charming, saltier, tougher or funnier, and she's all these things and more. Garner keeps pace with her, too. This is a small movie, shot in 19 days for a $1 million budget, but it should be a big hit for Tomlin. Go see it: you won't be sorry.
Monday, August 31st, 2015
12:56 pm
...that keeps on giving
Looks like we're going to be getting new next door neighbors fairly soon. The SOLD tab has gone up on the realtor's sign. I can't say we'll miss the previous neighbors and their increasing pack of barky dogs. We never really got to know them. The neighbors, not the dogs, I mean. We got to know the dogs very well.

At least they didn't bring as much baggage with them as the family that moves into the new house in the excellent thriller The Gift, which we saw yesterday morning. The husband and wife move from Chicago to L.A. for his job. She had to leave her job behind, though she's doing some stuff online. There are hints of possible instability in her past. It's a new start, perhaps time to add to their family, though that has been problematic in the past. Then he (Jason Bateman) runs into someone from high school while they're out shopping. Dude is a little creepy. A little stalkerish. The guy is played by Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed the film. Bateman's Simon (as in Simon Says) remembers him as Gordo, though in private he recalls him as Weirdo. He seems a little off kilter, and he keeps showing up, often bearing gifts. Is he obsessed with Simon's wife, Robyn? Did he do something to the family dog, Jangles? And what really happened back in high school?

There are a few jump-scares, but mostly this is a taut thriller with a very well developed story and characters. Edgerton's script leads you in all manner of directions and raises any number of suspicions, some of them legitimate, some of them red herrings. He also manages to shift the viewer's allegiances throughout, until he punches everyone in the stomach with a wholly substantiated but unforeseen revelation. My wife, who generally doesn't like scary movies, really enjoyed The Gift, because it was all about the characters. No guts or gore. Highly recommended.

We also watched a documentary called Iris, about Iris Apfel, though I'm hard pressed to explain what it is she's famous for. She became renowned for her rather quirky fashion taste, I guess is the easiest way to say it. She likes gaudy bangles and intriguing textiles and somehow parlayed that into celebrity. She's in her early 90s and still does all these interviews and talk shows about fashion. Her husband, who turns 100 at the end of the movie, just died this month, I see. It was an oddball film—were she less famous, she could have been featured on an episode of Hoarders, or perhaps even an entire season—but a look at something with which we have no direct exposure, so that's always interesting.

Hannibal went out with a bang and a few stabs and lots of blood. It was a very strange, entrancing series. In this incarnation, it's almost a love story between Hannibal and Will Graham, and the final moments were very Reichenbach Falls, although if you didn't wait for it there was a post-credits scene not to be missed in which Gillian Anderson looked quite ravishing and delectable. Even if there is never a Season 4, which looks like less of a possibility with each passing day, it was a good way to end things.
Wednesday, August 26th, 2015
4:00 pm
Not Kansas Any More
Last summer it was Styx and Foreigner. Last night it was Toto and Yes. Gradually I'm finally getting the chance to see in concert all the bands who I first discovered in high school or as a university undergrad, many of whom I still listen to this day or have recently rediscovered.

Styx fell off my radar for a long time until I stumbled upon their 2003 album Cyclorama, which is very good. That was when I learned that they'd brought on Lawrence Gowan as a singer-keyboardist, the guy I knew of as just Gowan, a well-known Canadian performer from the early 80s. I started filling in the gaps and then they came to the local concert pavilion last summer, along with Don Felder from the Eagles and Foreigner, who put on an impressive show, too. I'd seen Tommy Shaw before when he toured with the Damned Yankees back in the early 90s.

Similarly, I'd lost touch with Toto until something put them back on my radar again and I caught up. They have a new album out, Toto XIV, which is very good indeed. I've been looking forward to this concert for a few months, and I was surprised that they were the support act. Turns out it was almost a co-billing. Toto played from 7:30 until 9:00 and Yes played from 9:15 until 11:00 or so. Toto had the bigger stage presence, with two keyboard players (Paich and Porcaro), a percussionist in addition to a drummer, two backup singers, in addition to Steve Lukather, vocalist Joseph Williams and more. Lukather is amazing on the guitar, but I see he's still "old-school"—plugged in. A roadie had to lurk behind him to make sure his guitar chord didn't get tangled up. Yes was just five guys: drums, bass, keyboards, guitar and vocals.

