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|Wednesday, October 16th, 2019|
|That Essay Has No Title
I've been a fan of Elton John and his music since the mid-70s. I've seen him in concert numerous times (the first and most memorable was at Wembley Stadium in June 1984) and his music has been the soundtrack to much of my life. So, when my buddy Stephen Spignesi asked if I would be interested in contributing an essay to his book Elton John: Fifty Years On The Complete Guide to the Musical Genius of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, I said yes without hesitation.
The book, co-written with Michael Lewis, is now out and is available anywhere books and eBooks are sold, including at Amazon. My entry is called "This Essay Has No Title (Just Words and a Soundtrack)" after the similarly titled song on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
On Monday, October 21 at 6:30pm, I will join editor Michael Bracken and fellow contributors Chuck Brownman, James A. Hearn, Scott Montgomery, Graham Powell, William Dylan Powell, and Mark Troy at Murder by the Book in Houston to sign and discuss the collection The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods. My PI story is called "The Patience of Kane."
Last time, I wrote about my "accidental novel," and I have made a lot of headway on the book since then. After gutting it to remove numerous chapters from ancillary characters' points of view and salvaging the important material in them by representing them from the points of view of one of the three surviving POV characters, I rebuilt the book a chapter at a time and completely rewrote the final third. I now have a 70,000 word second draft that I will revise over the next couple of weeks before testing it out on a couple of beta readers and my agent. I've been having a lot of fun with this book. One thing I discovered, though, upon rewriting is how much has changed in Galveston since 2006-7, when I wrote the first draft. How many businesses are no longer there, thanks to a couple of hurricanes, for example.
We watched a few interesting movies last weekend before having a turkey dinner to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. First, we watched El Camino, the new Breaking Bad film. It moves Jesse Pinkman's story further down the road, but it doesn't reveal anything new about him. A number of flashback scenes allow other familiar (some deceased) characters to have a second bow. A couple of scenes go on a little too long. On the whole, it's an interesting film, but I'm not sure it was a necessary film.
Then we watched the 2019 Shaft movie on a lark, expecting a popcorn movie and getting just that. It's a throwback with serious dollops of misogyny and homophobia blended into its kick-ass action scenes. Fun, but if you scrutinize it too closely you realize just how ill conceived it was.
Finally, we stumbled upon a documentary called Cold Case Hammarskjöld, in which a couple of Swedes try to get to the bottom of the mysterious death of the United Nations Secretary General in 1961. His plane went down in the Congo and there have long been rumors he may have been assassinated. This daring duo spent years following leads, interviewing people, visiting the various scenes, getting mired in (possibly) conspiracy theories involving a secret mercenary organization in South Africa that may have been funded by MI6 or the CIA to destabilize African nations. It is presented in part by having the director/writer narrate the script to two different stenographers (even he admits he's not sure why he did that). It all seems very amateur-hour/seat of the pants until at the very end they stumble upon two vast troves of information--one a person and the other a set of old records--that essentially break the story wide open. It's a quirky film that requires some patience (it feels very long), but fascinating.
|Tuesday, September 24th, 2019|
|The Accidental Novel
We made it through Tropical Storm Imelda unscathed, although the same cannot be said for many in the vicinity. We received somewhere between five and seven inches of rain, most of it on Friday, which isn’t all that unusual for us, but some communities less than an hour away received over 42″ of rain in a couple of days.
The Canadian in me remembers that an inch of rain corresponds to roughly a foot of snow. Imagine 42 feet of snow coming down in two days! 42″ of snow would be bad enough. There was some street flooding in our community, but I didn’t hear of any permanent damage nearby. Places in Houston and to our east and northeast saw damage at least as extensive as we had after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. There’s still high water in some places nearly a week later. Two of the most destructive storms that have happened since I moved here 30 years ago haven’t been hurricanes–they were slow-moving tropical systems that popped up just offshore and brought a ton of rain with them.
We saw the Downton Abbey
movie on Sunday afternoon. We were going to go on Saturday but the only seats available on that day (the theaters near us all have reserved seating) were in the front rows and we had no desire to stare up Carson’s nostrils for two hours. If you liked the TV series, you’ll like this film. Everyone’s back, and there is mild drama and humor without much risk involved to anyone. I enjoyed the downstairs drama more than the goings on upstairs, but it was all good fun.
