Moderna World

My wife and I received our second Moderna vaccine doses on Sunday morning. Out of an abundance of caution, I decided to take yesterday off from the day job, as I'd heard there was a strong possibility of side-effects on the day following the injection. After the first dose, my only issue was tenderness around the injection site.

Turns out, I didn't have anything more significant than that from the second dose, either. A little ringing in my ears when I woke up yesterday morning and a mild headache. Maybe a little less energy than usual. My wife, though, woke up a little after midnight shivering from chills. I dug out her heating pad and that seemed to help, although it took a good half hour for the tremors to subside. She experienced flu-like symptoms (fever, muscle ache, general malaise) for most of Sunday morning into the afternoon, but not bad enough to keep her out of circulation.

Today, two days out, all seems to be fine. In a little less than two weeks we will be fully immunized and ready to, perhaps, emerge from hibernation a little. We're not going to go to the movie theater or dine indoors at restaurants, but we might go see dentists and eye doctors and all the other routine things that we've been shunning this past year.


DHCemetery Dance Publications announced the release of the trade paperback edition of Dissonant Harmonies this week. This is my collaboration with Brian Keene, a two-novella collection that includes my story "The Dead of Winter." It's in-stock at CD now and can also be ordered from Amazon. An eBook edition is also forthcoming.

Inspired by specially curated mixtapes, Bev Vincent and Brian Keene present two new spine-chilling novellas...

As a blizzard descends upon the sleepy town of Bayport, Rhode Island, brothers Joey and Frank Shaw investigate the mysterious disappearances of several townsfolk. After the discovery of strange tunnels, tunnels that only Joey can see, the trio suspect something is lurking beneath the snowbound town. Something burrowing. Something hungry. And it looks like Joey might be next in The Dead of Winter. 

Did you imagine the world vanishing to a flood or a comet, the hand of God or nuclear war? What if it started with something as innocuous as the Berenstain Bears, and something known as the Mandela Effect? Barricaded in a seedy motel room, one man makes sense of love, loss, and life as the end of the world looms. Do you see what he sees? Do you know what he knows?

Since the book was inspired by our respective playlists given to each other for inspiration, I set up a Spotify playlist featuring many of the songs that inspired this book. The first 24 tracks are the songs I gave to Brian (plus a few B-sides that didn't make the cut), although there are a few substitutions because not all the songs I picked are on Spotify. The last 16 tracks are the ones Brian Keene sent to me.

I'll be reading from my novella at Brian Keene's Clubhouse on Monday, April 5 at 7 PM Central. Check out my Facebook or Twitter feeds for links as we get closer. You have to have an invitation to this new social media platform and I'm not entirely sure how that works yet.

I recently did a podcast interview with Lou Sytsma, which you can listen to here, and a two-part video self-interview for Stephen King Italia that you can find here: Part 1 | Part 2.


Recent movies: We enjoyed (with subtitles) Attack the Block, the British alien invasion movie from a decade or so ago. Then Minari, which is a terrific "American Dream" film about a Korean family who move to Arkansas to fulfill the father's dream of growing Korean vegetables for fellow immigrants. It's full of the ups and downs of ordinary life and is thoroughly charming. Then we saw The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman. A very disorienting film told essentially from the perspective of a man suffering dementia. It's hard to say we enjoyed it (I don't think we were meant to enjoy it), but the performances are terrific.

Streaming: I finished WandaVision, which was highly entertaining and I'm well into Season 3 of Lost. We enjoyed the second season of Staged (Hulu), and finally got to see 63 Up (Britbox) and the companion documentary 7 Up and Me (Amazon). We've been following the series since 42 Up and have been waiting for the most recent installment to make it to America. Last night we watched the first two episodes of Ginny and Georgia, which is like The Gilmore Girls if Rory and her mom didn't have wealthy benefactors.

Reading: finished two terrific thrillers (Find You First by Linwood Barclay and Lola On Fire by Rio Youers) and currently well into Dream Girl by Laura Lippman. The latter will ring some bells with Stephen King fans -- I'm thinking particularly of Misery and "Secret Window, Secret Garden."