I was surprised that the pavilion was in its small configuration for the concert: no lawn seats were sold. The Pavilion has 6500 reserved seats and can put another 10,000 people on the hill, and it routinely sells out the full capacity. For this show, it was all reserved seating. A rainstorm passed through in the mid-afternoon, so I was glad we wouldn't be sitting on the hill, but as it turns out, no one was. They seemed to know in advance that this was a concert with somewhat limited appeal. It was certainly an enthusiastic audience, albeit a relatively small one.

I'm much less familiar with Yes's music. I knew a few of their songs, but not most of them. I appreciate their musical talents (Steve Howe still has his guitar chops, Geoff Downes can still play his wall of keyboards with the best of them), but their songs don't grab me the same way many other bands' songs do. I have a hard time latching onto them. They meander and seem to be without structure in some cases. I guess that just comes from not having listened to them for decades, as I have with the other groups. The lead singer can reproduce Jon Anderson's sound pretty well (I liked Anderson's project with Vangelis from the 1980s), though he looked a little like a cross between a religious cult leader and Kid Rock. It was fun watching them (the bass player was impressive, though Chris Squire's shadow hung over them literally and figuratively), but I just didn't connect to the music in the same way. I was on my feet for much of Toto, but I sat back for Yes, mostly. I remember feeling much the same when I saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer many years ago: the musicians seemed to be offering a master class in music performance rather than putting on a show. But that's just me. The English bloke sitting next to us was having the time of his life during Yes.

I think that leaves only Kansas as the one major band from my college years that I haven't seen in concert.
Monday, August 24th, 2015
12:27 pm
Working Class Dog
My review of The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film just went live at Cemetery Dance Online.

We watched a couple of documentaries and a couple of films this weekend. First, we saw An Honest Liar, a documentary about James ("The Amazing") Randi, the magician and escape artist who has been one of the leading crusaders against fraud, especially from people who claim to have magical or mystical powers. Uri Geller has been one of his lifelong nemeses.

I'd forgotten that Randi was born in Canada. He became a magician and illusionist at an early age, joining the circus instead of graduating from high school. However, he reached a decision point when he realized that he could use his skills for ill or for good. He's taken on faith healers and psychics, and has posted $1 million of his own money to anyone who can prove psychic abilities. He executed elaborate cons to show that PSI research at reputable institutions was fundamentally flawed, and he coached the producers at the Tonight Show on how to set up Uri Geller's demonstrations so they were guaranteed to fail. He then started following Geller on the talk show circuit to reproduce everything Geller had done the previous day to show that there was nothing magical about it. His credo is that magicians are the most honest people around: they'll tell you they're going to lie to you and fool you, and then they lie to you and fool you.

On a more personal level, the documentary revealed some surprises about his long-term relationship and a deception that was either perpetrated upon him or with his full cooperation for a quarter of a century. We've always liked Randi and his JREF organization's goals. We came away from the documentary liking him even more. But, man, those eyebrows. They're a ZIP code all their own.

Then we watched A Year in Champagne, which is a companion film to A Year in Burgandy, which we watched a few months ago. It examines the production of champagne wine in northeastern France by showing what goes on during a typical year at a variety of vineyards and companies. The year chosen happened to be a particularly gloomy one and it looked like the crop would be a complete failure, but season-end conditions improved enough so that, although the crop was small, it was very good. A fascinating look at the way champagne emerged as something associated with celebrations, and the people who've made it for centuries.

Yesterday we saw Ricki and the Flash, starring Meryl Streep as a woman who abandoned her family to pursue her dream of being a musician. A crisis emerges when her daughter's husband divorces her and her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) is ill-equipped to manage her volatile emotions. So he puts in a call to Ricki (who the family knew as Linda) and asks her to come back to Indiana. This opens up all sorts of old wounds and issues. Ricki's partner, in the band and off, is played by the most excellent Rick Springfield, who still has his guitar chops (and looks much better than he did in True Detective, see above) and delivered a surprisingly emotional performance as a sensitive guy trying to break down the borders of a somewhat closed-off woman. The script was by Diablo Cody, and it makes some very interesting (and, from my perspective, good) choices about what threads to follow and how to wrap them up. There's no tidy bow at the end, but there is the possibility of further healing of broken bonds. It gave us a lot to talk about at the pub after the matinee. Good music, too, all performed by the actors and musicians.

