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|Monday, June 6th, 2016|
|As Gandalf sez...
My review of End of Watch by Stephen King
appears at Cemetery Dance Online today.
My kidney stone and I are remaining close pals. I've named her Petra. I wish she'd leave. For the most part, she is a cooperative visitor but every now and then (like for about eight hours yesterday), she raises an unholy ruckus. In the meantime, I'm drinking water like it's going out of style.
We watched a few movies this weekend. First, we saw Rising Sun
with Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes. I've seen it a couple of times before, but I always enjoy it, even if it is somewhat West-centric and a little dated. The tech is very dated, but so are the hairstyles.
Then we saw Tokyo Fiance
, the tagline for which could be Amelie
in Japan. In fact, the main character's name is Amelie. She's a Belgian woman who was born in Japan and lived there until she was five. Now she's twenty and returning to Japan as a French teacher. One of her students (her only
student, it seems) is a Japanese man of her age who is fou pour francais
. As they explore Tokyo and its environs, she teaches him French and they fall in love. The ending was a little bit rushed, I thought, but it was a charming little film, good for an outsider's view of modern Japan.
Then we watched Ali
, starring Will Smith. It covers about a decade of the boxer's life, from the early sixties until the Rumble in the Jungle, the boxing match with George Forman in Zaire that returned him to heavyweight champion after several years lost due to his political convictions and legal issues. I didn't find the movie terribly coherent. It skipped along the surface of most events, and if you didn't know the history, you might not be able to orient yourself to what was happening. It spends a lot of time with Malcolm X, but there is only a brief and confusing moment showing Martin Luther King's assassination through the eyes of a secondary character. And while the other actors immersed themselves in their roles, I could never shake the notion that I was watching Will Smith. I tried to see Ali. I tried hard. Just couldn't make it happen.
|Thursday, June 2nd, 2016|
|I got a rock
I didn't ask for a kidney stone for my birthday, but that's what I got!
About a month ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with a sharp pain in my abdomen. It tormented me for a while, then went away. I thought it was, perhaps, some sort of temporary obstruction or gas. It didn't bother me again...
Until the day before yesterday. I was standing at my desk at work when the pain hit me again. Exactly the same, only worse. I figured, it passed before, it'll pass again. So I walked around my office, and lay on the floor and sat. The pain came in waves. Never quite going away, but sometimes increasing in intensity. So, eventually, I called my wife to drive me to the ER.
The PA who triaged me said she would put in an order for pain medication. That was around 2 pm. It was nearly 5 pm by the time I got into a room and no one seemed particularly rushed to give me anything. All that time, the pain hadn't relented. Worst I've ever experienced. They (even the female nurses) say that it is comparable to giving birth. I'll never know for sure, but...ow.
Eventually I got a shot of morphine and all was well with the world again. I had a CT scan with iodine contrast and the doctor reported a moderate-sized kidney stone. I got prescriptions for medication to dilate the tubes and some pain medication and that was that. An 80% chance it would pass.
So far, it hasn't. I've only had to use the pain meds once, thankfully, after a brief spell yesterday afternoon. I've been working at home these past two days and will probably do so again tomorrow. We're getting more heavy rain, so it's just as well not to be out on the streets when there's no place for the runoff to go. I'm hoping this thing will decide to come out on its own, although I'm not exactly looking forward to the moment when it does. My father had several bouts of stones when I was a kid and I remember it as not being a happy time at all. Of course, the pain meds are probably a little better now.
We watched Our Brand is Crisi
s last night. It stars Sandra Bullock as a political consultant who has been off the grid for half a dozen years after some erratic and questionable behavior. Ann Dowd enlists her for the presidential campaign in Bolivia, where their candidate (who looks a LOT like Geoffrey Rush) is 28% behind in the polls. Billy Bob Thornton is working for one of the opposition candidates, the frontrunner. He and Bullock have history.
Through a series of savvy and shady maneuvers, Bullock turns the campaign into a tight race. It's based on the real campaign that was managed by James Carville's firm back in 2002, one that had a less than stellar outcome. Bullock is terrific in this film, and her badinage with Thorton is a lot of fun to watch. While it's appropriate to the material, I can't help but think the film's title was something of a deterrent. It has lousy review scores and only made back about 1/4 of its costs during its theatrical run, so I guess it gets branded a flop, but we enjoyed it.
|Tuesday, May 31st, 2016|
|Winter Isn't Coming
The day after I was stranded in downtown Houston because of flooding rains, we got walloped by a second rainstorm of equal intensity on Friday afternoon. All the secondary roads leading south (toward Houston) from our community were under water by the end of the afternoon, as well as many feeder roads and exits off the interstate. (Click here to see some impressive drone video of these major roads
The picture to the right shows the Brazos River in Fort Bend Country (southeast of where I live and work). That area might not have received much rain, but it's downstream from the places that did, so the water ran into the rivers and eventually crested and ran over the banks. A number of communities west of Houston were evacuated. People who didn't leave are now trapped in their homes for the time being.
And it's supposed to rain again for the next few days after today. With the ground so soggy already, there's no place for the water to go. Fortunately, the community where I live has excellent drainage. When I went home on Friday, the ditches were raging torrents. Our front lawn was covered in water and the yard decorations were floating in the back yard, but by the next day the water was all gone and none of it got anywhere it shouldn't.
I posted my review of Modern Lovers by Emma Straub at Onyx Reviews
today. Now I am embarking on a journey to Westeros. Until now, the only thing I've read of the Game of Thrones material was the "The Hedge Knight" novella from Legends
, and I've still seen none of the TV series. My plan is to read a novel and then watch the corresponding season. I assume that will work, right? I do know what most of the actors who play the parts look like from the frequent discussions of the series over the years, so that helps, in a way.