1.00 Years of Solitude

The last time we went to a restaurant was on March 12, 2020. We had pizza at Bellagreen, one of our favorite neighborhood establishments. We'd been out to eat three other times earlier that month. Since then, other than ordering food to be picked up or delivered on five or six occasions, we've been making all our meals at home. I haven't gained a pound!

On March 16, my boss told our group he was giving permission to anyone who wanted to do so to work from home for the foreseeable future. I packed up my laptop and everything I thought I might need and went home that morning, stopping at Best Buy on the way to pick up a terrabyte drive. I have only been back to that building a few times since then, always on weekends, to pick up things I needed from my office and, ultimately, to pack up completely and move everything to my home office. Our remote-working tenure has been made permanent.

My wife, too, has been working from home since then. We've only gone out to get groceries or other necessities. We've converted out grocery shopping to online/pick-up, which has worked out better than expected for us and we might continue to use that when the world returns to whatever will be considered normal. I'm still using the same tank of gas I bought a year ago. No kidding!

Writing MysteriesA couple of weeks ago, we received our first coronavirus vaccination. At the end of the month, we'll get our second shot. By mid-April, we'll be considered fully immunized. We might loosen our lockdown protocols a little after that...but not much. Not planning on going to restaurants or movie theaters any time soon, but we'll consider going to the dentist, for example. Depends on how bad the next wave is a few weeks from now, when the stupid decisions of Texas politicians play out. Spring break, 100% occupancy, no mask mandate...how dumb do you have to be to get elected governor of Texas, anyway?

I have a brief contribution in How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America. My advanced review copy arrived last week, and I look forward to spending some time with it.

I was a guest on the KingCast podcast a few weeks ago. It was recorded the weekend before the big freeze. We joked a little about staying warm, little realizing how cold things were fixin' to get. You can listen to it wherever podcasts are distributed, including here.

Here's the "blurb" for it: Frequent Stephen King collaborator and author of The Road to the Dark Tower, Bev Vincent, chats with the boys about his long history with King, what it was like to read the final three Dark Tower books a full two years before they were published, fields some truly nerdy Dark Tower questions and has to explain to the dumb-dumbs that host this podcast what "orthogonality" means.

My three-part exploration "King of Crime" is now up at News from the Dead Zone (Cemetery Dance Online), culminating in my review of Later. Part I | Part II | Part III

I should probably mention again my novella at Amazon, The Ogilvy Affair, which is available as an eBook and a paperback.

Movies we watched recently: Nomadland, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, I Care a Lot, News of the World. I Care a Lot is bad people doing bad things. Wasn't sure who to root for, but it was fun watching Rosamund Pike go up against Peter Dinklage. News of the World has Tom Hanks coming to the rescue of a young girl who was raised by Native Americans. The Civil War has just ended and everyone in Texas is too concerned about figuring out the new status quo to worry about one lost little girl. Nomadland is about a woman whose husband and the town they lived in both died, so she packs up a van and hits the road, joining the ranks of other nomadic people. The United States vs. Billie Holiday wasn't easy to watch. What a hard life she had, and the government didn't make it any easier.

I'm continuing my re-watch of Lost. I'm now about halfway through the third season. I'm continually amazed by how much of that show I've forgotten about. It's good--I can be surprised by certain turns of events. On the other hand, it's interesting to see things mentioned and know how they're going to play out. First mention of Jacob. First time Nikki and Paolo emerge from the background. Knowing what Kate and Sawyer are being forced to do.

I've also dipped into WandaVision. I'm four episodes in and it's just starting to make sense. I was a full episode in before I made the complete connection between the two main characters and the MCU movies I've seen. My wife and I enjoyed the adaptation of Sarah Pinborough's Behind Her Eyes. I had the advantage of having read the book, so it was fun to hear my wife's guesses about what was going to happen. We also checked out the excellent four-part 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre starring Ruth Wilson, and we're five episodes into Bridgerton, which takes place in an alternate universe where mad King George married a Black woman.