Then, in the afternoon we watched an Australian film called Strangerland starring Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes and Hugo Weaving. It's set in a small, remote Australian town prone to dust storms. Kidman and Fiennes have moved there to get away from some family problem that occurred in their previous domicile. They have a 12- or 13-year old son who likes to go walkabout at night and a 15-year-old hypersexual daughter. There's unexplained tension in the marriage that is exacerbated when the two kids go missing one night. Everything from everyone's past comes out in the subsequent investigation, led by Weaving's town sheriff. Strong performances, but things sort of meander without much explanation and the film has one of those dreaded "French movie" endings where the credits start rolling and you slap your forehead and say, "Oh, no!" An intriguing movie, but ultimately less than satisfying, although it's got Nicole Kidman, and that's always good.
Wednesday, August 19th, 2015
1:48 pm
Johnny B. Goode
I went to a book signing last night and came home smelling of smoke.

No, it didn't turn into a book burning.

I first met Michael Koryta at Necon in 2014. We hit it off quickly and I found myself thinking that if he lived closer, he'd be the sort of guy I'd like to hang around with. A seriously smart guy, and very nice. He also happens to be a helluva writer.

I'd been introduced to his work by accident. I was using my computer-fu for my pals at Cemetery Dance, helping them extract the text from an obstinate pdf. All the running headers and footers and page numbers were giving them fits. So I took a crack at it and managed to come up with a solution to the problem. As it happened, the pdf was Koryta's The Prophet. I figured, since I had the file, I'd load it onto my iPad and read it. I was majorly impressed.

Those Who Wish Me Dead was his 2014 novel, a full-out thriller set in Big Sky Country. Impressive. I managed to get an eGalley of his latest, Last Words, the beginning of a series, and was also impressed. I think I'd known he was coming to Houston on his book tour, but all of a sudden, on Monday, I realized it was going to be the following day, publication day for the new book. I sent him a DM on Twitter and said to give me a shout if he was bored yesterday afternoon. He had an interview to take care of, but in between that and his appearance at Murder By the Book, he had an hour or so, so I met up with him at the bar at his hotel, and then drove him over to the bookstore.

Following his own tradition with MBTB, he read from his next book instead of the current one. They're parts of a series, and he originally decided to shift the second book from third person to first to indicate the growth and evolution of his character, Mark Novak. He was some 300 pages into the book when he realized it wasn't working, so he went back to the beginning (oh, what a brave decision that was) and started over again in third person. However, before he made the choice, the decision had been made to include the first chapter as a teaser in the hardcover of Last Words, a fairly rare occurrence. Even rarer, now that the chapter is a lot different than it will be in Echoes, when it appears next year.

He asked me to stick around after the signing, so we went out to dinner. As a nod to being in Texas, I suggest barbecue. The original Goode Company Barbeque is only a few blocks from MBTB, and it was a good choice. By then it was nice enough that we could sit outdoors while we had our dinner and Texas beer (Lone Star for him, Shiner Bock for me). That's where the smell of smoke came from—we were downwind from the kitchen, I guess. I could still smell it on my clothes this morning. A nice smell.

Anyhow, it was a pleasant evening. Had a great time chatting with Michael about everything under the sun. Took him back to his hotel, as he had to catch an early flight this morning for the next leg of his book tour.

We watched American Sniper on the weekend. It had been on my radar for a long time, just never got around to it before. I'm glad we saw it. I had a different impression about what happened to him after he came back after his last tour of duty. As good as the film was, I have to wonder how Eastwood and the producers and the studio executives and everyone else who sticks their collective noses into a movie allowed it to go out with that scene of the baby played by a plastic doll. Surely the scene could have been shot differently so it wasn't so blatant. As long as it was breast feeding, it was hardly noticeable, but once Cooper's character started waving it in front of the camera, it left no doubt that this was not a real baby, crying noises in the soundtrack notwithstanding.

We also watched a documentary on Netflix called The Search for General Tso. While nominally devoted to determining the origins of the ubiquitous dish, it also explored Chinese immigration into the US and the reasons why they scattered across the country after originally concentrating in San Francisco. It's not a long film, a little over an hour, but it presented some interesting information about how American Chinese food evolved because the Chinese understood that they had to adapt the cuisine to the local palate, which gives rise to such weirdnesses as General Tso's Alligator in Louisiana. They tracked down the originator of the dish, an aging Chinese man from Hunan Province who lived in Taiwan, who was flabbergasted and dismayed by the variations of his invention presented to him. A fun, light, entertaining program that will likely leave you with a sudden urge to head off to the local Chinese takeaway.
Monday, August 10th, 2015
2:37 pm
Ride-along with the True Detectives
What's a person to do when your spouse is out of town for the weekend and the daytime high temperatures are hovering around 102° with a heat index over 110°?

