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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in bev_vincent's LiveJournal:

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Friday, April 12th, 2019
1:03 pm
Nothing's Sacred Volume 5Every region has its ghosts and crypto-creatures and legends. One of those I know from New Brunswick, the province where I grew up, is called the Dungarvon Whooper. The Dungarvon River is in the Miramichi region of the province and the "whooper" is a kind of siren or banshee. A number of years ago, I wrote a short story inspired by the legend (in its many variations) and that tale has finally found a home. "The Dungarvon Whooper" will appear in Volume 5 of Nothing's Sacred magazine, which will be published in on May 10. The issue will also feature stories from Julia Benally, David Greske, Michael H. Hanson, S. C. Hayden, Sharon Jarvis, Donna J. W. Munro, and Jonathan Edward Ondrashek. In addition, this issue will feature the article “Nightmares in Plastic” from Kevin Hoover. Poetry highlights come from Cindy O’Quinn, Anton Cancre, Marge Simon, Deborah L. Davitt, and Michelle Muenzler.

I'll be at Northern FanCon in Prince George, B.C. from May 3 to May 5th. The schedule hasn't been posted yet, but I'll be participating in a Dollar Baby film festival and giving a talk, at a minimum. Should be fun! My first trip to Canada in five years.

I've also completed my travel plans for Necon, which I missed out on last year. Thanks to my trips to Japan earlier this year, I had enough air miles to get me there and back again.

Two stories that have had a lot of mileage in the past year or so will see new incarnations in 2019. "Zombies on a Plane," and the anthology that I co-edited with Stephen King in which it appears, Flight or Fright, will be released in trade paperback edition from Scribner on June 4. Then in October, my story "Aeliana" will re-emerge in the trade paperback edition of Shining in the Dark from Gallery Books. I have a number of other short stories "on deck," as it were, but I don't have definite dates for their appearances yet.

My review of Pet Sematary went up at News from the Dead Zone last Friday. The remake didn't quite live up to my expectations, alas. We did enjoy the new Netflix film The Highwaymen about the former Texas Rangers who brought down Bonnie and Clyde, starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson. We chased that with Unforgiven, which I haven't seen since it came out. They make good companion pieces: the former gunslingers brought out of retirement for one last time.

I really enjoyed Babylon Berlin on Netflix, and look forward to that German series continuing in due course. Season 3 of Santa Clarita Diet was also hilarious and well written, although I have slight reservations about the final events of the last episode. I also watched Quicksand, a Swedish series about a teenage girl arrested for her part in a school shooting. As she goes through the interesting process of trial preparation (the Swedish system is quite different from ours), the story flashes back to see how she became involved with the main shooter. I was fascinated by how isolated Maja was in prison--she was allowed no visitors other than her lawyers and there were things her lawyer was legally prevented from telling her. The trial itself was more of a tribunal, and the way information was presented to the judge was interesting, too.

I'm currently reading The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith to my wife and The Lady of the Lake by Laura Lippman to myself. The latter is billed as a historical novel, which I find amusing since it is set in the mid-1960s. There is a main story, but every time the protagonist meets someone new, there's also a short chapter from that character's point of view. Also, the ghost of a dead woman pops in on occasion to offer her opinion. For some reason, it makes me think of Canterbury Tales.

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019
3:45 pm
False alarm
On Saturday evening, after supper, it was nice enough for us to take the rest of our wine and sit in the driveway while we enjoyed the spring-like weather. Yesterday morning it was 35° and we ran the fireplace last night. Hopefully for the last time this season. It’s back up to nearly 70 today and the daytime highs will be in the eighties again by the end of the week. The plants are so confused. To bloom or not to bloom?

Here’s my public service announcement for 2019: never pour dried potato flakes down your sink drain. We were preparing our grocery list on Sunday afternoon when we noticed we had a box of long-expired potato flakes. We don’t use them often, which explains the 2017 expiration date. I like to recycle what I can, so rather than just throw the box away, I decided to empty it in the sink and wash the contents down the drain through the in-sink garbage disposal.

It’s a double sink, and water soon started coming up and out of the drain in the second sink. That’s not good, I thought. I ran the garbage disposal more, but the water kept rising. Eventually I took the trap out of the drain and found it absolutely packed with potato flakes. Packed solid. What’s worse, the pipe extending from the trap into the wall was also stuffed full of the stuff.

It took us a while to find our plumbing snake, something I haven’t had to use in maybe 20 years, but we spent some time snaking out the drain. Every time we stuck it in, it came out with more of those packed potato flakes, which no longer looked at all appetizing because they had old drain goop all over them, too. We got the snake into the drain as far as it would go, and I actually felt like I broke through the last of the clog.

No joy in Mudville.

We tried Drano, baking soda and vinegar and liquid drain cleaner. No luck, and each time I had to drain increasingly noxious fluids out of the trap.

We poured boiling water down the sink and let it sit. (I looked up the problem on the internet and discovered I wasn’t the only person to ever make this huge mistake. I found a long thread of people suggesting fixes, including one wag who suggested adding the right proportions of milk, butter and water to prepare the finished product.)

Ultimately, we had to call a plumber the next day. He arrived with a Tool-man Tim Taylor-level snake (“more power!”) and ended up running it something like 50 feet through the drain to make sure it was clear. Fortunately the kitchen sink is at the far end of the house from the main water inlet and outlet, so none of the rest of our water-producing appliances were affected.

What’s life without a little adventure?

April is poetry month, so here’s a link to the essay I wrote about Stephen King’s relationship to poetry, which I wrote for the Poetry Foundation last year.

I finished Babylon Berlin on Netflix. What a great series, and I’m glad to hear there will be a new season coming in the fall. It has shades of Hitchcock (an assassination plan that’s right out of The Man Who Knew Too Much) and a train full of gold that’s the best McGuffin since the Maltese falcon. It’s set in 1929, during the Wiemar Republic in Germany when factions are trying to remilitarize in opposition to the Treaty of Versailles. Berlin is decadent and dangerous and lively. There’s a sequence in about episode 11 that would have made a great addition to Flight or Fright!
Wednesday, March 27th, 2019
3:24 pm
Spring 2019

It's been a while since my last blog post. Busy times, but normally busy. Nothing out of the ordinary. Writing, taxes, reading, etc. We've seen the temperature go up and down and up and down. The plants and animals must surely be confused. Our azalea bush (pictured above) is in full flower, and there's enough oak pollen all over the place that every road looks like the yellow brick road.

One exciting (for me, at least!) development since last time is the fact that I have been invited to attend Northern FanCon in Prince George, BC at the beginning of May. They even released a nifty graphic to promote my appearance.

I've only been to British Columbia once before, and that was only for part of a day, so I'm looking forward to this trip, brief and all as it will be. I haven't even been to Canada in a good many years, so I'm looking forward to getting back to the home and native land. Tim Hortons, look out!

Among the other special guests at the con: Alan Tudyk (Firefly), Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica), and Amy Acker. Should be cool few days. I'll report more once I know more.

I was also a guest on the 100th episode of the Stephen King Podcast a week or so ago discussing all the things related to King that we’ll be seeing in 2019.

Brian Keene has announced a couple of times in the past two weeks that he's working on the final draft of the novella that will be part of our two-novella book, something we've been working on off and on for the past, oh, forever. We hope to have news for you about that project quite soon.