I thought it would be heavy going, but I read more than a third of the first book yesterday. There are a lot of characters to keep track of but, man, what an imagination. This is an amazingly developed world with an intricate history. Looking forward to seeing what all the fuss is about.
|Friday, May 27th, 2016|
|The Tide Is High
My latest entry in Stephen King Revisited is now available. Titled The Two Princes, it deals with the publication history of The Eyes of the Dragon
. While some may think we jumped ahead in our chronological sequence, the book was published in limited edition a few years before the more familiar trade edition, so that's why it appears where it does.
Yesterday was interesting. Two bookstores and a bar within shouting distance of each other sponsored a block party to celebrate the publication of The City of Mirrors
by Justin Cronin, the final book in his Passage trilogy. (Cronin lives in Houston and a lot of the action takes place in Texas, so these books have been a big deal 'round here. My review can be found here
.) Cronin appeared first at Brazos Bookstore, where he read for about fifteen minutes and then did a fifteen minute Q&A before migrating up the street like the Pied Piper, luring fans along with promise of a steamier passage at his second reading at Murder By the Book. Following the second reading and Q&A, everyone gathered across the street at Under the Volcano for the signing event.
I don't go into Houston very often, and when I do, it's almost always for a book signing. Early yesterday afternoon, the weather alerts started. Bryan/College Station got walloped by a tornado. The storm was migrating south towards us, so I got an early start and could see the dark clouds in my rearview mirror most of the way into town. In the city itself, the weather was fine. The skies were dark and ominous, but there was little more than the odd sprinkle of rain. I had an umbrella, but I never had to use it.
North of I-10, though, the situation was much different. Brenham, about 60 miles from where I live, received 14-16" of rain in a very short span of time (their previous one-day record for rain was 6"). The community where I live got 6-8" and there were reports of inundated roads (mostly feeder roads and intersections at the interstate). The local Emergency Management System admonished people to stay off the roads, especially after dark when it would be impossible to judge how deep the water might be in some places.
So, after getting my book signed (Cronin always makes fun of how much I appear in his Twitter feed), I consulted with my wife, who was at home. It wasn't raining cats and dogs—it was raining horses and cows. So I decided to hole up in a motel for the night rather than risk the 50 mile drive into uncertain terrain. If it hadn't been dark, I might have been more adventurous, but I didn't want to get stranded somewhere unfamiliar. It's funny—in this world of information technology, I had a lot of info, but not the specific information I needed, which was whether I could make it home or not. Complicating matters slightly was the fact that I didn't have a phone charger with me and I was already on the low side of 50%. So I found a place and checked in.
It wasn't a restful night, what with phone calls from the Emergency Warning System every couple of hours throughout the night and the fact that the room above me was occupied by Godzilla, who stormed around like a lumbering elephant. I was up before 5 a.m., which is my normal waking time during the week, and I checked out the situation on the various news channels. Another wave of rain was passing through, this one involving Houston proper, and it was still dark, so I waited until that storm exited my path and it started to get light before setting out for home. It was an uneventful drive. No high water anywhere. But there are threats of more storms later today, so I figured I'd better get while the gettin' was good, as we used to say.
But I got my book signed!
|Monday, May 23rd, 2016|
|Let's do the Lindy Hop again...
I finished Justin Cronin's City of Mirrors
this morning. It's an amazing end to a remarkable trilogy that spans centuries, nay, millennia. There's a lot of back story about Zero in this one, which at first seems like a huge digression until you realize that humanity was destroyed because of the actions of a star-crossed lover. Some brief and intense conflict scenes, and oh, what he does to Manhattan! I'll be seeing him at Murder By the Book in a few days. Looking forward to hearing what he plans to do next.
We went to see Money Monster
(which my mind insists is Monster Money
) on Saturday. The plot is highly improbable (no way the cops would let a guy strapped with a bomb walk out into the open streets), but it is redeemed by fine performances by George Clooney and Julia Roberts, not to mention Jack O'Connell, who I've never heard of before. Clooney plays the host of a cable TV show where he makes wild predictions about the viability of stocks and companies. One of his featured "buys" went so far south it has penguins, and O'Connell bet the family fortune on it. So he's a little miffed. He sneaks into the studio during live filming, armed with a gun and a bomb vest, which he makes Clooney's character put on. It's a little Network
—he's mad as hell and he's not going to take it any more. He doesn't want his $60,000 back: he wants everyone who lost a total of $800 million to get an explanation for the trading glitch that caused the stock to tank. Curiously, the CEO (Dominic West) is nowhere to be found. So Clooney, with the aid of his research team, some Icelandic hackers, and his intrepid camera man, producer and director, set about to get to the bottom of things, all live, all under duress. Directed by Jodie Foster, it's entertaining but doesn't have the power to get you all fired up like The Big Short
did. It also stars Giancarlo Esposito from Breaking Bad
as the police officer in charge of the hostage situation.
We also watched The Royal Night Out
, starring 11.22.63
's Sara Gadon as a young Princess Elizabeth, and Rupert Everett and Emily Watson King George and the woman who we'd come to know as "the Queen mother." The story takes place on the night of V-E day. The war in Europe is over, and everyone in England is taking a moment to celebrate, even though the war continues elsewhere. Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret, beg to be allowed to go out amongst the populace, incognito, to join in the revelry but also to hear what the people think about the King's speech and the monarchy in general. It is to be a tightly controlled excursion, but the two women manage to slip their handlers and have a number of experiences. It's very loosely based on reality. Maybe 10%. The real night out was nothing near as exciting as what the movie portrays (Margaret was only 14 at the time, though she's played older in this movie) but it's a fun romp and Gadon is charming and radiant as the future Queen. Plus she gets to put the Lindy Hop skills she acquired filming 11.22.63
to use again.
|Wednesday, May 18th, 2016|
Since finishing my responsibilities for the Shirley Jackson Award, I've been back at the process I think of as "clearing the desk." This involves making a list of everything that has an imminent deadline and knocking them off one at a time, preferably in chronological order.