Deep Freeze

In a couple of weeks—on March 2nd, to be specific—Hard Case Crime will publish their third Stephen King novel, Later. Although King is generally thought of as a horror writer, he has written numerous crime short stories, novellas and novels, giving them a unique twist. In Part 1 of a three-part series, I look at King’s earliest involvement with crime fiction. Next week, I’ll explore his more recent writings in the genre, including his previous two books with Hard Case Crime and the Mercedes series. Then, on publication day, I’ll review Later and look ahead to King’s next crime novel, Billy Summers.

So, as you may have heard, Texas (and other states) was hit by a massive winter storm that knocked out the power for millions of people in the midst of record-breaking cold temperatures. We received maybe two inches of snow/ice pellets overnight Sunday, and much of it will stick around for a couple of days, I think. The temperature got as low as 14° yesterday morning and, at a little after 5 AM, the power went out. And stayed out. For us, it was only out for 12 hours, but many people still haven't gotten power back.

Fortunately, we have a gas fireplace. It doesn't radiate its heat very far, but when we sat on the hearth we could get warm. We also have a Coleman stove that we used to make some meals, including one batch of killer burritos that used up all the things in the fridge we thought wouldn't last the outage. To pass the time, we played half a dozen games of Yahtzee! (evenly split, three wins apiece) and did Sudoko and other puzzles.

I have a hand-crank radio that was sent to me as part of a publicity kit for the TV series Colony a number of years ago and we kept it fully cranked while listening to classic rock and then NPR. Good exercise. The little gadget has proven useful a number of times over the years.

The power came back at around 4:30 PM, just in time to save us from having to do a massive load of dishes by hand. The temperature inside the house had dropped to 55° by then.

Overnight it got colder still. It was a chilly 9F when I got up this morning. Our heating system has been battling all day to get the house up to 68°. We had one pipe freeze but it resolved itself shortly after noon without any apparent damage. We hope. We made it back to 32° by mid-afternoon, and some of the snow is melting from trees that are getting direct sunlight, but it's still a winter wonderland out there.

Another storm is coming in this evening. It's not going to be nearly as cold (overnight: 28°), but freezing rain will likely wreak havoc with the trees and, of more concern, might put another strain on the already fragile electric grid. We've got a few more cold days ahead, with below-freezing overnight temperatures but daytime highs in the upper thirties and lower forties. We just have to make it to the weekend--then we'll be up in the sixties and seventies.

The long and the short of it

My most recent publications include a flash fiction story and a novella. The flash story is a touch over 1400 words (I'm not sure I'd consider it flash fiction at that length, but that's what the publisher calls it, so I won't quibble). The story is called "Tupilaq," and it's based on a longer story I originally wrote in 2013 for a themed anthology. It didn't make the cut for that project, so the story has been sitting idle on my hard drive for the past eight years. I could never figure out quite what to do with it.

Then Cemetery Gates Media launched the Cemetery Gates Society, a monthly online publication with columns, reviews and a themed flash fiction contest. The theme for January was Arctic/Antarctic, which summoned to mind "Tupilaq," much of which takes place in Greenland. The original story was nearly 4000 words, which meant that a lot of stuff had to go to get it within the 500-1500 word limit for the contest.

I started slashing. The opening section, set in Basra, went completely, and a lot of the ending sections in New Orleans and Galveston were trimmed with a machete. I wrote and rewrote. I converted it from past to present tense. I got it within the word count limit and I was very happy with the final result. This was the core of the story, with nothing extraneous. I entered the contest...and I won! I co-won, that is, as they decided to publish five stories. So, if you want to check out "Tupilaq," you can read it at Cemetery Gates Society.

The Ogilvy Affair coverI've had another story kicking around on my hard drive since I wrote the first draft in 2000. It was originally called "Black and White," and its gimmick was that a private detective is hired to go to a small town in Texas. En route, he passes through some kind of time portal that takes him into the past. His world goes from color to black and white, and he turns into a noir detective in the process. There were other writing gimmicks involved, and I was pleased with the outcome, but I was never able to sell it. It was on the long side (7000 words) and a touch unwieldy.