My first published short story, "Harming Obsession," will appear in The Best of Cemetery Dance 2, an enormous compilation of fiction containing works from Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Peter Straub, Bentley Little, Michael Marshall Smith, Ray Garton, Jack Ketchum, Douglas Clegg, Poppy Z. Brite, Joe R. Lansdale, Nancy A. Collins, Peter Crowther, Norman Partridge, Ed Gorman, William F. Nolan, F. Paul Wilson, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Simon Clark, Richard Christian Matheson, David J. Schow, Stewart O'Nan, Glen Hirshberg, Ramsey Campbell, and many more.

My story "The Dungarvon Whooper," inspired by a New Brunswick legend, appears in Nothing’s Sacred Volume 5, April 2019, with a moody illustration from Francois Vaillancourt, who did the cover art for Flight or Fright.

My story "The Invisible Man" will appear in the anthology A Time for Violence, edited by Andy Rausch and Chris Roy for Near to the Knuckle Press. Other contributors include Richard Chizmar, Max Allan Collins, Stewart O’Nan, Tyson Blue, Steve Spignesi and Joe Lansdale, with an introduction by Stan Wiater. It launches on May 1.

We're up to an even dozen translation of Flight or Fright in the works. Happy to hear that Joe Hill's story "You Are Released" will appear in The Best Horror of the Year Volume Eleven and it has been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. The trade paperback edition from Scribner will be available on June 4.

I've only had time to write one book review so far this year, this one for Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan, but I hope to be doing a few more shortly. I'm currently reading Inspection by Josh Malerman and just finished Uncommon Type, a collection of short stories (all of them featuring a typewriter at some point) by Tom Hanks. I quite enjoyed them.

We watched Mary Poppins Returns the other night, which was delightful. We especially liked Angela Lansbury's cameo toward the end. I saw Us on the weekend. Other than the somewhat wonky explanation for the existence of the "tethered," I really enjoyed it, and it gave me a lot to think about afterwards. The performances of the four primaries were amazing and impressive. The previous weekend I saw Captain Marvel, which was also quite good, but less inclined to cause a great deal of post-movie reflection. I loved the interplay between Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson. I also saw Velvet Buzzsaw on Netflix a while back, and that movie is totally bonkers but a boatload of fun.

I've been watching a lot of foreign crime series on Netflix and elsewhere of late. Two Finnish series (Deadwind and season 2 of Bordertown) and season 2 of the Flemmish series La Trêve (The Break). Bordertown features a quirky cop and The Break features one who thinks he's talking to dead people. I zoomed through Russian Doll on Netflix and Homecoming on Amazon Prime. There is definitely a place in the world for 30-minute suspense series, in addition to 30-minute comedies, of which After Life and The Kominsky Method are decent examples. Tin Star on Amazon is a good follow-up to Banshee for over-the-top violent rural-ish crime series, this one starring Tim Roth. My latest discovery is Babylon Berlin, a German crime series set in Berlin in 1929. It's gorgeous, lavish, decadent and intriguing, and I can't wait to see where it takes me next. The main character has PTSD from World War I, and he self-medicates with vials of morphine as he works for the vice squad in Berlin at a time when all sorts of political and philosophical forces are struggling for power and recognition.

Thursday, January 31st, 2019
1:38 pm
The people next door to the people next door
On my way home from work last night, I noticed a sheriff’s marked unit parked in a cul de sac up the street. Not at anyone’s house, just parked, facing out, as if they were watching something. Since participating in the Citizen's Police Academy last fall, I've been increasingly aware of our local police departments! I mentioned the car to my wife when I got to the house, but thought nothing more of it. Figured maybe the deputy was just taking advantage of a quiet, safe spot to do some paperwork.

A couple of hours later, my wife and I decided to take a walk around the block, something we do fairly frequently. We’d barely made it out of the driveway when we heard cars approaching from behind, moving quite fast. Powerful engines, by the sound. The vehicles swooped past us, fairly close, and then pulled to the side of the road between the neighbors' house two doors down and our place. A couple of them were marked patrol cars, but the others were nondescript vehicles. A total of seven or eight converged. They didn’t park haphazardly, but instead lined the side of the road.

Another vehicle appeared from the side street (also a dead end) across the from us, as if he'd been waiting for a signal. Most of the people who emerged from the vehicles were dressed in suits or plainclothes. One fellow had a document in his hands, like maybe a warrant. None of them had weapons drawn, nor were they wearing protective gear. A couple of them had HSI on their jackets—Homeland Security.

A dozen law enforcement officers, if not more, approached and entered the house two doors down from us. Given the shootings during a police raid in Houston earlier this week, we decided it would be prudent to skip the walk. They stayed for at least an hour.

We hung out in the driveway like nosy neighbors for a few minutes. One funny thing happened: an officer returned to a vehicle parked pretty much in front of our house, the second-to-last in the queue. He pushed buttons on his key fob, but couldn't get the trunk open. I heard the trunk pop open on the car beside me, the last in line. "Guess it helps if I'm at the right one," he said, before retrieving something from the trunk. "It's not my car."

We know the family that lives there to say hello and exchange a few pleasantries, but not much more than that. Hard to imagine what Homeland Security would want with them. We came up with all sorts of theories about what might have been going on, but the fact that they didn't go in with guns a-blazing squelched most of our suppositions. The fact that there were so many officers, though, was intriguing. I suspect the cop I saw on the way home was keeping tabs on someone at the house, maybe waiting for one of the residents to return home. Maybe they were waiting for a warrant to arrive. Who knows? Maybe we'll never find out what happened.

A little excitement in the neighborhood. Funny thing is, because they all arrived with no lights or sirens, if we hadn’t decided to go out for a walk we mightn’t have noticed anything was amiss.
Wednesday, January 30th, 2019
4:24 pm
Around the world in 30 days
By my estimate, I traveled far enough to circumnavigate the globe and then some since my last post. At the end of December, my wife and I flew to Okinawa to visit with family for a week, about 7500 miles each way.

That was an adventure in many ways! We flew via Taipei on EVA, a Taiwanese airline. The fare was about half of what it would have cost to go via Tokyo, and EVA, although not many people have heard of it, is a nice and highly regarded airline. Our main issue was layovers. On the way there, we had less than an hour to make our connecting flight to Naha in Okinawa, and on the way back we had a twelve-hour layover!

Of course, our flight was twenty or thirty minutes late leaving Houston, so that really put the squeeze on in Taipei. We got to the gate and started deplaning only a few minutes before our schedule departure time. We didn't think there'd be another flight that day, so we were stressed, to put it mildly.

However, when we got to the end of the jetway, there was a nice EVA employee there pulling aside the four or five of us who were supposed to be on the Okinawa flight. The fact that he had a laminated sign with the flight number and destination told us that this was a regular occurrence, and one of our fellow travelers confirmed that he'd done this a few months earlier when his plane was over an hour late and they held the flight for him.

We dashed through the airport, went through secondary security in a jetlagged fog, and ran to our gate, where we boarded a bus that took us to the Okinawa plane. Mission accomplished, and we were grateful to EVA for the extra measures they took to keep us from losing a day of vacation with family.

We rented a car in Okinawa. My wife was the only one with an international driver's license, a prerequisite for renting a car there, so she drove (on the other side of the road) and I navigated. Google maps was another helping hand--not sure we could have survived without it.

The hotel we stayed in was on the beach and our room faced the East China Sea, so that was nice. We stayed for eight days and we're pretty sure we were the only westerners in the hotel. The other guests were all either Japanese or Chinese tourists. There was a Radisson up the road that was probably the preferred destination for American tourists, but we quite liked being in the minority for a change.