The big one at the top of the list was a series of eight articles I agreed to write for Matt Cardin's Horror Literature through History
. I've participated in a couple of these before, and have always enjoyed the process, although there can be quite a bit of work involved. Typically I like to pick topics to cover where I am reasonably familiar with the material but haven't necessarily written about them at length before. My biggest piece for this book is a 2000-word entry on Ray Bradbury, which for a while was kicking my butt. Bradbury is a huge topic, even when narrowing the focus to the more horror-oriented side of things. But I finally have a polished draft that I'm happy with and ready to send in to the editor. So I can cross that project off the list, pending editorial requests.
Next up, I'm going to put on my thinking cap to try to come up with stories for two forthcoming anthologies. Maybe I'll try Bradbury's concept. He wrote a story a week every week. First draft on Monday and revisions for the next few days (always on a typewriter in his case). On Saturday he sent the story off to a market, took a breather on Sunday and started again on Monday. He would create a list of nouns and then interrogate himself about why he had chosen those particular words and what they meant to him, hence the preponderance of story titles of the form THE NOUN, especially early in his career.
came to an end. To my way of thinking, it wasn't a series that needed a grand finale. Castle and Beckett could just keep on keepin' on. The series finale was a patch-up job and the show deserved better. One more episode to tidy things up and send it on its way. It's clear that they intended the shooting in Castle's apartment to be the cliff-hanger, but once the powers-that-be decided that Beckett wasn't going to survive, the wheels fell off. Sure, the show was named for Fillion's character, but it wouldn't have been the show it was without Stana Katic. I loved watching her, right from the very beginning. She's the kind of actor who is totally present in the scene, all the time. Even when the focus is on a different character, you can see her reacting. She's not upstaging—she's just living in the scene. I always appreciated it. Plus I liked her clipped Canadian accent.
Anyhow, they shot this "and they lived happily ever after" clip that was only necessary because they couldn't leave us with the Escape from the Planet of the Apes
finale they'd written themselves into. It was okay, but oh-so-rushed, and we deserved better, after eight years. It always feels a little strange to delete a series like this from the DVR schedule. It's so final.
It wasn't a series finale for NCIS
, but it was definitely a watershed moment for the series, with the departure of Michael Weatherly's Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. It was a powerful episode (that featured the final departure of another character, off screen) that gave Weatherly the chance to show some serious chops, especially early in the episode when he's all rage. Then along comes this little girl, and, my, what a cutie she was (actually she was twins). It will be interesting to see where they pick up next season. Whether there'll be any additions to the cast. Apparently they're going to get some mileage out of Joe Spano's character's injuries, which could be good.
|Monday, May 16th, 2016|
|Fangs for the memories
My featured review of Joe Hill's The Fireman
went live at Cemetery Dance online this morning. The review will also appear in the Hill special double edition of the magazine, together with my interview with the author.
You know it's been raining a lot when the egrets and cranes start looking for fish in the ditches in front of the house...and finding something! I'm not quite sure what the egret found so yummy last night, but it put up a fight. Perhaps a crawfish or a frog. We had pea-sized hail on Saturday afternoon, and it has rained significantly each of the past couple of days and will probably do so for the next few.
We watched a strange and intriguing movie on Saturday night called The Family Fang
. It stars Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman (who also directed) as the children of a couple of performance artists (dad is played by Christopher Walken) who used them as kids in most of their public performances. They filmed the reactions of innocent bystanders to some outlandish behavior to capture the essence of life. Once Child A and Child B grew up and left home, the elder Fangs fell on hard times creatively, and they want to get the kids back in the game again. Child A (Kidman) is an actress who has a reputation for outlandish and unpredictable behavior and Child B (Bateman) had a successful novel and a less than successful sophomore book, and is currently blocked to the extent that he's willing to go on assignment to cover a bunch of rednecks who like to shoot potato guns into cornfields.
The story takes a strange twist when the elder Fangs go missing. Their car is found at a rest stop in a region where a number of people have been murdered in recent years, and there's blood in the car. Kidman is convinced this is another bit of performance art and doesn't take it seriously whereas Bateman is somewhat convinced they may have been murdered because he prefers that to the possibility that their parents want them to think they're dead. In the ensuing weeks, the siblings delve into their pasts and make some discoveries. I'd never heard of the film, but it's quite good. Kidman is spectacular, as usual, Bateman is solid and a fine director, and Walken is, well, pretty much Walken.
|Tuesday, May 10th, 2016|
|And now it can be told
Now that the contract is signed, I am pleased to announce that I will have a short story published in a forthcoming (yet to be determined which) issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine
, which has long been one of my dream markets. I already cracked their sibling publication, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
, so I've had my eyes set on this one for some time now.
I was invited to be part of the Literary Track at Comicpalooza
in Houston next month. I'll be sitting on two panels, one on "Horror Explorations in Literature" on Friday afternoon (Lee Thomas and Nate Southard are two of my co-panelists) and one on "Writing in the Thriller Genre" on Sunday afternoon. I'll also have a signing at the Barnes & Noble booth on Friday afternoon immediately after my panel. This is quite a growing concern, this convention. Among the actors who will be attending are Sigourney Weaver, Paul Reiser, Kate Beckinsale, Sean Patrick Flannery, Norman Reedus, Bill Paxton, Tara Reid, Lou Ferrigno, Lennie James, Walter Koenig (!!), Peter Mayhew, and David Prowse. Not to mention the extensive slate of authors, musicians, and people from the comics and gaming worlds. Should be a blast.