I revised it a number of times over the years and, at some point, I decided to strip out all the "time travel" stuff and make it a straight hardboiled story. There are places in Texas that feel like you're traveling into the past without any kind of dimensional portal. I expanded the tale and turned it into a novella (21,000 words), which I submitted to a couple of contests over the years, without success. Contests are like that--you either win or you don't!

I've toyed with the idea of self-publishing it for a while, but I finally took the bull by the horns and figured out how to do it a few weeks ago. Turns out it's really quite easy. I can see why people might be tempted to go straight to self-publishing without attempting the traditional route. My only expense was a couple of stock photos for the cover (one for the eBook and a different one for the paperback edition). I downloaded the layout software for the eBook from Amazon (free) and converted the Word document into that format. Lots of proofreading passes, design the cover and away it went.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to do a paperback edition as well, but I finally decided to make that available, too. That meant another design pass, since the eBook version doesn't have things like page numbers and headers. My story has a couple of warning notes created by cutting letters from newspapers, and I found a great font that reproduces that. I was very pleased by how it turned out. I ordered a proof copy for a couple of bucks to make sure everything looked right in the print version and then I published that edition last week.

It's now called "The Ogilvy Affair" (I'm smugly proud of that title and, if you read the story, you'll see why). It's available on Amazon globally as an eBook and in paperback. I hope you'll check it out if you like hardboiled detectives who have to solve whodunits. Here's my cover copy:

First came the warning note.

Then someone took a shot at Clifford Ogilvy, publisher of the Harrisville Dispatch. The would-be killer missed, but he or she will likely try again.

Enter Quentin Sawyer, a private detective from Houston who responds to Ogilvy’s request for an investigator to find out who’s trying to kill him. Sawyer is a fish out of water at the luxurious Ogilvy mansion and in small town Harrisville. He soon discovers that his problem isn’t finding someone who has a motive to murder his powerful client. Just about everyone in town has a reason to dislike Ogilvy.

Sawyer needs to narrow down the long list of suspects before the killer tries again.

2020 in Review (3): TV Series

We watched several movies since my last entry and enjoyed them all, to varying degrees. First was Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which is adapted from a stage play and looks it, with its set-pieces and long soliloquys. It's difficult to watch at times, but worth it. Then we watched Soul, the new Pixar film, which is utterly delightful. My wife noticed the live-action Mulan on the menu, so we followed up with that, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to.

People haven't exactly been overwhelmingly positive about Wonder Woman 1984, to say the least, but we decided to give it a shot and it wasn't terrible. I think it helps that I have absolutely no foundation in the DC Universe and know nothing at all about Cheetah, so I couldn't compare the movie to the comics. It was definitely far too long--I could have trimmed 10-15 minutes from it easily--but we liked it. Then we cued up The Midnight Sky with George Clooney as the lone-ish survivor of a global cataclysm attempting to communicate with a Jupiter expedition returning from a fact-finding mission. Again, the reviews have been unkind, but we enjoyed it. I have a hard time accepting a previously undiscovered moon of Jupiter that's big enough to support life, but beyond that I was along for the ride.

Now, getting to the topic of today's recap: TV series. We have watched a lot of TV during lockdown. My list has at least 70 titles, and some of those correspond to multiple seasons. We discovered The Good Fight early on, and watched the first few seasons, then went back to The Good Wife and watched all seven of those seasons, and then watched The Good Fight all over again, armed with our knowledge of who certain characters were now.

I have a few network TV series that I always watch (Grey's Anatomy, Survivor, The Amazing Race) and my wife and I enjoy This is Us. We also enjoyed the Call the Midwife Christmas special, which featured a guest appearance from Peter Davison, aka the Fifth Doctor, and we're looking forward to the end-of-year episode of Doctor Who tomorrow. I've also been gradually rewatching Columbo from the beginning. I'm up to the fourth season. Alas, one of the co-creators, William Link, passed away this week.