We saw two local demonstrations at the hotel. First we saw them making mochi, which is a pounded rice paste. They are quite enthusiastic (and loud) about the way they slam the wooden poles into the big vats of rice, and the kids who lined up to take part seemed to enjoy it. On our last night, we got back in time to see the Okinawan drum demonstration, which was also fun.

Mostly, though, we visited with our daughter, son-in-law and 2-1/2 year old granddaughter, who was endlessly entertaining. We ate out a few times and made meals at home the rest of the time. There was a New Years Eve party for 2- and 3-year-olds on the afternoon of the 31st, though none of us stayed up to usher in the new year in at midnight. Instead, we celebrated the following day when it was midnight in Houston, at a respectable 3 pm in Japan!

The only down side to the trip was that both my wife and I came down with bad colds and/or flu. My wife bore the brunt of it, and it took her a while to bounce back after we returned to Houston. The twelve hour layover in Taipei wasn't as much fun as it sounds, either. We had scheduled to take the free four-hour tour the airport offers, but we were miserable enough that we decided to give that a miss. The ensuing jetlag made things worse. We had half-heartedly toyed with the idea of trying out this "dry January" concept this year, and we ended up doing it, mostly because we wanted to get better and not do anything that might cause a setback. We're looking forward to having our first glass of wine in a month with dinner on Friday!

Two weeks to the day after I got back, I had to return to Japan on business, another 6500 miles each way, for a grand total of about 28,000 miles. This was a briefer trip -- I left on Monday and got back on Saturday -- and it was in Tokyo this time. Mostly in the Shinjuku, Sendagai, Roppongi area, although there was one trip to the west side, to Haijima, which is where I normally go on these trips.

I had three hectic days of meetings and presentations, plus some late nights eating out with coworkers. It was fairly cold when I was there, in the thirties and forties mostly. After I boarded the plane on Saturday afternoon, I saw precipitation outside the window. Rain, I thought at first, but it was actually snow flurries, and the snow was wet so it built up on the plane fast. Which meant they had to de-ice the wings, which meant an hour delay in departing.

I did something right on this trip, though. I slept a few hours early in the return journey, off and on, in one-hour bursts. Arriving in Houston in the late afternoon, I soldiered through the rest of the day and my jetlag has been minimal. I've been sleeping when I should be and awake when I should, too. I wish I knew a reproducible formula for that!

During the first trip, I watched several movies. On the outbound flight I saw Antman and the Wasp and Searching. While in Okinawa, we watched My Neighbor Tortoro with our granddaughter, and on the return flight I watched Bad Night at the El Royale and Life Itself. After we got back, I finally got around to Bird Box.

I watched the final four episodes of the Netflix series You on the way to Tokyo last week and the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery on the way back. (It's available on Netflix outside of the US, so I was able to download it to my iPad.) Since getting back, I've watched the first four episodes of the new season of True Detective. I really hope they stick the landing on this one, as I'm enjoying it so far. The pacing is leisurely and they're holding their cards close to the vest, but I like it.

I have a new book project in the early stages of development, so most of my reading has been research for that. I won't be able to say more about it for some time, as it's still in the hypothetical stage, but it's going to be a lot of fun if it works out.
Friday, December 28th, 2018
12:59 pm
Movies of 2018 (and well before)
According to my tally (you can see the whole list here), I saw 58 feature-length movies this year. Many of them are current--to within the last year or two--but others date back decades, with the earliest being the 1943 vampire film Dead Men Walk. One big chunk of my film watching consisted of Marvel movies that I had missed as preparation for Infinity War.

I plan to watch a couple of additional movies before the year rings out (possibly Bird Box, and Roma), but this will be my last blog post before 2019 arrives, so I'll limit myself to what I've actually seen as of today.

One movie we enjoyed recently but which won't quite make my top ten list is The Christmas Chronicles, starring Kurt Russell as Santa. It was a thoroughly nice little movie, with a good story and strong performances, especially by the little girl.

Without further ado, here are my top ten movies seen in 2018 (in no particular order). Catch y'all in the new year!

  • The Post
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Black Panther
  • A Quiet Place
  • The Shape of Water
  • Tully
  • BlackkKlansman
  • Annihilation
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • The Favourite
Thursday, December 27th, 2018
12:36 pm
Television 2018

Publishers Weekly, the premiere trade magazine for the publishing industry, reviewed over 8000 books this year. Today they released their list of the top ten most-read reviews of the year and, guess what? Flight or Fright appears in the #5 position. More people read the review than reviews of books by Michael Ondaatje or Reese Witherspoon! I think that's pretty cool.

I binged through quite a number of television series this year. My Flight or Fright co-editor and I are always exchanging recommendations. The full list can be found here. I say "full," but it doesn't include network shows I watch year-to-year, like Survivor or NCIS, and there's only one network show on my top ten list.

This past week, I finished season 3 of Travelers, a cool science fiction series on Netflix that has a mostly Canadian cast, including Eric McCormack from Will and Grace. It's about people from our dismal future who have come back in time to try to fix all the things that went wrong to create their dystopia. After three seasons of making changes without success, the group decides to take a radical approach, which will only pay off if there's a season 4, which I hope there will be. There's one guy named David, a social worker from the present, is one of the most terrific characters I've encountered recently. He'll break your heart and make you laugh at the same time.

We also finished the sixth season of The Ranch (really? Six seasons already? According to some tabulations, this was the second half of season three, but still), which isn't my favorite show but my wife likes it. I find the humor somewhat broad and the laugh track overbearing, but Debra Winger is good in it. The way they wrote out Rooster was really clumsy and we were glad when they got beyond the third episode and they put that mostly to rest.

Here is my top ten list of series I watched last year, in no particular order. It was hard to whittle the list down -- there's been a lot of good stuff on Netflix and Amazon Prime in particular.

  • Travelers
  • The Good Place
  • The Deuce
  • Star Trek Discovery
  • Bosch
  • Castle Rock
  • Jessica Jones
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  • Ozark
  • The Haunting of Hill House
  • Little Drummer Girl
Wednesday, December 26th, 2018
10:44 am
Reading and writing 2018
The four-day weekend is over and I'm back to the "real world" for the next few days. We cooked a lot of great meals (our first attempt at beignets worked out well, although we discovered they don't reheat very well), drank some wine, listened to non-stop Christmas music, worked on a jigsaw puzzle, and relaxed.

On Christmas Eve, I received my contributor copy of the SST Publications edition of Shining in the Darkthe anthology containing my short story "Aeliana." This is one of two very-well-published stories from 2018. Although I haven't seen every edition yet--and some won't be out until 2019--the anthology has been published in English (US & UK editions), Bulgarian, Italian, Czech, German, Swedish, Serbian and will appear in audio next year as well.

The other "well-published" story, of course, is "Zombies on a Plane," which appeared in Flight or Fright, the anthology I co-edited with Stephen King. The story--and the anthology--has also been published in English (US &UK editions), on audio, and a dozen translations are in the works.

My only other short story to appear in 2018 was "Ray and the Martian" in Fantastic Tales of Terror from Crystal Lake Publishing. Several stories were slated to appear this year, but it looks like they've all been pushed into 2019, which is fine. There's no rush. Things happen when they happen. Earlier this week, I received am acceptance for a story that will appear in a 2020 anthology. The funny thing about this particular story is that I wrote it in 2003. According to my records, I only submitted it twice, both times in 2003 and never again thereafter until I decided to give it a look as a candidate for the anthology. Turns out, I liked it quite a bit. Gave it an update and tweaked it a little, and now it will be published nearly two decades later. That's cool.