We saw Mother's Day
on the weekend, directed by Garry Marshall. OK, so it's not Wuthering Heights
, but we enjoyed it. There were several parallel storylines, some of which interlinked. It stars Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudekis, Kate Hudson, Timothy Olyphant, Margo Martindale, Hector Elizondo, Britt Robertson (Under the Dome
) and others. Lots of preposterous and unlikely situations, but it was fun. The "bloopers" with the closing credits were amusing, too. We got a kick out of the one where Olyphant's character is trapped in a collapsing inflatable backyard slide and Aniston looks to the camera and says, "Justified!" The movie has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score I've ever seen (7% from 98 critics) but it fares better among the general audience. We'd shared a bottle of wine before seeing it, so that may be the recommended approach to it.
|Monday, May 2nd, 2016|
I've probably sunburned most of my body at one time or another in my life. Rarely much of it at the same time. There was the time I forgot to put sunblock on the back of my knees when I was walking around the beaches of France. Or the time I sunburned (severely) the tops of my feet while I was writing my doctoral thesis. Or the time I sunburned my scalp when we were driving around northern California in a convertible. Add to that list my shins, which I managed to sunburn this past weekend.
We spent four days at our favorite beachside getaway, Surfside Beach, which is less than two hours away by car. The place we usually rent is no longer available, so we tried a new rental property, which was quite nice. Centrally located, good view of the beach, nice big outdoor deck—two of them, in fact. After the first day, we limited ourselves mostly to the lower deck, where we were afforded the shade of the upper deck. Although it was hazy (the threatened torrential rains never materialized, thankfully), the sun was still doing what it does best, which is to fricassee exposed flesh.
We treasure these getaway weekends. They're a kind of reboot. The sound of the crashing waves does something for the soul. Plus the chance to be completely off the grid for a few days is rejuvenating, too.
This year I was a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards. The nominees for 2015 were just announced this morning
. Congratulations to all those who made the final cut. I still have a little reading and considering to do as we prepare to vote on the winner. It's been an interesting experience, which has exposed me to a number of works I probably wouldn't have otherwise read.
My latest post at News From the Dead Zone
went up on Friday while we were off the grid. Amazing how that happens. I was greeted by an enormous box on the front porch when we returned. It contains over 1000 sheets of paper needing my signature for a project that has yet to be announced but is really cool, I think. I can't wait to see how it turns out.
A couple of weeks ago we watched an interesting documentary called 1971
. It was about a group of "radicals" who decided to break into an F.B.I. substation in Media, PA and steal every document they could find. Which they did, successfully. They then began to dole the documents out to the media, exposing illegal surveillance activities by the agency and ultimately leading to the first Congressional investigation into the F.B.I. They were never caught, despite an intensive search for the culprits. Now that the statute of limitations is long expired, they are telling their story for the first time. I thought it ended a little abruptly, because I would have liked to have known more about the reactions among their friends and colleagues and family members to the truth coming out. I would also like to have heard a little about any discussions they might have had with the ninth conspirator, who dropped out before the plan was executed, about whether he or she would agree to be named. Still, it is a fascinating look at a moment in time. Interesting, too, how these activists have become more conservative over the years. Also fascinating that The Washington Post was the only one of several involved newspapers that agreed to publish the documents. All the other papers, including the New York Times, turned them back over to the FBI.
|Friday, April 22nd, 2016|
|Patience; the virtue of
You get used to rejection letters after a while; in fact, you even grow to expect them. I know that when I submit something, the odds are about 10:1 in favor of it generating a rejection versus an acceptance. So, when I see a response to a submission, my gut tells me to prepare for the worst.
Last night, I received an email response to a submission that had been out for quite a while. So long, in fact, that I had deemed the submission beyond salvation and I had sent the story to a new market.
The original submission was to one of my "bucket list" markets, one I've been trying to crack for as long as I've been writing. And, lo and behold, the email was not
a rejection but an acceptance. What was the first thing I did (after a brief but energetic happy dance in the living room)? Get on my computer and withdraw the submission from the more recent place I'd sent the story. Happy ending: the editor wasn't the least bit put out that I'd withdrawn the story.
The story in question has an interesting genesis. I originally wrote it for a themed anthology, but it didn't make the cut. So I made a second pass at it and de-themed it, which didn't actually take very much doing. I changed the story's location at the same time. And off it went, 323 days ago. Yes, that's right—the story had been in the queue for about 11 months. In this biz, 3-6 months is the norm.
If the story had been accepted by the original market for which it was written, or to the more recent one that I sent it to, it would have earned 1/8 to 1/4 of what it will make in its new home. But it's not specifically about the money. The story will have far greater visibility in its new home, and that's even more important.
I hadn't read the tale in a while, and my wife had never read it at all, so I read it to her last night. It pleases me immensely that she liked it a lot, and I still like it a lot, too. I'm very proud of it, and I look forward to seeing it in print, though that might take a while.
I haven't received the contract yet. That should take another 30 days or so. I'll announce it more officially once that happens.
|Tuesday, April 19th, 2016|
|A Rancher and a Gentleman
We don't often get snow days here in Southeast Texas, but rain days we get. Yesterday we had the (according to one source) rainiest day ever in the Houston area. Harris County, the county that contains Houston and comes to within a few miles of where I live, received enough rain yesterday alone to fuel Niagara Falls for three and a half days.
The rain started Sunday night, and thunder and lightning occurred throughout the night. When I got up at my usual time and looked out the window from my exercise machine, the water was flowing fast and furious in the ditch out front, and the yard was soggy. Our subdivision must be just a few inches higher than everywhere else around us, though, because we've always been able to withstand these heavy storms (10-12" in one day, apparently) without any threat of flooding. Lots of people in the vicinity weren't so lucky. At least five people died, many in their cars when they were inundated or attempted to drive through standing water. The city came to a standstill. All schools closed. All government agencies closed. The IRS is going to try to extend the deadline for people who waited until the last moment and then couldn't make it to the post office to file returns.
I'm always amazed by how much water is involved. Imagine looking out your front window and seeing six, eight, ten feet of water and then try to figure out how much water that involves everywhere around you to achieve that level! That's what it was like in downtown Houston, which is prone to flooding. Apparently we're going to get more rain today and tomorrow—nothing like what we got yesterday, but with the ground saturated, it probably means more flooding. A lot of schools are still closed today because feeder roads and surface roads are still covered in water in a lot of places, and the rivers and bayous are still rising.