Beyond that, though, it was almost all streaming. We enjoyed Star Trek: Picard and are keeping up with Star Trek: Discovery and have watched about half of the latest Great British Baking Show. We continue to watch The Crown, although our attitude toward it has changed a little now that they're into events that we remember first-hand. We liked Emily in Paris, too. One of our best vacations was the week we spent in that city, so there was a certain nostalgia attached to it.

The first lockdown TV series, Staged, was a lot of fun, and we watched episodes of Tales from the Loop every now and then until we completed the first season. We enjoyed the second season of After Life, and I get a kick out of Dead to Me. I'm keeping up with Westworld, too.

I saw current seasons of crime shows (many foreign) that I have been enjoying for a number of years. Top of that list would be Babylon Berlin (Germany, S3), but other favorites include Ozark, Bosch, Bordertown, Killing Eve, Marcella, The Sinner and Occupied, which is more of a political thriller than a crime series.

One of my favorite discoveries this year was the Spanish series Money Heist. I binged through all four seasons of that one in fairly short order. The show I like to talk about the most, though, is Dark (Germany). The third and final season came out this year and, after I watched it, I went back and re-watched the first season. It is an incredibly complex and dense show, with a huge cast and characters who are depicted by different actors at different ages, so you almost need a scorecard to keep up, but it is so well done. Compelling, fascinating and definitely binge-worthy.

HBO was a good source of new material this year. I enjoyed Watchmen, The Outsider, Perry Mason, and got a kick out of The Flight Attendant. On the documentary side, I was fascinated by I'll Be Gone in the Dark, which documents obsession with finding a serial killer. I started Lovecraft Country but got sidetracked by other shows, so I have to get back to that one at some point. I'm also in the middle of the third and final season of The Deuce.

For new series on Netflix, I liked The Haunting of Bly Manor, The Queen's Gambit would qualify as one of my favorite three series of the year, and my most recent discovery was the Brazilian crime drama Good Morning, Verônica, which can be a little hard to watch because of the violent content, but it's a decent show.

Finally, I heard the buzz about Ted Lasso, so we checked it out. A heart-warming, positive, uplifting series that's definitely worth watching.

2020 in Review (2): Movies

According to my movie log, I watched on average a movie per week during 2020. The last one we saw in a theater was probably 1917 and boy does that seem like a long time ago.

The long list includes documentaries and a few streaming plays like Hamilton and Phantom of the Opera.

As I've said previously, I'm not very good at Top X lists, but I was able to winnow down the list of 50+ films to my top fifteen. In order seen, not in order of preference:

  • 1917
  • Joker
  • Parasite
  • Ford v Ferrari
  • Harriet
  • Just Mercy
  • The Vast of Night
  • Da 5 Bloods
  • Hamilton
  • Greyhound
  • Radioactive
  • The Old Guard
  • Enola Holmes
  • My Octopus Teacher
  • The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart

We'll probably see some more before the end of the year (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, News of the World, Promising Young Woman and the new Wonder Woman are our radar).

If you're interested in the whole list, you can find it here.

2020 in Review (1): Publications

Seriously, who wants to remember 2020? It's a year that we're looking forward to seeing only through the rearview mirror where, as everyone knows, objects may be closer than they seem. I have high(er) hopes for 2021, what with the forthcoming change in administration and the availability of two coronavirus vaccines. We'll see. Maybe I'll even get out of the house for more than a few minutes at a time, something I haven't done since March except to buy groceries or walk around the block with my wife.

Nevertheless, it's time to look back at some of my lists, and I'm starting with publications.

It has been a productive year in terms of getting things into print. I don't know if there's been another year when I've published as many short stories.

Here's the list:

Oh, and "Zombies on a Plane" (as "Zombis en el avión") from Flight or Fright was nominated for an Ignotus Award, which Locus magazine describes as "the Spanish equivalent of the Hugo Awards." Category:  "Cuento extranjero" (foreign short story). A high honor. I watched the virtual ceremony, which was fun.