In addition to fiction, I had my usual run of non-fiction pieces come out in 2018. The coolest was "The Dead Zone," written for the Poetry Foundation. I received a lot of feedback for that one. I contributed an essay to
Stephen King American Master and another to It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life. Several articles and reviews at News from the Dead Zone, too. I'm hoping we'll get Stephen King Revisited up and running again in 2019. Right Rich?

On the reading front, I averaged nearly a book a week throughout the year. The final tally was 48 books begun in 2018, although I'm still reading four of them. You can find the complete list here. In no particular order, here are the top ten:

  • How It Happened by Michael Koryta
  • The Outsider by Stephen King
  • I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
  • Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
  • Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
  • Bonfire by Krysten Ritter
  • The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos
  • Transcription by Kate Atkinson
  • In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
Friday, December 21st, 2018
1:09 pm
Blue Elves
I've been lax about updating this blog lately. Terribly busy on many fronts, as I’m sure many people are. I finished my fifteen-week stint with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Citizen’s Police Academy in early December, which has provided me with plenty of interesting insight to use in future writing projects.

My wife and I participated in the Blue Elves program run by the MCSO and the CPA alumni. The organizers reach out to guidance counselors at local area schools to identify underprivileged youth who might not get much for Christmas. They then seek the parents’ approval to add them to the program and then they are queried about what they might like to receive. Last year the Blue Elves provided gifts to some 700 kids. This year, they doubled the number. Our part in the project was helping to wrap gifts. A defunct furniture warehouse was provided for this project. We showed up at 6 pm one Thursday evening to find dozens of other elves wrapping everything you can image. I opted for rectangular objects, whereas my wife took on some of the more challenging items, like footballs and soccer balls! We wrapped for nearly three hours. All for a terrific cause.

As the year draws to an end, it’s time for everyone’s favorite: best-of lists! In subsequent posts I’ll tackle books, films and TV series, and my year in writing. Today I’ll tackle new music I listened to during 2018. My wife and I saw two terrific concerts: Jeff Lynne’s ELO and The Alan Parsons Live Project.

I don’t buy a ton of new music. I seem to be stuck in the 70s and 80s for the most part. These are my favorite “new” albums I acquired in 2018:

Kaleidoscope Heart – Sara Bareilles
Brave Enough: Live – Sara Bareilles
Hymn – Sarah Brightman
Egypt Station – Paul McCartney
Let Me Fly – Mike + The Mechanics
Platinum 1, 2, 3 – Deep Purple
Mascara & Monsters – Alice Cooper
S&M – Metallica
Codex VI – Shpongle
Out of Silence – Neil Finn

I was familiar with Sara Bareilles from her “King of Everything” hit single, but after I heard her live performance of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” I decided to pick up a couple of her albums. She has a terrific voice and writes savvy songs.

Before going to KillerCon this fall, I decided I should broaden my exposure to heavy metal music. I delved into Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Metallica and listened to nothing but as I drove to Austin and back. I added Alice Cooper to the mix, only to discover that he’s more of a pop singer than metal. Very good, though. My wife went to see him in concert this year with a friend, but I didn’t get to go.

In 2019, I’m hoping that Dissonant Harmonies, the music-inspired project that Brian Keene and I have been working on for a decade, sees the light of day. I’ll have more to say about music in the introduction to that volume.
Thursday, October 25th, 2018
1:48 pm
I think they're going to play my ring tone
As long as I've had a cell phone that allows you to customize the ring tone, I've used "Sirius" by Alan Parsons. You know the one, the lead in to "Eye in the Sky" made famous by the Chicago Bulls for the lineup introduction at home games.

Last night we got to see the Alan Parsons Live Project in concert at the Stafford Center, 22 years after we saw the original Project live. The venue is a long way from us, on the southwest side of the city, and it was raining very hard, so it took us well over an hour to get there. That didn't leave us with much time to eat before the show, so we went to Whataburger, the first time I've been to that famous Texas institution. It was o-kay.

I bought the tickets for the show long enough ago that I didn't remember where our seats were, so we were pleasantly surprised to be ushered to the fourth row from the orchestra pit. The venue was really nice, a small arts theater probably more used to symphonic music or stage plays. Reminded me a bit of the Rebecca Cohn Arts Center at my alma mater, Dalhousie University, which is where I first discovered Alan Parsons' music thanks to my next door neighbor, Rob Levings, during freshman year in residence.

The show started only a few minutes after the designated time, 7:30, and there was no opening act. The band consisted of a drummer who probably burned 5000 calories during the show (no joking, the guy was a maniac), a keyboard player, a percussionist/saxophone and recorder playing vocalist, a bass player, two guitar players, a lead singer and Mr. Parsons himself, who played keyboards, strummed guitars and sang lead on a couple of songs (including "Don't Answer Me" and "Eye in the Sky"). The sound engineer served double duty by emerging in the audience (behind us) during one song to play the violin.

We were pretty much the average demographic. There weren't many people much younger than us, although there were quite a few who were older. A lot of people around us were Alan Parsons experts. A couple behind us was related to the lead singer (P.J. Olson).

They performed all the hits fans would recognize and, to our delight, they played the entire I Robot album straight through. At first, I wondered at the wisdom of this, as there are some challenging, experimental  songs (notably the final "Genesis Ch.1 V.32"), but it was awesome. For the song "Breakdown," which features a huge choir in the background, the audience became the choir. We were coached in our two lines and belted them out with gusto:

Freedom, freedom, we will not obey
Freedom, freedom, take the wall away

Sounds like an anthem for today, doesn't it? After a beautiful rendition of "Don't Let it Show," Parsons said, "This is place where you used to have to get up and turn the record over. Now we'll play Side 2."

I've heard a lot of Alan Parsons concerts before, but this is the first one I know of where the band got to do solos, showcasing their impressive skills. This is also the first concert I can think of where I was close enough to the stage to hear the drummer live rather than through the sound system. He was amazing. At least twice I saw shards of his drumsticks go flying over his shoulder.

Before the song "Limelight," Parsons paid tribute to his former colleague, the late Eric Woolfson, saying that the song reflected Woolfson's thoughts about being and not being in the limelight. He had us turn on the lights on our phones during the chorus (which I captured in the slideshow below). He also admonished people to not take video of the concert. Photographs were okay. Not only did recording video violate their copyright, he said, the songs will sound crappy, which to a sound engineer is probably the greater offence.

They played for a solid two hours without intermission. With a revolving group of singers, it's probably easier for them to do that, although I feared for the drummer, who was casting off sweat at an amazing rate. After a brief gap for an encore demand, they came back to play "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Feather" and a rousing version of "Games People Play" to wrap up the night. It was a fantastic show. Here are a few highlights.
Monday, October 22nd, 2018
3:27 pm
Shoot / don't shoot
Photo credit: Lauren GrandinettiAn interesting weekend. For one thing, I received two short story acceptances within about an hour of each other. That's always nice. One of the stories is about ten years old and has been out the door over a dozen times. Finally, it sold to a pro-paying market, so the moral of the story is: stick with it!

The second story has a slightly shorter lifespan, but it was written four or five years ago. It didn't get submitted as frequently because there weren't many markets where it would fit, but I finally found the perfect one. The other unusual aspect about this submission is that I sent it in to the market a little over a year ago, and then forgot about it. When I was revisiting my submission log a few weeks ago, I decided to query the market, only to discover that they had no record of ever having received it. So I sent it in again and had my positive response within a couple of weeks.

All very cool.