This from a storm that didn't even get a name. It wasn't even a tropical depression.
My wife and I like Sam Elliott, so we decided to give the new Netflix series The Ranch
a try. Elliott is the patriarch, Debra Winger plays his somewhat estranged wife (they live apart but they still hook up regularly), and Ashton Kutcher plays the prodigal son who left to pursue a pro football career but now has to slink back home to small town Colorado and nurse his wounds and ego. The "responsible" brother is played by his That 70s Show
costar Danny Masterson, whose brother Chris I met when I visited the set of Haven
a couple of summers ago.
The humor is fairly sophomoric, but it's Debra Winger who saves the show. Elliott is good, but Winger is the only one who plays it straight. She gets some good, funny lines, but she doesn't play them for laughs, with a deliberate pause for yuks. She delivers them like they're normal, regular dialog, and that works so much better. We're five episodes in (out of ten) and we'll probably watch the rest. Not "must-see" TV but it's okay. Sitcoms seem to have left me behind over the years. The lafftrak on this one gets on my nerves. The only sitcom we watch regularly is The Big Bang Theory
and even that one is starting to wear thin. We also came to realize that sitcoms aren't really binge-able. Two episodes in a row is about our limit.
I'm not at all happy to hear that ABC has decided to not renew Stana Katic's contract for Castle
. I'm hoping it is a ploy to build suspense at the end of the season. Nathan Fillion is fun, but Katic has always been the bigger attraction for me. She's the kind of actor who I enjoy watching when the focus is on another character, because she's always doing something interesting. Not upstaging, but she's present in the scene, not waiting to say her lines. The show won't be the same without her. In fact, I can't think of any way for them to have her leave that maintains the show's premise for another season.
Funny thing—we saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that said "Muir" something or other, which led to a discussion of the TV show The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
, which led to the mutual realization that neither of us had ever seen the 1947 movie on which it is based, so we queued it up on Amazon video last night. The TV show was set in Maine, but the original is on the British coast, with Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders, and a very young Natalie Wood. Tierney is a feminist in 1900, unwilling to let anyone tell her how she should feel or live. The score was by Bernard Herrmann, which lends the movie a Hitchcockian atmosphere. It's not perfect: Mrs. Muir ignores her daughter for huge chunks of time, and it leaps ahead twice at the end to a kind of saccharine finale, but it was pretty good, if you can adapt to the glacial pacing of the era. The "coarse language" (blasted this and blast that) is amusing.
|Tuesday, April 12th, 2016|
|Don't let the fire rush to your head
The previews looked good, and it starred Helen Mirren, a household favorite, so we checked out Eye in the Sky
last weekend. Highly recommended. It's about a covert operation in Kenya where a group of terrorists, including an American and a woman from England, are convening. UK military and intelligence want to capture the woman and take her back to England, so they have operatives on the ground and an American piloted drone in the sky. Circumstances change, causing the various entities to debate launching a Hellfire missile at the compound.
Besides the physical location in Kenya (actually South Africa), there are three distinct silos. Mirren is orchestrating everything from her command bunker. Alan Rickman (in his final role) is acting as military liaison with the British politicians who can decide whether certain things are legal or justifiable. And Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox are in a silo of their own, piloting the drone, analyzing its feedback and targeting the missiles.
The movie is all about collateral damage and risk assessment. How much is allowable given the intelligence on the ground? Barkhad Abdi from Captain Thomas
has some high-tech gadgetry to surveil the compound, but is in a tenuous position. Not since Les Miserables
has so much importance rested on loaves of bread. One would like to hope that the same amount of soul-searching goes on before every strike of this type. I was interested and amused to see the way the two different groups were depicted. The British debated and delayed, passing the buck up the chain of command, unwilling to pull the trigger, whereas the Americans consulted at various points had no compunction about authorizing a strike, almost regardless of the collateral damage. It's a taut thriller that will leave you with plenty to talk about once its over.
Only one episode of Better Call Saul
left, and whoa, are things ever getting intense. The series could equally be called Don't Mess with Mike
. Or Kim, for that matter, as she got one of the series' best scenes when she confronted Chuck. Rhea Seehorn isn't a showy actress, but you can always tell there's a lot going on in her head all the time. There was also a moment early in the episode when Bob Odenkirk almost looked straight into the camera. It was quite disconcerting.
I'm into episode three of The Path
, still not quite sure where it's going to go. I'm intrigued but not 100% hooked.
|Wednesday, April 6th, 2016|
|Stories and stories and stories
Being the judge for a literary award means you have to do a lot of reading. A lot. A lot. A lot. I've been up to my eyeballs in anthologies and short stories for the past few months. Some novelettes, too. But mostly short stories and collections thereof. Easily a thousand short stories.
I won't be sorry when that part of the process is over. The only novel I've read recently is End of Watc
h (how could I not?). I've had a galley of Justin Cronin's City of Mirrors
for over a month and really want to dig into it, but I'm waiting for a time when I can tackle it without interruption. This morning, though, I picked up The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins and tore through the first sixty or seventy pages. It has an interesting structure. One set of chapters is narrated by an alcoholic woman, divorced, prone to blackouts, and another is narrated by a somewhat depressed woman, though the timeframe of her story is a year earlier. It will be interesting to see how it all joins up.
My wife and I binged through 11.22.6
3 last weekend, finishing up last night. This was my second time through the eight episodes, and it was good to refresh my memory of it for my News from the Dead Zone overview
, which went up yesterday at Cemetery Dance Online. I don't have much more to say about the series than I did there, but my wife really enjoyed it. She thought the first episode was okay, not compelling, but it got its hooks into her after that and she was as eager to see the next batch of episodes as I was. She hadn't read the book, so it was good to get her fresh opinion of the adaptation. She was especially pleased with the ending.