I seem to have tricked myself into writing a novel. Well, rewriting, in a sense. I was contacted recently to see if I had a novel excerpt for a collection, and my interlocutor suggested a book I wrote many years ago. I hadn’t given that manuscript much thought, and I was frankly surprised to be reminded that I had showed it to him!
So, I went back to it, peeling out a group of chapters to give him for this project. However, as I went along I realized I quite liked what I was reading. So I looked up the notes my agent had provided on it, and discovered that he liked a lot of it, too. Not all, however, which is probably why my work on it ground to a halt. We were involved with other projects by then and I guess I decided to let it lie fallow instead of digging in and doing the work needed to whip it into shape.
Well, I’m doing it now. It’s a complicated job because I am removing chapters written from the viewpoints of all but two characters. That means that all of the important information in those other chapters has to be conveyed by different means. I also plan to completely redo the last quarter of the book, as the original version was a little too Scooby-Doo for my liking.
Still, I’ve been trying to get to work on a novel for most of 2019 and it looks like by the end of the year–perhaps even by the end of November–I’ll have something that my agent and I can work on again. Fingers crossed.
|Monday, September 16th, 2019|
Yes, I spelled it the Canadian way. I do that sometimes.
Honours come in all sizes, big and small. It is an honour to be nominated for an award, or to get honourable mention. It's also an honour to appear on Ellen Datlow's recommended reading list
, which she publishes in association with her annual Best Horror of the Year anthologies. I've had the honour of having stories mentioned on a number of occasions. This year, she included "Aeliana" from Shining in the Dark
in her comprehensive recommendation list.
This weekend I put the finishing touches on a 7000-word essay that will be published as a magazine cover story sometime this fall. I can't say where yet. I'll read it over one. more. time. and probably make a bunch more changes to it when doing so, but it's essentially finished, a week or more ahead of deadline.
This week, I'll be celebrating my 30th anniversary with my day job. It's hard to imagine that I've spent over half my life working for the same company, although it's had a couple of name changes during that time. My father had over 45 years at his job, so I still have a way to go to catch up to that family record.
Usually it's careless workers who cause problems with electricity or water mains on a Friday afternoon near our office, but last week it was just nature. A 30" water pipe twelve feet below the surface of the boulevard by our building broke open of its own volition, eroding the ground under the road surface. The entire road, which is a major entrance/exit corridor for the community, was closed in both directions over the weekend. One direction was reopened after they confirmed that the road could still hold traffic, but the other direction is going to require a lot of work to get it back into service.
We watched a few movies on Amazon Prime this weekend. First, we saw Late Night
, written by and starring Mindy Kaling, and featuring Emma Thompson, Amy Ryan, Hugh Dancy and John Lithgow, with some celeb talk show host cameos. Thompson has been the host of a late night talk show for nearly 30 years and her ratings have been on a steady slide for the past decade. Kaling's Molly ends up being the first female in the writer's room at a time when Thompson is on the verge of being replaced. It has a lot to say about representation. Pretty good.
Then we watched the Australian drama Ladies in Black
about several women who work in a posh Sydney department store in 1959. The main character is a teenager on the verge of finishing high school who works at the store during the Christmas rush. It took me a while to realize that the actress who plays her coworker Fay was Rachel Taylor, who plays Trish Walker on Jessica Jones
, and Julia Ormond is unrecognizable as the "continental" Magda. It's a thoroughly charming film. Feel good all the way through.
Last night we saw The Hiding Place
starring Kim Hunter (in her final role) and Timothy Bottoms. It's based on a stage play and it feels like one, too. Hunter plays a mother who is (probably) exhibiting signs of dementia and Bottoms is her son. There have been other family members, but they're gone and the story gets to the bottom of what really happened to one of them. Hunter (who played Zira in the Planet of the Apes
films) is divine, but I had a hard time with the staginess of the direction. They did break free from the single-room setting on occasion, but they never found a way to break free from writing that works better in a play than a film.
|Wednesday, September 4th, 2019|
|Jolly good Fellowes
Yesterday was interesting. I was interviewed by Anthony Brenzican a couple of weeks ago for an article he was writing about King for the New York Times. He used to write for Entertainment Weekly and is now working for Vanity Fair, but he had a few months between those gigs this summer where he freelanced, and this was one of his assignments. The article appeared in the New York Times yesterday, and I got mentioned and quoted a couple of times, as did Rich Chizmar, which was cool.
My review of The Institute also went live yesterday morning. Then, last night I drove into Houston for a press screening of It Chapter Two. It was a the same multiplex as where I saw Chapter One a couple of years ago. The original screening then was cancelled due to Hurricane Harvey, and the rescheduled event was an odd late-morning thing with only a handful of reviewers in attendance.