I spent most of Saturday role-playing at the Montgomery County Sheriff Office Citizen's Police Academy. We were given a number of scenarios that were fairly common in the life of a police officer, and we had to be the cops and decide how to handle them. To add realism to the situations, we were given "air soft" guns that are virtually identical to real Glocks and other hand guns. They have CO2 cartridges in the magazine area and fire pellets hard enough to raise bruises. (Yes, we wore eye protection.) To get us comfortable with the guns, the first thing the deputy running the event did was ask for a volunteer to shoot him. I stepped up.

I think I'm the only person in the class who does not own a firearm and has rarely shot one. The last time I fired a gun was when I attended the Houston Police Department's Civilian Police Academy a number of years ago. They took us to the firing range one evening and we got to shoot a clip at a target. I did surprisingly well that time. I still have the target, with a decent narrow spread. This time I took aim at the officer's chest from about 10 feet away...and shot him in the arm!

The first batch of scenarios were domestic violence calls, which are among the most dangerous and unpredictable situations in which police officers find themselves. Very often, we were stumped at how to proceed once things went in a difficult direction. In the afternoon, we acted out "routine" traffic stops, most of which were anything but. Armed suspects, people who decide to flee, people who act unpredictably. It was fun, but it was also enlightening. Here are a few photos from the weekend and earlier sessions we had with the Crime Scene Investigators (where we saw some real-life lifted fingerprints that look nothing like what you see on TV) and the bus that took us off to tour the jail.

On Saturday evening, we saw Patton Oswalt (pictured above) "in concert." The opening comedian didn't get a formal introduction, and he only called himself Richard, so I have no idea who he was. My favorite part of Oswalt's show is when he turns his attention to the people in the front row. He usually picks three, and the final one was pure comedy gold, a professional wedding singer that he got a lot of mileage out of. I guess I've been to a stand-up show before (my wife says we saw one back in the 90s), but I don't recall it at all. This one was quite memorable. In the picture above, he suddenly noticed the strange backdrop on the stage and invited people in the audience to take a picture and tweet them at him.

Last night we watched "Rosa," the latest episode of Doctor Who. We were greatly impressed by it. Although there was an alien entity acting as the bad guy, the worst villains in the episode were human.
Friday, October 19th, 2018
1:53 pm
Scene of the Crime
It's been a while since I've written a post. Busy times--have to prioritize, and blogging hasn't been high on the list. I'm working on a new short story that required quite a bit of research, but also trying (as always) to get my desk clear so I can devote time to working on a novel. The perennial chase for time.

Keeping busy with Flight or Fright-related stuff, too. Scribner will be publishing the anthology in trade paperback next June. You can see all the details here, including their cover. New edition means more proofing, etc., which I expect will land on my desk shortly.

I've done a few interviews lately, including one that was translated into French for Club Stephen King (English and French versions available here), a long podcast interview with Eddie Generous for his Unnerving Magazine podcast (available here) and an interview with Justin Hamelin for Mangled Matters' 50 Days of Halloween (online here).

Anthology readers continue to take me up on my suggestion that they send me photographs of the book on airplanes. The most recent one was from a pilot who snapped a photo of Flight or Fright in the cockpit of an A321. He assured me that he didn't read while flying the plane. Here's a slideshow of the images people have sent me so far (Click the Inflight Entertainment tab). Keep 'em coming!

Speaking of Halloween (which I was, a couple of paragraphs back), Amazon has put together a series page for last year's Halloween Carnival eBooks, edited by Brian Freeman. Volume 4 contains my story "The Halloween Tree," and 'tis the season, after all.

A week from today sees the launch of Fantastic Tales Of Terror: History's Darkest Secrets, edited by Eugene Johnson for Crystal Lake Publishing.  The theme of the anthology is that there supernatural events occurred around many of our most famous incidents and people. My story, "Ray and the Martian," reveals that Ray Bradbury had a close encounter with a Martian in Roswell, NM (he really did live there, briefly, long before Area 51) that inspired his fascination with the red planet.

For the past several weeks, I've been participating in the Citizen's Police Academy offered (for free) by the Montgomery Country Sheriff's Office. Each week we get presentations from all of the different divisions that are part of MCSO. Most recently, we heard from the Homicide and Violent Crimes division. On other weeks, we heard from Crime Scene Analysts, Narcotics and Organized Crime, Livestock Division, and we spent one evening touring the county jail. I'll write more about this adventure in my next post: tomorrow we are spending the day doing shoot/don't shoot scenarios where we get to play the cops and the cops get to play the bad guys. We'll be using toy guns that should pellets, but these toys look like the real thing, with magazine and slides and safety switches and all that. Should be fun. Then we're off to see Patton Oswalt in Houston. Other than the time we went to a driver's ed class run by Laugh Stop, I think this is the first time I've ever gone to a live comedy show.
Monday, September 17th, 2018
10:22 am
Today marks my 29th year working for the same company. Granted it's gone through a couple of name and regime changes over the years, but it's still much the same place and there are a few people who were here when I joined up in 1989 who are also still here now.

I was pleasantly surprised on Friday when I received a Google alert to the Publishers Weekly hardcover nonfiction listing, where Flight or Fright appears in the #17 position. Some interesting details about that appearance. First, the book was published by a small press, so it's fairly rare for one of them to appear on any kind of list like this. Back in the day, the Donald M. Grant edition of Wizard and Glass made it into some brick-and-mortar stores and it became the first-ever small press edition to appear on the NY Times list. Also, this is only for hardcover sales, not for audiobook or ebook sales. And, more importantly, this is only for sales from retail stores that report to PW. The entry pictured here shows about 3300 copies sold. However, Cemetery Dance reported advanced orders of over 30,000 copies several weeks ago. If those had been taken into account, the book would probably have appeared in the #1 position. The J.D. Robb novel in that position sold 28000 copies for the week.

I had a nice, wide-ranging 90-minute chat with Jeremy Lloyd of the Dark Tower Radio podcast on Saturday afternoon. Here is his description of the broadcast, which you can listen to here:

On this episode Jeremy is joined by author of The Dark Tower CompanionThe Road to the Dark TowerThe Stephen King Illustrated Companion and the co-editor of the new anthology Flight or Fright the one and only Bev Vincent. They discuss Bev's history with the works of Stephen King, the new King renaissance and the new anthology he worked on with Stephen King, Flight or Fright. So hunker down fasten your seat belt and return your seat and tray tables to their upright positions and tune your dial to Dark Tower Radio and enjoy the palaver.

We watched The Children Act on the weekend, based on the Ian McEwan novel of the same name. It stars Emma Thompson as a judge who must decide whether a 17-year-old (who is only a few months from 18) can be forced to accept a life-saving blood transfusion despite his Jehovah's Witness belief that it will pollute and damn him. Stanley Tucci plays her husband. There's one thing in the story that isn't well explained: she decides to visit the boy in the hospital before making her decision. Everyone agrees it's highly unusual, and it sets the rest of the story in motion, but in retrospect we couldn't come up with a satisfactory explanation for why she might have done it. Except for that puzzler, it's a good film.
Wednesday, September 5th, 2018
3:32 pm
Exciting Times
The past couple of days have been exciting. Previously when I had a new book out, things were fairly low-key. We celebrated with a dinner or something, but there wasn't a whole lot of fanfare.

Things are completely different with Flight or Fright. For one thing, three different publishers are involved: Cemetery Dance, Simon & Schuster audio and Hodder & Stoughton in the UK.