I had a plan and a backup plan. Fortunately, everything came together for the main plan because in hindsight i don't think the backup plan would have worked out so well. I had this idea that I'd go down to the coast, where it would be 10-15° cooler, set up a canopy on the beach, bring along a cooler of beverages and a chair and write to the sound of the Gulf of Mexico's constant waves. It was a romantic idea, but I don't think it was that much cooler down there, and a few minutes out in the blanket of heat late on Saturday afternoon told me that it probably wouldn't have been terribly productive time.

Instead, I went out to Trivia Night on Friday evening. The first time I've ever done that, and it was a lot of fun. Sponsored by a local organization that liaises between local businesses and schools. They organize the district science fair and mentoring programs, stuff like that. This was a fund raiser for their organization, the third year they've done it. There were some corporate teams, but I ended up sitting with five strangers. We sat at table 12 so when we were tasked with coming up with a team name, I suggested "The Dirty Dozen," but since there were six of us, we modified it to "The Dirty Half Dozen." There were eight rounds of ten questions and we did surprisingly well. We were the leaders at the midway point and ended up coming in second overall, losing out to the returning champions from last year. One of the rounds consisted of a baggie containing ten pieces of breakfast cereal that we had to identify. That was pretty clever, I thought.

Then on Saturday, the HPD ridealong I'd requested a couple of weeks ago came together. I had to be at the South Central station at 6:45 for roll call, so that meant getting up early. I was assigned, as requested, to a female officer, as I wanted to hear her perspective on the job. How her colleagues treated her, and how the public did. It was a fairly uneventful tour of duty—the officer kept looking for something interesting to show me, but the closest we came was a wellness check at a house where the resident hadn't been heard from for four days. The front door was barred, so HFD was called in to pop the gate and then break down the door. Everyone expected to find a body inside, but the house was empty, so the resident will return home to a surprise. I learned all about the new street drug that is turning people into zombies and got the inside scoop on how cops handle certain kinds of routine situations. It's been a decade since my last ridealong, so their tech has been upgraded a little in the interim. Cops have to be experts at distracted driving, as they're always responding to messages on the computer, over the radio and on their phones, sometimes simultaneously. I think she was disappointed that it was a boring day, but I got a lot of material and we got to spend most of the time inside the air conditioned car!

Yesterday I watched a documentary called Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau, which tells the story of how a director's vision for an adaptation of the Jules Verne novel went off the rails. The movie ended up being made, but with a new director (after Stanley spent months on the script and preproduction), but went through various cast changes and suffered from the presence of two demanding and cantankerous actors: Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. It was filmed in a remote section of a remote section of Australia—an hour through the rain forest from Cairns, which is way up on the northeast corner of the continent, near the barrier reef. I spent a week there on vacation, a little before this film was made, I believe, and it's beautiful but a long way from everything, and prone to bad weather. The movie makes one wonder how on earth films ever get made. This was a case of giving a guy a ton of money and plopping him down in the rain forest and letting him hang himself. Fascinating stuff, even if you've never heard of Richard Stanley.

I also saw the last part of True Detectives. The show had big boots to fill, and for the most part it didn't live up to the standards of the first season. The plot was as convoluted as hell, but that's almost a noir tradition and in the final analysis did it really matter? There were the good guys (a bunch of broken, wounded men and women) and the bad guys (corrupt politicians, etc.) and the very bad guys (Russian and Mexican gangs) all bumping up against each other. It was Chandler-esque and Ross Macdonald-esque and Ellroy-esque all at the same time, which isn't a boon to the intelligibility quotient, but all in all I thought it was worth while.

I stuck my toe into the Sense8 waters. I'm not sold on it yet, but I'll watch the next episode to see where it's going.
Thursday, August 6th, 2015
11:17 am
It's been nearly two years since we saw the mercury rise past 100°F (37.8°C), but we're making up for lost time. Triple digits day in and day out, with heat indices in the 108-109° range. Fortunately, I'm not outdoors very much, so I barely notice. The heat radiating from the (black) seat in my car actually feels kind of nice when I drive home at the end of the workday.