Last night's screening was in an IMAX theater, and the majority of the attendees were people who got there via Radio Now 92.1, which I confess I've never heard of before. So the theater was packed, which was nice. A row of seats in a prime location was reserved for press, which was also nice! There was a trivia contest at the beginning, and they gave out movie posters after the event. My review will be up at News from the Dead Zone tomorrow morning, but suffice to say I really enjoyed it, and I didn't mind its 2hrs 48 min runtime in the least. In fact, I may go see it again this weekend when I can watch it without being in reviewer mode.
Over the holiday weekend, we watched a number of series and movies in between listening to music, reading and enjoying home-cooked meals. We started with an Amazon Prime series called Doctor Thorne, written by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey). It is based on a novel by Anthony Trollope, about whom we knew little, but we enjoyed the four-part 18th century melodrama, starring Tom Holland, enough to look for more.
I found The Barchester Chronicles on YouTube, all 7 parts. It's based on the first two of Trollope's novels in that series, and stars Donald Pleasance in a rather sedate role as a minister who is also the warden of a care home for a dozen elderly men. He gets blindsided by a group of reformers (including his potential future son-in-law) who attack him as part of a barrage against the Church of England. Two episodes are based on The Warden and the other five are based on book two, Barchester Towers, about a new Bishop coming to town, along with his sniveling aide, played by Alan Rickman. The Bishop is played by Clive Swift, familiar to us primarily as Hyacinth Bucket's beleaguered husband from Keeping Up Appearances.
Going back to the Julian Fellowes thread, we watched Gosford Park and then another film he wrote called The Chaperone, starring Elizabeth McGovern, a woman of a certain age who accompanies a 16-year-old dance student to New York for several weeks. While she's there, she tries to track down her birth mother. This is in the 1920s--she was a product of the Orphan Train Movement that saw her adopted by a family in Kansas.
We also started on another series called The Aristocrats. Lo and behold, who should show up playing the family patriarch but...Julian Fellowes. And the King of England? Clive Swift!
|Monday, August 19th, 2019|
|I'll be the judge of that
One of the (many) great things about KillerCon in Round Rock, TX (near Austin) is that I can drive to it in under three hours. Traveling long distances isn't nearly as much fun as it used to be...and was it ever? We didn't have to worry about delayed flights, missed connections, lost luggage or any of the other myriad potential problems associated with flying to a conference.
My wife has family in Round Rock, so she came with me to KillerCon. When I was off attending readings, panels and other Con events, she visited. So that was nice--we had breakfasts together each morning, then went our separate ways for the rest of the day.
I only decided to attend a week ago, just as I did in 2018, so I wasn't on any of the scheduled programming events. That doesn't mean I didn't get to participate, though! While I had entertained thoughts of participating in the short fiction contest (judges supply five words and contestants have 20 minutes to write a 200-word short story using them all), my role changed when I was asked to be a judge. About a dozen people wrote some very good stories using our five words, then read them to the audience.
My judging duties were expanded when Brian Keene suggested that John Urbancik and I join three others to judge the gross-out contest, figuring, I guess, that there would be some entertainment value in having two of the unlikeliest people judging some of the grossest stories you've ever heard. It turned out to be a lot of fun. I don't think I could ever write something as gross as what we heard, but they are entertaining even as you groan and moan.
I brought books to sell and sign at the mass autograph session and unloaded most of what I brought, to my surprise. Having one of those Square attachments for my iPhone so I could take credit cards helped a lot.
People attending from out of town were taken aback by the heat. It was as high as 102° during the daytime, with "feels like" temps near 110°, which is hot even by Houston standards. Even so, every now and then I felt the need to escape the air conditioning and bask in the warmth, like a lizard on a rock.
There were other things going on in the convention center. On Friday, there was a very misleading sign advertising McAllister's Deli on the second floor, which had a few of us venturing upstairs to discover...no deli--the company was having a corporate meeting. And here we thought our food options had expanded! We didn't have a mariachi band traipsing through this year, though, like we did in 2018. Also no memorial service attendees, who last year had to walk past the five-foot black cardboard coffin that contained donuts.