Yesterday, I was stunned to receive a floral arrangement from my co-editor. Truly bowled over. Then, when I got home last night I found a package from the group at Hodder & Stoughton (see picture). It contained an oversized congratulatory card (about 12" x 8") signed by editorial and marketing, together with a trade paperback of the H&S edition (for Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and airside at UK airports), cleverly packaged in an airsickness bag.

Today, Simon & Schuster audio has been releasing excerpts of the audiobook all over the place. You can hear (and see) Steve read from "The Turbulence Expert," hear an excerpt of Corey Stall reading Joe Hill's "You Are Released" and another of him reading from my story, "Zombie's on a Plane (picture below)," Santino Fontana reading from Cody Goodfellow's "Diablitos" and Christian Coulson reading from Roald Dahl’s "They Shall Not Grow Old." Finally, there's a YouTube video of Norbert Leo Butz (Kevin Rayburn from the Netflix series Bloodline) greeting people from the Simon & Schuster studio as he's reading "The Flying Machine" and "The Fifth Category."

Also, new reviews, including one from Mike Ripley at SHOTS eZine in the UK. Thus far, the response has been terrific. Everyone seems to be enjoying our collection of turbulent tales. We did get a 1-star review on Amazon from someone incredulous that anyone who flies regularly would want to read scary flying stories, without commenting on the stories at all.

Oh, yeah, and there was also this article at The Ringer called The King Chroniclers, for which I was interviewed a while back.

We didn't even get to have a celebratory dinner last night, though, because I spent the entire evening at the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office Citizen Police Academy. We'll rectify that tonight.

I finally got to the end of Season 2 of Jessica Jones. I enjoyed the season, perhaps even moreso than Season 1, but I kept getting interrupted by other things. And I saw the final episode of Castle Rock, which I'm sure will have people talking. I'm looking forward to seeing how people respond to it.

I also managed to get a few book reviews done recently, all for books that are either just out or soon to be out:

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018
1:47 pm
Publication Day
Flight or Fright was born in a diner across the road from Bangor International Airport thirteen months ago, almost to the day. By the end of 2017, we had a mostly complete manuscript, although there were still some pending revisions to make, and it took us a few months after that until all the contracts from the contributors were in hand.

Now it's a reality. Well, it has been for a little while, with Cemetery Dance shipping copies for the past couple of weeks. But today is the official publication day for our anthology of turbulent tales, tales to take your mind off a bumpy flight. The reviews so far have been overwhelmingly positive, and I've heard from a number of readers who have enjoyed the stories we assembled.

Not only has the book been published in the US and the UK, in hardcover, ebook and audio, we have ten foreign translations already nailed down with, hopefully, more to follow.

It's been a helluva ride so far. I'm tempted to make all sorts of flying/air travel puns, but I'll restrain myself. With a seat belt.

It was my wife's birthday this past weekend. We had a quiet time of it, but we watched a bunch of movies. The only one in the cinema was Juliet, Naked, based on the Nick Hornby novel. It stars Rose Byrne as a woman whose long-time live-in boyfriend (Chris O'Dowd) is obsessed with an American musician who only ever released one album. When the boyfriend receives a copy of the original demos and can't stop going on about it, she posts a scathing review on his message board and receives a reply from the musician himself (Ethan Hawke), the man to whom O'Dowd's character has built a shrine in her basement. They become penpals. Hilarity ensues. A nice rom-com with all sorts of unexpected twists and turns.

We watched Book Club, starring Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen and Diane Keaton as four long-time friends who meet monthly to discuss books. When Fifty Shades is introduced, they all begin wondering about the current states of their love lives and make some decisions that surprise themselves and/or each other. We finally got to see Annihilation, based on Jeff Vandermeer's novel. The book is somewhat recognizable in the film, but a lot has been left out and changed, particularly toward the ending. We both enjoyed it, although I found myself missing some of the bits that didn't make it into the film. Our least favorite film of the weekend was called Breaking and Exiting. It stars Mel Gibson's son and Jordan Hinson, the latter of which also wrote the script. It's about a burglar who breaks into a house only to find a woman attempting to commit suicide in the bathtub. For some reason he decides (after pointing out that she'd taken the wrong kind of pills and supplying her with some that would do the trick) to stick around and talk her out of killing herself. It's a weird movie that defies explanation time and time again. You might recognize Hinson as Zoe from the SyFy series Eureka, which explains why Colin Ferguson (who played her father) shows up in a cameo as a cop. We almost turned the movie off during the first 30 minutes. Finally we saw Jeremy Irons in An Author Prepares as a self-absorbed famous actor who has a heart attack and is forced to drive from L.A. to N.Y. with his semi-estranged son to his daughter's wedding. En route, he does all the things he's not supposed to do, including drinking, eating unhealthy foods and carousing. It's a lighter than usual role for Irons, and we got a kick out of it.

I also read Joe Lansdale's Hap and Leonard novel Jackrabbit Smile. It forms the loose basis for Season 3 of the Sundance series, although only very loosely. I found it fascinating to pick out the framework of the novel as distilled into the show and the creative decisions they made in "adapting" it.
Wednesday, August 29th, 2018
10:15 am
Only six more days to go until Flight or Fright is officially published, although Cemetery Dance has been sending out copies to advanced purchasers for a while now. I took a box to Killer Con in Austin last weekend and sold most of them, including to Patrick Frievald, pictured here, who seems to have frightened everyone else off his flight with it.

We went to a concert/rally in support of Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic candidate for Senate, last Thursday. A few local bands got the crowd pumped up (we saw VODI and Wild Moccassins), then the candidate took the stage and spoke for the better part of an hour. It's a standing-room-only venue, and it was packed. We were near the front and got to see O'Rourke up close. He's passionate, energetic, and he's running on a campaign that isn't against anything or anyone (except, maybe Betsy DeVoss), but rather running for certain beliefs and tenets. He's closed to within the margin of error of the despicable Ted Cruz, funded solely on small donations, no PACs, and he seems to be outraising Cruz by a significant margin. Here's hoping all that enthusiasm carries into November.

On Friday, I drove to Austin for KillerCon, a convention that Wrath James White launched in Las Vegas that he has now migrated to the Texas capital. It's a small, intimate weekend with a single-track schedule, which means you never have to miss something in favor of something else. I registered very late, so I wasn't included in any of the programming, but I had a terrific time nonetheless. It was good to catch up with people like Brian Keene, Mary SanGiovanni, Kelli Owen, Jeff Strand, Edward Lee, Joe, Keith and Kasey Lansdale, as well as meeting a number of new people. The two highlights of the programming for me were the "hot wing" challenge, in which several authors consumed progressively hotter sauces while doing things like coming up with alternate endings for their work or reading one-star reviews of their books. It was hilarious. Then there was the always entertaining "gross-out" contest, in which authors have three minutes to read a gross but funny story. Comedy gold. As with any con, though, the social aspect is the biggest draw. I ended up staying up really late on Saturday night talking to people in the con suite, fueled in large part by a killer Cuba Libre mixed by Stephen Kozeniewski. I haven't been up that late in ages.

We watched  a couple of movies on the weekend. First was Won't You Be My Nieighbor? the Fred Rogers documentary. He was an amazing, motivational, inspiring guy, and this film does him proper service. His life had a terrific trajectory and he remained true to his beliefs all the way through. Highly recommended. Then we saw Oceans 8, a decent caper film in the tradition of the Danny Ocean movies. The scheme is well crafted and executed. My biggest complaint is that there weren't any significant wrinkles along the way that made them wing it. It was smooth sailing all the way through. There was a little surprise near the end, but I would have like more stress and trouble. Maybe even some double-dealing and deception within the group. I also saw the finale of Sharp Objects, based on the novel by Gillian Flynn. A difficult story, bleak and vicious, but well done. The ending was very much in keeping with the show's dreamy, subliminal style.