In addition to my regular columns in Cemetery Dance magazine and at News from the Dead Zone online, I published my first article in a gardening magazine in 2020! "Bamboozled" appeared in the July/August issue of Texas Gardener. I also wrote an afterword for the SST Publications limited edition of Richard Chizmar's Gwendy's Magic Feather.

A little light on reviews this year, for reasons I can't divulge at this time! However, I did manage to write a few. (I might have one or two more before the end of the year.)

Ho, ho...ho!

It's been a good day. Two short story acceptances within several hours. I don't think that's ever happened before. There have been days when I've had two rejections, but not this!

The first acceptance was for a twisted Christmas story called "An Invisible Christmas Spectacular." I saw Gabino Iglesias' call for submissions a while back and I cogitated over whether I could tackle a horror story. I haven't written many of those lately. My short fiction output has been mostly crime fiction recently. Finally, an idea came (after a bit of research) and I sat down at the dining table in the library (a glorified name for the area at the end of our living room, next to the sliding doors that lead into the backyard) with a Moleskine journal. I wrote the entire story in a single sitting, which is also unusual for me. It's not as long as my crime stories tend to be (2100 words instead of 4-6000), but still. The next day I dictated it into the computer, cleaned up the errors, ran through it a few cycles of revisions and edits, and away it went. It will be published in the anthology Halldark Holidays, from Cemetery Gates Media, later this month if all goes according to plan.

I won't name the other acceptance because the paperwork is still outstanding. It's an even shorter piece, but also horror.

This has been a particularly productive year for me in terms of short fiction. At least eight stories have seen or will see print in 2020. Of recent note:

  • The Fugitive with the Dragon Tattoo, Black  Cat Mystery Magazine, October
  • Bloody Sunday, The Book of Extraordinary Sherlock Holmes Stories, Mango, December (the ebook is out now; trade paperback later this month)
  • Reflections of the Past, Mickey Finn, December 14
  • The Lobster Trap, Masthead: Best New England Crime Stories, Level Best Books, December 15
  • An Invisible Christmas Spectacular, Halldark Holidays, Cemetery Gates Media, December 2020

I have at least two stories on deck for 2021, plus the publication of my longest piece of fiction in Dissonant Harmonies with Brian Keene. I'm hoping to replace that honor with an even longer piece---a novel. I'm working on the final (for now) draft of a book that's been in the works for a long, long time. I'm not sure I'll get this draft done by the end of 2020, but I hope it won't be much after that, at which point I'll send it to my agent for his feedback.

What have I'/we been watching lately? We zipped through The Queen's Gambit on Netflix. An excellent series. Highly recommended. Last night we watched the first four episodes of Ted Lasso on Apple TV+. I'd seen a tweet that led to a series review that featured a clip from a late episode that got me interested in it. Sitcoms are a hard sell for me, but this one works because the main character (played by Jason Sudeikis) is so upbeat in the face of adversity and the situations aren't horribly artificial. We're also keeping up with Star Trek: Discovery.

In the mornings while I toil away on the elliptical, I've been watching the Brazilian crime drama Good Morning, Verônica, which is dark and gritty and violent but quite interesting. It's helping to cleanse the palate from The Undoing, which had five strong episodes and then one terrible one.

Recent movies include Hillbilly Elegy; Sometimes, Always, Never; Uncle Frank and Dolly Parton: Here I Am. Sometimes, Always, Never stars Bill Nighy as a Scrabble-loving father who can't give up the search for a son who went missing. It's a kind of reverse prodigal son story, as he rediscovers the one who didn't go missing. Uncle Frank stars Sophia Lillis from It as a teenager who learns a secret about her favorite uncle. A series of circumstances bring them all back to semi-rural South Carolina, where everyone has to learn to deal with this unexpected news. Pretty good, although a little contrived. Written by Alan Ball from Six Feet Under.