I also finished Season 4 of House of Cards
this morning. It was what I've been watching during my weekday exercise regimen. More of the same, more or less. Nothing too earth shattering, but it's always interesting to see where they take the story. I wish they'd found more use for Neve Campbell, but it was terrific to see her again. It took me a while to realize where I knew Governor Conway from—he was played by the Swedish actor who played Holder in the US version of The Killing
Speaking of Swedish actors, my wife had read part of a book called The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
by Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. I stumbled across the movie adaptation on Amazon Prime a couple of weeks ago, so we decided to give it a go. It's about a centenarian who absconds during his birthday party and soon thereafter winds up coming into possession of a suitcase full of money. Hilarity ensues. It's a quirky story, like something Roald Dahl might have written for adults. It has a surprising amount of explicit violence and some absurd coincidences, but it's always interesting to see the sorts of things that other cultures enjoy. The stuff with Albert Einstein's lesser known brother Herbert was particularly amusing. It's the third highest grossing Swedish movie of all time, up there with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
We also watched The Grand Budapest Hotel
, which was a lot different than I thought it was going to be. For some reason I thought it was going to be about shenanigans at the aforementioned hotel, but it was actually more about shenanigans involving the concierge (Ralph Fiennes) and the lobby boy (who grows up to be F. Murray Abraham). It's just as absurd as the Swedish movie, but we liked it. More than I expected we would, in fact.
|Monday, March 28th, 2016|
|The Revolution Starts Now
I was very nervous about that bag of money on this week's episode of Vinyl
. When Richie was playing blackjack, I had a bad feeling. And then it played out the way I thought it might once they went back to the room. Only, in a twist that O. Henry would have loved, the reality was different than Richie allowed his long-time friend to believe. It was a great twist.
We watched a bunch of movies this weekend. Started with Gosford Park
, a murder mystery written by the guy who wrote Downton Abbey
and directed by Robert Altman. You can see where the idea for the dowager countess came from, although Maggie Smith was cattier and nastier in this film. It was also fairly obvious who the murder victim would be: the guy everyone had a motive to kill. Altman's directing style is interesting, especially for big group scenes. Seems chaotic, with multiple people talking at the same time, and yet it also seems real.
Then we watched The Big Short
, and I couldn't help thinking that Steve Earle (pictured), who was so incensed in 2004 that he wrote the energetic album that gives this post its title, along with the memorable song "F the CC," could have written an equally vitriolic album about the 2008 crisis.The Big Short
takes a complicated financial disaster and makes it entertaining. One thing I like about movies of this type (also: Spotlight
) is that they take a scenario where everyone knows the outcome and still manage to make it suspenseful. I liked the movie's conceit of using unlikely people in cameo roles to explain complicated economic concepts. Selena Gomez, for example, explaining synthetic CDOs or Margot Robbie in a bubble bath drinking champagne while she explains mortgage-backed securities. I still have a hard time taking Steve Carell seriously, but he's winning me over. A great ensemble cast and a script that doesn't take itself too seriously, but at the same time dives deep into a serious subject. Highly recommended.
Finally, we saw Like Summer, Like Rain
, a light drama about a young woman played by Leighton Meester who falls on her feet when she gets fired and ends up as a nanny for a 12-year-old musical and mathematical prodigy with a neglectful, mostly absentee mother (Debra Messing). I found some of Meester's characters's decisions toward the end somewhat improbable (where the heck did Idaho come from?), but it's one of those feel-good movies. Bonus points for a small part played by Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day. We also watched the short "One Hundred Eyes," which is the origin story of a character from the Netflix Marco Pol
o series, which returns this summer.
|Monday, March 21st, 2016|
|And Then There Were...
I saw 10 Cloverfield Lane
on the weekend. It's a movie best enjoyed by knowing absolutely nothing about it going in. I was intrigued by the trailer, featuring John Goodman and (to me) a couple of unknown actors. The premise is pretty straightforward: A young woman who's just had a row with her boyfriend is driving through Louisiana when she gets in a wreck. She wakes up in an underground room shackled to the wall with an IV drip in one arm and a jury-rigged cast on one leg.
Okay, so this is Room
redux, right? Not so fast. John Goodman tells her that there's been some sort of event outside this bomb shelter and it could be a year or two before it's safe to venture out. Not to worry. Goodman is a good paranoid conspiracy freak, so he's got everything they need to survive. Just him, her and a neighbor who helped him build the shelter who pushed his way in at the last second. So, the question is: did something happen to the rest of the world, or is this all an elaborate ruse to keep her prisoner? The answers, as they come, are surprising but, mostly, foreshadowed. Or at least the basis is laid for them. On the other hand, not every question is answered. We're left to wonder about Meghan's fate, as well as that of the woman in the photograph. Goodman's performance is compelling.
It's almost like a three-person play, given that the set is limited. Some really good surprises and jolts. And then comes the third act, which starts with a chemical bath and ends with...whoa. Wow-eee. Don't read anything more about it: go see it. You won't be sorry.
We watched the Lifetime version of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None
over the weekend. There have been many adaptations of this classic novel: Original title: 10 Little very-non-PCs
. Renamed 10 Little Also non-PCs
. In this version, they're soldiers, so I guess that's okay. This is the most faithful adaptation with which I'm familiar. Most movies pull the punch at the end. Not so here. Some familiar faces: Miranda Richardson, Sam Neill, Burn Gorman (Torchwood
). If you like a good locked-island mystery and are jonesing for some Downton Abbey
vibe (it's set in 1939), check this out.