Last night was the first night of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office Civilian Police Academy. It's running for 15 weeks, and we'll get the inside scoop on just about everything that entity does. I did the Houston Police Department's academy a number of years ago. It's terrific research material for my writing, since I'm concentrating mostly on crime fiction these days.
Monday, August 13th, 2018
10:01 am
Concerto for a Rainy Weekend
ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) has been one of my bucket list groups for decades. Never thought I'd ever get the chance to see them in concert, but they announced a tour last fall with a stop in Houston. I bought tickets immediately. Since last November, it has always seemed like the show was far in the future, but it finally happened on Friday evening at the Toyota Center in Houston (home to the Houston Rockets basketball team).

We went into the city early to have supper after parking at the garage by the venue. We had to walk about eight blocks to the restaurant but, thankfully, I had brought an umbrella, so we didn't get too wet when it started to rain halfway there. Lots of people around us did. One older couple (by older, I mean about our age!) were huddled in the bushes under the overhang from an office building. As we passed, the man said, "I'll give you $10 for your umbrella!"

After a scrumptious meal, we made our way back to the garage to get rid of the umbrella (it was no longer raining and we only had to cross the street to get into the Toyota Center), we entered the venue and found our seats, near the edge of the upper bowl. The opening act was a Los Angeles-based group called Dawes, who are apparently quite popular in Houston. I've never heard of them before, but they put on a good show. At times they reminded me of Jackson Browne, at others CCR and the intro to one of their songs sounded for all the world like Pink Floyd. I'll have to check them out.

At 9:15, the lights went down (subtle ELO reference) and the main event started with "Standin' In the Rain." From that point on it was pure bliss. Every song felt like an encore. Just about any ELO hit you care to mention was played (except "Xanadu"). They also did one Traveling Wilburys song ("Handle with Care"—they showed Lynne's other band's members on the rear-projected video) and one song from the most recent Jeff Lynne's ELO album Alone in the Universe ("When I was a Boy"). Lynne looks and sounds terrific (he's 70), and his band is fantastic. In addition to some guitars, a couple of keyboards and drums, there were two cello players and a violinist who recreated the orchestral parts of the classic ELO songs. The light show was great, with bursts of lasers, and lots of things projected onto the back screen and the stage. The audience was fully engaged during the entire concert, and my voice was raw from singing along to songs like "Don't Bring Me Down." Certainly one of the top five concerts I've ever attended. We had a blast.

Yesterday afternoon, we went to see the new Spike Lee film. We parked in the theater garage and went up the hill to our favorite pizzeria. When we left, it was pouring down rain again. I didn't have any real reason to think it might rain, but I had brought along the umbrella, so we didn't get soaked.  Well, not quite as bad as we would have without it, but it was a small umbrella for two people and the rain was really strong, so my back got wet, which didn't feel so good once we got into the air conditioned theater. Still, it was in keeping with the theme of the weekend, I guess.

BlacKkKlansman is based on the real-life story of Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado Springs officer (played by Denzel Washington's son, John David Washington) who manages to go undercover with the KKK using another officer, Flip Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver). Stallworth ends up talking to David Duke a few times. Duke has political aspirations, but even Stallworth's white colleagues think there's no chance of someone like him ending up in the White House. It's played for laughs, but it's very definitely not funny.

Zimmerman—who is Jewish but non-practicing—pretending to be Stallworth, is offered the chance to become president of the local chapter. In parallel, the real Stallworth begins a relationship with black student activist Patrice Dumas without revealing he's a cop. The movie is a fascinating look inside the Klan in the late 1970s, and it becomes more of a crime thriller as the story builds to a crescendo. Most of the cops are good guys doing their jobs, although there's one bad apple amongst them and another scene involving Stallworth that will be familiar to anyone who watches the news these days. The resolution is quite satisfying. You feel good. Then there's the punch in the gut that Lee uses as a coda to the movie: real-life footage from recent confrontations between American Nazis and anti-fascist demonstrators. What a powerful statement. Definitely a must-see movie, but it will leave depressed.
Wednesday, August 8th, 2018
5:59 pm
Lots and lots of movies
We've watched a number of movies that we enjoyed recently. The most recent was Tully, starring Charlize Theron as a mother struggling with a newborn and a son who is probably somewhere on the spectrum, although he isn't officially diagnosed, plus another daughter. See this one without reading anything about it. The less you know in advance, the more you're likely to enjoy it. Theron is impressive in an unglamorous role in which she is called upon to be brash and sarcastic on a regular basis. There is the requisite "didn't see that coming" moment late in the game.

I finally got around to seeing Thor: Ragnarok on the weekend. I'm still working on my MCU movie catch-up, but this one was a decent entry. A cheeky sense of humor. Especially liked the scenes between Thor and Doctor Strange, and Jeff Goldblum was a hoot. The director voiced one of the funnier minor characters with a full-on antipodean accent.

We also saw Like Father, the new release on Netflix starring Kristen Bell as a workaholic bride-to-be and Kelsey Grammer as her long-estranged father. Improbably, they end up on a week-long cruise together in one of the honeymoon suites while they attempt to ignore each other (at first) and get past their long-standing issues. Lots of cute scenes, and it's a low-risk film, a rom-com without the rom, really. Seth Rogan plays an awkward Canadian divorcé, and his wife directed the movie. It has the hugest and most pervasive instance of product placement of which I'm aware: the Royal Caribbean cruise ship that is almost a character. Not a very demanding film, but we liked it well enough.

Final Portrait is a Geoffrey Rush showcase written and directed by Stanley Tucci. Rush plays real-life tortured artist Alberto Giacometti, who asks a friend (played by Armie Hammer) to pose for a portrait at his Paris atelier. It's only supposed to take a couple of hours, but it stretches into days and then weeks, with Giacometti occasionally painting over much of what he's accomplished in a fit of pique and artistic melodrama. Rush throws himself into the role and at first you wonder whether he'd be an interesting person to know but later you'd probably decide he'd be tedious to be around. He was a conspicuous philanderer, to boot. The big question is why the friend, James Lord, would put up with Giacometti's behavior for so long, especially when he had pressing business in America. Tony Shalhoub (Monk) is almost unrecognizable as Giacometti's brother, who has seen this all before. It's a rare dramatic turn for him, and he's quite good in it.

I was surprised by Red Sparrow, the Jennifer Lawrence Soviet spy thriller. Based on trailers from back when it was first released, I expected her to be more of a femme fatale. Instead, it turns out she was forced into the sparrow program by her lascivious uncle. There is a decent amount of ambiguity to the story: which side is she really playing, and is she an agent, a double agent, a treble agent or what? We enjoyed the unexpected turn of events at the end. Also stars Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker (briefly, as a ditzy and drunken US politician), and Jeremy Irons. It took a critical drubbing, but it wasn't as bad as we were led to believe it might be.

We also saw The Leisure Seeker, with Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland as a couple of a certain age. She decides to dust off the old Winnebago (which bears the same nickname as the film) for one last long vacation trek with her husband, who has dementia. Her goal is the Florida Keys, because Sutherland was a big fan of Hemingway. They have numerous adventures along the way, and Sutherland's character swims in and out of awareness. He's well enough to drive (if she gives directions), but a lot of the time he doesn't know where they are or, indeed who they are. Mirren's character is frustrated when he suddenly recognizes a student he had many years ago, everything about her, but then a few minutes later can't recall their children's names. It's a poignant film about a difficult situation that has an ending you might see coming...or maybe not. Two great actors doing their best with a road movie for the ages.