Cemetery Dance announced a couple of relevant things recently. First, the signed/limited edition of The Dark Tower Companion is almost done at the printer and should be shipping by the end of the month. Their eye-catching notices start off by saying, "Stephen King Says This Book Will Delight Dark Tower Fans!" Well, who can argue with that? This massive book is still available from CD for the bargain price of $60, and it has material (mostly pertaining to the Marvel graphic novels) not found in the NAL trade edition, which is also still available, by the way. The timing is decent given this week's announcement that the Dark Tower movie will be in theaters in January 2017.

Then came the official announcement of the CD Select series, which consists of eBooks containing about four stories from a single author. Here's the promo copy:

This new series invites some of our favorite authors to spotlight a sampling of their own short fiction: award-winners, stories they consider their best or that had the most impact on their career—or neglected favorites they feel deserve a second look.

Long-time fans will enjoy revisiting some classic tales. New readers will find this series a handy introduction to each author’s best work.

Each Cemetery Dance Select mini-collection includes an exclusive Afterword where the author explains the reasoning behind each selection, and provides insights into the writing of each story.

Check out their webpage for a list of the authors from the "first wave," which includes me. The eBooks are available from all of the usual online vendors.

I finally bit the bullet and deleted Under the Dome from the DVR. I almost did it at the end of Season 2, but I decided to give the show another chance to redeem itself. The two-hour premiere was a train wreck. Still, I watched one more episode because it promised to "answer all the questions." I wasn't impressed.

I am still digging Mr. Robot, though. "Was that what you wanted to hear?" Eliot says to his therapist after admitting to creeping her, and just about everyone else in his life. She was stunned, to put it mildly. And then there was that bit on the roof. I kept waiting for her to get up, gasping, but no.
Friday, July 31st, 2015
2:02 pm
Living on the Edge
My latest essay at Stephen King Revisited is now online. It's called A brick heaved through a window, and it's the history behind Cujo. The title comes from a comment King once made about the way he wanted the book to impact people.

I received word from the good folks at Cemetery Dance today that their limited edition of The Dark Tower Companion is almost done at the printer and will begin shipping in late August. Can't wait to see this one. I signed a galley at NECON, the first time I'd seen one, in fact. All of my proofing on it for them was done with pdfs.

I decided to take the plunge and upgrade my PC from Windows 7 to Windows 10 yesterday. I was very cavalier about it. I didn't do a special documents backup (I have a dedicated terrabyte drive that constantly backs things up for me). I set the upgrade going and left for work after I clicked all the approval buttons that needed clicking, trusting that it would all happen without me needing to be present. And it did. Nary a hitch, and the interface and computing experience is only slightly different than before. It seems a little slicker and faster. I've discovered one program to date that no longer works, but I shouldn't have been surprised. Support for it had ended years ago, and the complaint the program made when I tried to launch it was "This program requires Internet Explorer 6 to run," so that gives an indication of its vintage. I was able to migrate the data from it to a newer, supported program, so nothing was lost. I worried that my manuscript submission tracker wouldn't work, but it started up without a problem. It's almost like having a new computer. Almost.
Monday, July 27th, 2015
3:58 pm
Not so elementary
We saw Mr. Holmes on Friday evening. It stars Sir Ian McKellan as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes, retired to the coast of England, keeping bees and battling the onset of dementia. Laura Linney is his housekeeper. She has a young son who is always trying to get Holmes to "do his thing," where he tells someone where they've been based on observation.

Holmes is struggling to remember his final case, the one that caused him to walk away from his lifelong profession. He knows it must have gone terribly wrong, but Watson's account of it is benign. He begins to write it down, with the young boy as an eager audience, and bit by bit it comes back to him. He's also just back from a trip to Japan where he acquired some Hiroshima herbs that are supposed to improve his memory.

It's a charming, slow-paced film that doles out its secrets reluctantly. There are few whiz-bang feats of observation, but Holmes hasn't completely lost that faculty. However, he does learn a lesson about the perils of telling the truth and the benefits of the benign lie. It's a thoroughly enjoyable film, and the little boy is a real charmer, going toe-to-toe and head-to-head with the great detective and the illustrious actor who plays him. The aging process is very well done (we see Holmes in flashback some 30 years earlier), and there's always a glint in McKellan's eye. Nicely done.