I watched the second season of Bosch
on Amazon Prime. The premise is that instead of exploring how cops work on crimes, the series (based on the Michael Connelly novels) looks at how the crimes work on the cops. A pornographer is shot by the side of the interstate—that's the main case. His widow is played by Jeri Ryan. The story pulls in the Armenian mob and a cadre of bad cops. One "problem" with the season is that there's a very recognizable actor playing what seems to be a minor role, so it's apparent early on that he'll figure more into the story. He ends up being the Big Bad, ultimately. It's a minor quibble. The plot involves Bosch's ex-wife (a former profiler who is now a pro gambler) and his teenage daughter, so the stakes are elevated. One of my favorite things about the series is the look of Los Angeles: it looks much more genuine than in anything else on film. Also, a lot of the locations are real and real cops came out to fill in the background in a shootout scene and a police funeral, for example. Titus Welliver (Lost
) plays Bosch: he's a guy who'll do anything to get the job done, even if it's off the books. Especially if it's off the books. Lance Reddick (The Wire
) plays a Deputy Chief whose character I like a lot more in the series than in the books. Good stuff. Definitely binge-worthy.
I guess I should have known that I was straying into Twin Peaks
territory when I cued up Mulholland Drive
but I honestly didn't expect the movie to be so
weird. There's something highly artificial about the way characters look in his movies. Take the couple Naomi Watts meets on her flight to L.A. How creepy do they look when they get into their car after they part company? Rictus grins on their faces. Justin Theroux is virtually unrecognizable as the movie director. My favorite scene, though is the one where Mark Pellegrino plays a hit man who totally botches the job, accidentally shooting someone through the wall and then having to try to clean up that mess, only to create worse messes. It's pretty hilarious. Ultimately, though, I guess I don't get the movie. Not in the sense of it being "one of the greatest films of all time" (according to the British Film Institute).
|Tuesday, March 1st, 2016|
|Having my head examined
So, what's this Dark Tower thing all about, the one that's all over the news today because it's going to start filming in 7 weeks, with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey (some day I'll learn how to spell his name without having to look it up every time) as Roland and the Man in Black respectively? Funny you should ask, as I have a couple of books that might help you out with that: The Road to the Dark Tower
and The Dark Tower Companion
. Both available as trade paperbacks or eBooks.
Today's news is exciting. There's actually a date when filming will begin and confirmation of the casting rumors. The only bummer from my perspective is that the movie is going to be made in South Africa, which means I won't be able to wrangle an invitation to the set because that's a little farther than my travel budget allows!
Of course, there's lots of controversy over the casting, but I'm delighted. I can't wait to see what they do with this massive project. And when you've got cool dudes like this working on it...
Robin Lindzer interviewed me for Suspense Magazin
e, and I even got my name on the cover along with Peter Straub, who is also interviewed in the issue. Cool stuff.
My latest historical context essay is up at Stephen King Revisited. This time I dig deep into the circumstances surrounding Pet Sematary, in a little piece I call A Man's Heart is Stonier.
|Monday, February 29th, 2016|
|And the 'droid goes to
We watched two Academy Award-nominated movies this weekend. On Friday, we saw Bridge of Spies
, starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, the latter the winner of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. I loved Rylance's character's response (perhaps a tad overused) whenever anyone asked him if he was worried. "Would it do any good?" I have an affinity for Berlin Wall stories: that was the setting for my Ice Cold story "The Honey Trap," which was nominated for an ITW Thriller Award last year. I researched Berlin in the early 1960s extensively for that story and watched a movie filmed and set in the era as well (Michael Caine's Funeral in Berlin
). I was in Berlin in 1986 and crossed through Check Point Charlie into East Berlin, where I stayed for nearly two weeks. I'd love to go back to Berlin some day to see how different it is now.Bridge of Spies
was pretty good. Low-level people working behind the scenes to do things that authorized people at higher, more official levels of government couldn't. Also interesting to see the tension between the Soviets and the East Germans during that turbulent period.
On Saturday we saw Room
, the story of a woman who had been kidnapped at seventeen and spent seven years in captivity, living in a shed in her captor's back yard, most of it with her son Jack. The first half of the movie shows their daily routine while in captivity and the second half shows what their lives are like after they are free. Obviously inspired by real events, but it's a brave story all the same because taking on the scope of the emotional impact of this kind of experience is pretty daunting. Brie Larson won the Oscar for Best Actress, but the Canadian kid who plays Jack could have taken home a trophy, too. He was probably only eight when he made the movie, and he's in it a lot. Impressive.
We were amused to see a preview for a new TV series called The Family
starring Joan Allen as the mother of a son who was kidnapped and returns at some point years later. Same as her character in Room
. It's an unusual niche category.
|Wednesday, February 24th, 2016|
|The needle and the damage done
One of the cool things about being a Canadian is that I get a check every year from the Public Lending Right Commission just for having my books in libraries across the country. They do a random polling of 7 locations (for each eligible book) and you get credit based on the number of times it's found. There's a depreciation factor, so you don't get as much for older books over time, but I'm still doing well with The Road to the Dark Tower
a dozen years out. I even get credit for When the Night Comes Down
from Dark Arts books, because I contributed ¼ of the content, which is the minimum amount to be eligible. I've made as much from the PLRC as in royalties for that particular title! Unfortunately, the check arrived when the Canadian dollar is in the sub-basement. Think I'll hold onto it for a few months to see if it rebounds.
I became a US citizen in time to vote in the last Presidential election, but I've never voted in a primary before. The Texas primary is next week (on Super Tuesday), but we went to early voting last Saturday, when the line was small (read: non-existent). There were several referenda on the ballot. I was also surprised by the number of Democrats running for president
. Who are all these people? Star Locke?
I finished my binge rewatch of the X-files, polishing off Season 9 and the 2008 movie and the new Season 10. I'd never seen the movie before. I hear it was a commercial and critical failure, but it wasn't all that bad. I'm glad I refreshed my memory about Reyes so I knew who she was when she returned in the finale of the new season. The last episode was a hot mess. Way too much crammed into way too little time, and not a lot of it made sense. So they managed to shoe-horn in the 2012 prophecy from the end of S9, but I think they should have done a two-hour final instead of cramming all that action into 45 minutes. The mythology episodes were generally the weakest of the lot anyway.