I upgraded our Apple TV interface to the fourth generation version. The older one we were using didn't support some of the new streaming services directly except by casting them from an iPhone or iPad. That meant we weren't paying much attention to Disney+ or HBO Max, not to mention Peacock. So now we have a number of "new" viewing options. I want to check out Flight Attendant and The Mandalorian. Plus, of course, all the new movies that are going to be released on HBO Max. What an embarrassment of riches we have when it comes to online entertainment. I can't help but think of how much more difficult lockdown would have been if

Silver

Twenty-five years ago today (yes, a quarter of a century ago), my wife and I, accompanied by our then eight-year-old daughter, went to the local courthouse at about 4:30 in the afternoon to get married. The other people at the courthouse that day were mainly there to pay tax bills or fines. I remember one guy telling us, "You've got the best deal going today!" when he found out why we were there.

Indeed, we did.

The justice of the peace put on her robe over a pair of jeans and t-shirt, ushered us into an otherwise empty courtroom, and officiated as the three of us said our vows (our daughter had hers, and she was included in ours). Then we went off to dinner, enjoying steak and a novelty: fried ice cream for desert!

Since we both had to work today, we decided to set aside last weekend to celebrate. Saturday was the 25th anniversary of the day we closed on our house. (It was a busy week back in '95. We closed on the house on Tuesday, spent that night in an air mattress in the new house, woke up Wednesday to find ourselves flat on the floor after all the air leaked out overnight, got married on Friday, and moved from our apartment into the new house on Saturday! We still marvel at the fact that we carried our washer and drier down a narrow set of stairs from the apartment by ourselves.)

On Friday evening, we ordered Mexican food from our favorite restaurant, the first time we'd done that since June. We had been out of tequila for a long time, so we went to the local liquor store for the first time since lockdown and got a bottle of mix and some tequila, along with a couple of limes. Picked up our dinner at the drive-up and headed home. Enjoyed our chips with red salsa and fajitas. Man, were those margaritas strong, though. It wasn't until last night, when we were having leftovers, that we realized that our margarita "mix" was actually ready-made margaritas with 30 proof tequila. So when we added more mix to try to make the margaritas less strong, well, we were just charging them up a little more!

Saturday was beautiful, so we sat outside much of the day, listening to classic rock on the radio, sipping wine and, later, grilling steaks. We were in a particularly celebratory mood when we learned the election had finally been called. (I had an alert set using ResistBot, so I got a text message when Biden won.)

On Sunday, we did much the same, except we ordered seafood from Landry's and used DoorDash to have it delivered, something else we hadn't done since March.

We have been completely self-reliant as far as meals go for the past eight months, cooking everything "from scratch." We've always made good meals, but before COVID we got lazy sometimes and went out a couple of times a week. Nowadays, we have a well-stocked small freezer that has just about anything we'd want to make and we enjoy preparing meals ourselves. Ordering out a couple of times on the weekend was our way of treating ourselves. We enjoyed some different flavors -- Filé in the gumbo, for example, and salsa roja.

We watched a few movies, too. The new version of Rebecca starring Lily James, Armie Hammer and Kristin Scott Thomas (as well as Keeley Hawes and Ann Dowd) was pretty good. The documentary My Octopus Teacher details a year in the life of a man who decides to explore a kelp forest off the coast of South Africa, where he "befriends" an octopus by patiently returning every day. He free dives -- no air tank and no wetsuit -- which is hugely impressive. It's quite fascinating.

For a change of pace, we watched Operation Christmas Drop, about a congressional intern sent to Guam to evaluate an airbase for possible closure. The congresswoman is played by Virginia Madsen, the only actor I was familiar with. She's the grinch or, alternately, Scrooge. It's a cute movie based on a real, long-term operation to bring supplies to the remote islands. Finally we watched the Apple TV+ documentary Letters to You, about the making of Springsteen's latest album. It's always interesting to watch songs take shape once the band gets involved, but there's never any doubt about who's running that show.