We also finally found time to watch the two-hour finale of Battlestar Galactica. It was mostly satisfactory, though there were a few things that were hard to swallow. I didn't mind that Starbuck's nature wasn't explained. I decided for myself that post-Earth she was an angel, like Baltar and Caprica's companions, one that was visible to everyone who needed to see her, which was apparently everyone. I thought the decision to eschew all technology at the new planet was a little glibly handled. A plot necessity that should have involved more angst and discussion instead of being simply accepted by everyone. Adama's decision was mystifying. We both thought he was going to crash the raptor into a mountain or something, but instead he simply went into isolation. To what end? And I could have totally done without the 150,000 years in the future bit that locked the story into a specific timeframe that causes no end of logical issues. Still, it was a great show while it lasted, and we're going to move on to Caprica next.

I put up a few book review recently. A mixed bag of the very good and the less-so:

There's been a lot of bashing of True Detective, Season 2, but I'm glad to be sticking with it. I think there are only two more episodes and it looks like the rubber is starting to hit the road. Also, a fascinating beginning to the "tooth fairy" (Red Dragon) storyline on Hannibal. It is interesting to come to this point after having experienced the entire history between Jack and Walt and Hannibal. I've also picked up Mr. Robot and Humans, both of which are off to good beginnings, though I like the former a bit more than the latter. One thing I've grown to appreciate about British television shows is their casual multi-ethnicity. Characters are black or Asian or whatever, and nothing is made of the fact. They simply are. The android who is brought into the family home in Humans is Asian, but the only controversy is that one was purchased at all, not its appearance. Wayward Pines lived up to its name, going wayward in its final episode. It was always one of those on-the-fence shows for me, but even if it is miraculously resurrected for another season, I'm done with it.
Thursday, July 23rd, 2015
2:38 pm
Himitsu wo shiri tai
I can't believe that it's been a week since I set out for NECON. Where does the time go? I had to get up really (really) early for my flight last Thursday, but the good thing about that was that I arrived in Providence shortly after noon and I got to the convention center in the early afternoon. People gradually filtered in over the course of the next several hours.

Usually a very large group of us went out to dinner at Jacky's Galaxie, but this year we were just a group of five, which made it more intimate. You could actually talk to everyone there instead of just those people in your immediate proximity. And the servers weren't overwhelmed by us. It was nice. We followed that with the obligatory trip to 1776 for provisions. Thursday evening was spent in the courtyard talking with old friends and new ones. It was surprisingly cool—I didn't take a jacket with me.

Friday morning I was supposed to go on an outing to see some of Lovecraft's papers, but my one panel duty ended up being at the same time, so I had to skip that excursion, which sounded like it was amazing. I had a kaffeeklatsch where four of us, moderated by Jack Haringa, made recommendations from all the books we'd read over the past year.

Although there are panels and interviews, all of which are interesting and worthwhile, and some business gets transacted, a big part of NECON is just talking to people. In the courtyard, in the lobby, in the (new) lounge, in the dealer room, outside the front door, over meals. The con is capped at 200 people and I would guess that at least 120 of those consist of people who go year in and year out, so there are a lot of familiar faces. It's a little bit like homecoming or a family reunion. I probably talk more during those four days than I do during an ordinary month.

One place I did a lot of talking was when I was interviewed by Brian Keene and Dave Thomas for The Horror Show with Brian Keene podcast. The segment, which starts out with an interview with Paul G. Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts, which most people are already calling the book of the year, goes live tonight. It was a wide-ranging interview, one of the most in-depth I've ever done on audio, and it was all the more fun because it was live, in the lounge at NECON with people wandering through and, occasionally, interrupting.

(Photo by Paul Tremblay -- Thomas, Keene and Vincent)

While I may talk more than I normally do at NECON, I sleep a lot less. I stayed up past midnight three nights in a row, which is way outside my normal routine. Plus, I had to get up at 4 am on Sunday to drive back to Providence and catch my early morning flight. The weekend always slips away far too fast, leaving us with a new memories, new laughs (especially from the legendary NECON roast) and new friends and acquaintances. There's no other con like it.

Over the weekend, I heard about some good TV shows to check out. I've already sampled Mr. Robot and I'm digging it. The main character is a depressed hacker who's hooked on morphine. He works for a cybersecurity company whose biggest client is an "evil" corporation. He comes to the attention of a small group of hacktivists and has an on-again/off-again courtship with them. The leader is played by Christian Slater in one of his best performances in recent memory. The main character, Eliot, is a bit of a zombie, quirky as all get out, but he's not completely alienated from society. He has friends and a girlfriend and pets. He also uses his skills to bring bad guys to justice, a kind of digilante (which is also the title of an unpublished short story of mine). I'm digging it so far.

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