I'd heard good things about Jessica Jones
on Netflix, so I decided to give it a shot next. I'm not a superhero fan, in general. The only movies I've seen in recent years are the Iron Man ones. I know nothing about the character's history. Doesn't matter: this is a decent contemporary noir where the main character (Kristen Ritter from Breaking Bad
) happens to be extraordinarily strong and she can jump from considerable heights. Getting David Tennant as the nefarious nemesis, a guy who can compel people to do things, was a stroke of genius. I especially liked his scene where he negotiated to buy a guy's house without
using his superpower. It was a challenge for the character. I'm only five episodes in, but liking it very much.
I have to confess that I was a naive young man who thought the Neil Young song was about vinyl records being scratched by the tone arm needle! There's a new show on HBO called Vinyl
, starring Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Mick Jagger's son, the Danish actress who was the reporter on Borgen, Olivia Wilde and a host of others. It's set in the seventies, with Cannavale as the head of a failing record company that's about to be bought out by Polygram. He's in a bit of a spiral, falling off the wagon. Oh, and there's also a brutal killing and a building collapse, all in the first episode. Plus Andrew Dice Clay—remember him? And, to top it all off, it's directed by Scorsese and co-written by Mick Jagger. Among the characters we see: Lou Reed, Andy Warhol and, I think, David Bowie, plus a young punk musician who seems like Sid Vicious (played by Jagger's son). There's a lot of jumping around in time, leaving you to figure out when it is based on the state of Cannavale's hair. But I'm enjoying it so far.
Oh, and we saw the Bill Murray movie Rock the Kasbah. My advice: don't.
|Tuesday, February 9th, 2016|
|The Dowager in the Van
I'm interviewed today at the Nerd Girl Power website. The piece is called Every Gunslinger Needs a Companion
We saw The Lady in the Van
this weekend. The obvious pun is that it's a vehicle for Maggie Smith. It's about an old woman who lives in a van that she parks on the street in a residential London neighborhood. She has a colorful past as a pianist, ambulance driver during the war and a nun, but now she's haunted and tormented, as well as crotchety and foul, both of mouth and of bodily odor. She befriends (as much as that is possible) a writer named Alan Bennett, a man who struggles with his sexuality and with his relationship with his mother. He sees the lady as a model for his mother and decides to write about her. The interesting thing the movie does is to split him into two: there is the version of Alan who lives life and observes, and the version who writes about things, and they banter with each other. It's a visually interesting way to show a person talking to himself. The story is mostly true (and one Bennett comments to the other in passing when they put something on the page that didn't really happen), and Maggie Smith first portrayed the woman in the van in the stage version 15 years ago. She's a hoot as this uncouth Dowager Countess. A real delight.
Watched a BBC series called London Spy
, which stars Ben Whishaw from The Hour
(and also from Suffragette
) as a guy who gets romantically entangled with a man who has created something that no one wants publicized. There's sex and murder and intrigue, all in a somewhat leisurely John Le Carré vein. It's five episodes and features the likes of Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Mark Gatiss, as well as a brief appearance by Clarke Peters (The Wire
). Some of it is highly improbable, but it's a compelling drama about families and secrets and the surveillance state.
Speaking of Suffragette
, we finally saw that this weekend, too. It's an interesting story, and I always like Carey Mulligan, but it plods a bit. Hard to believe the state of things just a hundred or so years ago, though. Not only couldn't women vote in the UK, they didn't have any ownership of their children.
I'm up to the "Mulder's back" section of the eighth season of The X-files
. I probably saw these episodes before, but I don't have a very strong memory of them. Also saw the fourth episode of the new season, which was very good. I think someone got the wrong end of the stick last year when they saw the episode title "Home Again" and assumed that the show would be revisiting the "Home" plot. That wasn't it at all. This was a monster-of-the-week episode, but also a very personal one for Scully. Very well done, I thought. People in Philly probably aren't very happy by Mulder's thoughts on their basketball team, though.
|Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016|
|He seemed prett-ty crazy
I posted an update at News from the Dead Zone
yesterday, including the news that Josh Boone is planning to film King's Revival
this year, assuming he can get a studio on board.
I received my contributor copies of the second X-files anthology, The Truth is Out There
, yesterday. One of the super cool things about this book is that the introduction was written by Dean Haglund, who played Langly, the long-haired member of The Lone Gunmen. There's also an audio version available, which I look forward to listening to. It's always interesting to hear someone else read your work.
I've been enjoying the new season of The X-files
. The third episode was hilarious, with all these funny little set pieces and great supporting characters, including the stoners sniffing paint (who appeared in two early X-files episodes), the motel manager and the psychiatrist, who opined that the antipsychotics he'd prescribed for Guy Mann probably wouldn't do much good because he was "pretty crazy." I figured out who the killer was very early, but the banter was great and so was the were-twist.
I finished reading Joe Hill's The Fireman
yesterday morning. I had to tear through it fairly quickly (as quickly as you can tear through a 730-page book) to get my review in to Cemetery Dance for the next issue. This is easily Hill's best novel to date, and I really want to go back and read it again at a more leisurely pace in a few months. My casual reading is going to be pretty sparse for a while as I have a ton of material to read for the Shirley Jackson Awards. The couriers and mail delivery people are probably cursing my name. Every day they bring more boxes of books, and they're really starting to pile up. That's in addition to the electronic books and stories. One intern, I presume, heard the instructions "send out five books to the judges" and took them literally, so I received five copies of one of the submissions, and so did the other judges. When this is all over, I'll take a photograph of the stacks and stacks of books I've received. It's crazy.
We only have one episode of I'll Have What Phil's Having
left, the one in Hong Kong. Last night we watched the Barcelona episode. That's one city I've always wanted to visit, and hearing it described as a cross between Paris and Florence only heightened that desire. One day.