On the TV front, I watched La Forêt (The Forest) on Netflix, a French crime series that reminded me a little of Broadchurch. The local police gets a new boss on the same day that a teenage girl goes missing. The disappearance calls to mind a similar incident from a decade earlier when two girls went missing. All the signs point toward the culprit being someone from the village, which makes long-time friends and acquaintances suddenly suspicious and wary of each other. There is a vaguely supernatural air to the story, which also involves a French teacher who was a foundling who may have lived in a cave in the woods for some prolonged stretch when she was six or seven years old. Not quite as well done as Broadchurch, but I enjoyed it, and it's a breezy six episodes.

I also saw The Rain, a Danish series that starts off with a misguided scientist seeding rainclouds with a virus that he thinks will "fix" humanity. Instead, it kills off almost everyone. His two children, a teenage daughter and her younger brother, spend years in a bunker until they're forced to emerge, where they join up with a group of other young people. The rain is still deadly, so they have to take cover every time the clouds grow dark, and there are various groups of people they need to be wary of, including paramilitary guys in armed vehicles scooping up survivors in search of someone who might be immune. There are some real surprises from episode to episode, the individual characters have interesting back-stories and it's definitely open for a second season. I liked it a lot.
Wednesday, July 25th, 2018
3:50 pm
Salmon of Doubt
I remember a time when you set your VCR / DVR and it did exactly what you told it to do, and nothing else. If a show was delayed starting because of an overlong basketball game, you missed part of the program.

Now, DVRs are smart. If something is delayed, it knows. And if something random comes along that's associated with a series you record, it grabs that, too. Thus, we ended up with a recording of a "lost episode" of Doctor Who that I would have otherwise missed. The episode, titled "Shada," was written by Douglas Adams (of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame) during the Tom Baker / Romana / K-9 era.

As with these things, there's a story behind the story. Apparently Adams wanted to write a series where the Doctor decided to retire from traveling, but the BBC didn't want that. Adams decided to procrastinate writing the show (something for which he was famous), thinking that if he waited long enough, the producers would have no choice but to allow him to write what he wanted. That strategy didn't work, and he was forced to write a new story, which is this one.

They started filming it, but because of a strike by technicians, it was never completed. Last year, someone decided to get it ready for presentation. The actors, of course, have aged a tad in the intervening decades (it was originally supposed to air in 1980), but they were still around, so the missing footage was animated, and the original actors provided the voices. I'd say about a third of the 3-hour (including commercials) show is animated. A lot of it was filmed in Cambridge (scenes of the Doctor punting on the River Cam were used in The Five Doctors when Baker declined to participate in that project). Most of what was animated takes place in various space ships.

It's an okay story, dealing with a guy who has come to Earth to recover a Gallifreyan book he needs to locate a Time Lord penal colony that all the Time Lords have forgotten about. There's an old, forgetful university professor with the very obvious name Chronotis, and a student who borrows books, and a floating sphere that can suck a person's mind dry. The usual Doctor stuff. A few scenes are very Adams-esque, especially one near the end where a don of the college tries to convince a bobby that someone has stolen a room from the university, to which the bobby responds that the number of times a room has been stolen is very low...in fact, it is zero, he concludes. Apparently Adams recycled some of the characters for his novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. It's been a long time since I read that book, so I didn't realize that.

In modern hands, the whole thing would probably have been an hour long. A lot of time is spent twiddling knobs and turning dials, but that was the era, when they weren't wibbledy-wobbly and talking a hundred miles a second.

The show ends with a funny cameo by 83-year-old Tom Baker, who plays the Doctor again, with a wink and a sly nod to the passage of time. It's fun to see something new from that era, so if you get a chance, check it out!
Monday, July 23rd, 2018
2:20 pm
That Derry Air
I learned late last week that Flight or Fright is already going into a second printing with Cemetery Dance, and publication is still six weeks away. So that's pretty cool.

In other publishing news, Simon & Schuster audio is going to release Shining in the Dark as an audiobook next February. I received my Czech copy last week. (Or, as I told my wife, the Czech was in the mail, har-de-har-har.)

Normally, I would be writing about my NECON experiences right about now, but this year I had a scheduling conflict that prevented me from attending. Turns out, if I had opted for NECON, I would probably have had to cancel because of a day-job obligation. As it was, I was able to duck out mid-day on Friday and catch a plane for Bangor. A group of friends who know each other through Stephen King's message board held their annual King Kon in that city this year, and a few people were invited, including Robin Furth, Glenn Chadbourne and me.

I got in late (very late) on Friday. So late that all the traffic signals in the city were flashing. It was a little disconcerting and disorienting, driving down Stillwater Avenue. Most of them were flashing yellow, but the odd one was flashing red and with my limited color perception, I had to look very carefully to make sure I didn't cruise through one of the latter. I was driving a Kia Niro, my first time behind the wheel of a hybrid. It was a little strange, driving something that is so quiet. At times I wasn't sure if the car was running.

On Saturday late morning, I meandered into downtown Bangor, where I took the above picture, which reminded me of a certain scene from It. No floating balloons, though. That would have been awesome/creepy. I only went a few blocks when I met Gerald Winters, owner of the King bookstore in town. We chatted a few minutes (he was also invited to attend) and I went a few blocks farther, where I encountered Glenn Chadbourne. He and I decamped to a nearby pub for a little fodder before the main event, a panel at the Arts Exchange. The four of us (Robin, Glenn, Gerald and I) signed stuff, answered questions, told tales, took pictures, etc. for a couple of hours. Then Robin, Glenn, Marsha (King's executive assistant) and I hung out at Denny's for a while, waiting until it was time to go to the Oriental Jade restaurant, location of a pivotal scene in It. We had a nice buffet dinner, there were door prizes, swag bags, etc. The conventioneers had other things planned, including a trip to Dysart's (Maximum Overdrive) the following morning, but I had to get back to Texas. Those 5:30 am flights always seem like a good idea when I book them, but getting up at 3:30 wasn't my favorite thing to do!

Of course, the flight was 90 minutes late departing. First, the navigational computer on our plane was misbehaving and it was going to take an hour or more just to get the repair crew on site. Fortunately, the pilots were able to convince the airline to let them swap to another plane. We were on the taxiway when they were told that they couldn't take off because of a hold at Philly airport, where we were heading. So we had to sit there until 7 am, Fortunately, I was able to rebook my connecting flight while we waited. After that it was smooth sailing, and I was back home by early in the afternoon.

It was a nice time. Always fun to catch up with old friends and make new ones. My only disappointment was that I discovered, after I was back in Texas, that there are Tim Horton's restaurants in Bangor. Three of them! And I didn't get to go to one. No timbits for me! Ah, well. Next time.

I received the above postcard in the mail today. Note the return address! If you haven't checked out my Castle Rock preview, you can do so here. The first three episodes drop on Wednesday on Hulu.

I finished watching Season 2 of Goliath (Amazon) en route to Bangor on my iPad. Billy Bob Thornton plays a hard drinking lawyer who ends up taking on high profile cases, playing David to various Goliaths. It's a very good series. Season 2, stylistically, reminds me a lot of Breaking Bad. Episode 7 is very, very strange (in a good way).
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