A few years ago, I wrote a story for the XPRIZE short fiction contest. It didn't win, so I revamped it and started sending it out again. "Helen Wheels" found a home in the Science Fiction edition of The Binge-Watching Cure anthology, which will be out next year. It's an interesting concept: around 20 stories starting at 100 words and increasing steadily until the final piece, a 20,000-word novella. My story occupies the 3500-word slot.

What will the world look like this time next week?

Time for my monthly update! I'm taking a rare day off from work today---from the day job, at least. Catching up on writerly obligations. Number one among those was the signing of more than 1100 signature pages for the limited edition of Dissonant Harmonies, which will be out in early 2021. Since the book was motivated by music, I tweeted the names of the three albums I listened to while I sat at the kitchen table and wrote my name a hundred dozen times (while watching the birds and the squirrels fight each other at our birdfeeder on the front lawn). They were: "Metallic Spheres" by The Orb (featuring David Gilmour), "Heligoland" by Massive Attack (the album featuring the song that was used for the Luther theme song), and "Satellite" by Panic Room.

Next week is a big one for this country and, in fact, for the world. My wife and I voted early, two weeks ago tomorrow. We went an hour early, folding chairs and cups of tea in hand. There were about a hundred people ahead of us and, by the time the polls opened, the line stretched a long way behind us. Still, we were in the building within ten or fifteen minutes of opening and on our way back home by twenty after the hour. Not a hitch. We'd done our homework the night before (people in other countries don't always realize that we're not just casting one vote---there were two full pages of federal, state and local races to vote on), so it was just a matter of dialing up the right candidate in each race, double-checking (triple checking the presidential race to make sure nothing went wrong there), and punching the submit button.

The issue of Black Cat Mystery Magazine containing my story "The Fugitive with the Dragon Tattoo" is out now. I also sold a reprint of my King-inspired story "Special Delivery" to Unnerving Magazine for issue #14, which is out now. Then I was pleased to learn that my story "The Lobster Trap" had been accepted for Masthead: Best New England Crime Stories. This is my third appearance in a Level Best Books anthology. The story features the same befuddled crooks who first appeared in "The Bank Job," which won the Al Blanchard Award and then in "Sticky Business." They're all caper stories, and "The Lobster Trap" has a COVID-19 spin. It will be out in late November.

I was also pleased to learn that some of my words will be appearing in the MWA handbook How to Write a Mystery, edited by Lee Child with Laurie R. King. I'm not exactly sure which words, as I submitted two essays, but it's thrilling to be part of this project all the same. Due out in April from Scribner.

On the other hand, I just had one of my stories "unpublished," so to speak. It was accepted for an anthology several months ago. After a bit of haggling about the way payment would be remitted, I was, indeed paid. Contract signed and all. The anthology appeared on Amazon this week. But then I saw a tweet from a contributor complaining about not being paid. And then today the editor emailed everyone and said the anthology was canceled, returning the stories to the authors as if it had never been published. At least one copy was sold, perhaps more, and it is still listed on Amazon, albeit with a 1-2 month shipping date. Those of us who've been around for a while feel that this brief appearance on Amazon does indeed mean the book has been published, so our stories would now be considered reprints should we wish to attempt to publish them again. Apparently several contributors weren't paid, so what does that mean for them? A messy situation.

We'll be leaving the lights off tomorrow for Halloween. Not sure there'll be any ghouls and goblins wandering the neighborhood anyway. The temperature has dropped significantly in the last week or so (we've had to run the heat!), and, of course there's this pesky pandemic thing going on. I also think we're going to skip watching the returns on Tuesday evening as I'm not sure my nerves are up to the suspense. We'll probably just have a nice dinner and a bottle (or a few) of wine to steel us against whatever we're going to face on Wednesday morning.

Next weekend we're also going to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. The actual date isn't until the following week, but we both have to work that day. Back in 2019, we would occasionally ask each other what we wanted to do to celebrate this milestone. We had all sorts of fancy ideas, but that ground to a halt in March or April. We still ask each other what we want to do, but our options have become severely limited! Nevertheless, we'll find some way to mark the occasion!