KillerCon is small and intimate. There's never more than one thing going on at a time. Panels alternate with readings. The biggest drag about the con this year was that the hotel bar was closed the entire weekend. Apparently they didn't have a bartender, which was poor planning on their part. With a hotel full of writers, they could have earned megabucks from the bar proceeds. It also meant that there wasn't a centralized place to go to hang out with people between program events. Hopefully they'll have that rectified by next year.
Hearty thanks to Wrath James White and his team of volunteers for putting together such an awesome con deep in the
heart of Texas.
After I got home, I finished watching the final season of Orange is the New Black
(they stuck the landing, although I was hoping for a different outcome with Zelda), and signed ⅔ of the limitation pages for LetterPress Publications' edition of Revival
. The box weighs in excess of 60 lbs, and there are nominally 1500 regular pages plus 52 lettered pages. Of course there are extras for damage and spoilage, so I signed at least 1000 pages yesterday and probably another 250 this morning. I timed myself for three minutes, during which I signed 38 times, so my optimal rate is about 13 pages per minute. I hope to be done this evening so I can ship the box to the next (and final) contributor in the morning.
|Monday, August 12th, 2019|
|The heat is on...but the A/C isn't
Every few (or several) months, I update the online version of my Cemetery Dance column News from the Dead Zone
. The latest post went live on Friday, with a summary of everything coming in September, in the final months of 2019, and beyond. There's a lot! I'll have a review of The Institute
up during the first week of September.
The same week, I'll review It Chapter Two
. I just arranged to attend a press screening a couple of days before it premieres. The last time I went to one of those, for Chapter One
, was in the days after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston. The west side of the city, where the screening was held, was like a ghost town, with military-style helicopters flying overhead. It was quite surreal. Almost post-apocalyptic.
I'll also have something cool to do with Doctor Sleep
, but I'll hold off on announcing that until closer to the date.
This weekend, I'm going to KillerCon in Austin, my second year attending this intimate convention. It's close enough to drive to, so that's a big plus. It's not exactly my genre (the focus is on extreme horror), but I know many of the people attending. Maybe I'll try my hand at the Creative Fiction Contest, where we have to write a 200-word or less story using five keywords.
We're in the midst of a heatwave, with daily temperatures flirting with or exceeding 100° and "feels-like" temps upwards of 110°. Like Friday at Necon, in other words.
When we got back from our mile-long round-the-block walk on Saturday evening, I thought the house seemed a little warmer than usual. We typically keep it at 77° during the day, when one or more of us is upstairs working, and 78° during the evenings when we're both downstairs. The display showed 81°--even though the set point was correct.
I went back outside and checked the compressor unit. It was running. Checked the circuit breakers: ditto. Went back to the A/C unit and noticed snowballs accumulating on the hose into the house. That's not right, I though.
When I went back inside, I realized no air was coming out of the vents. The poor A/C was working up a storm outside, but the blower motor in our attic had gone kaput, so there was no distribution. This was after 8pm on Saturday, so we decided to wait to call for service. I put in a call yesterday morning, requesting someone for today, figuring we could suffer through one hot day rather than make someone come out on Sunday.
By late afternoon, it was 85° in the house. Now, that's only 7-8° hotter than normal, but we were sweltering. When my wife asked me what I wanted to do for supper, I said, "Go somewhere that has air conditioning!" Of course, the place we chose had it cranked up so high that we were chilly.
So, we got through a day and a half with only ceiling fans to stir the warm air. Oddly, it felt like the time during Hurricane Ike when we were five days without electricity, although that was in early September and not in the midst of a heat wave, so we didn't suffer as much.
We're now back up and running and in a while the A/C, which has had a two-day break, will get us back down to normal temperatures and all will be right with our world.
We watched Tolkien
on Friday night, the biopic of the author of The Lord of the Rings
. It dealt primarily with his experiences as a young boy, orphaned after his mother died of diabetes (his father died in South Africa before they moved to England). His care and education was left to a catholic priest. Tolkien managed to scrape up enough scholarships to get into Oxford and served on the continent during WWI before being invalided out. The movie ends at the point where he has decided to start writing The Hobbit
, which I found disappointing because that was where things got really interesting from my point of view. Maybe they'll do a sequel!
|Friday, July 26th, 2019|
|States of mind
Lots of miles covered during the month of July. I was in Texas (of course), Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Washington D.C. (airport), Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Jersey (airport).
This time last week, I was at Necon. I believe it was my 13th time attending. Something like that. Had a hassle-free journey. In fact, thanks to my trips to Japan earlier this year, my airfare cost a whopping $12 for the round trip and on the leg from IAH to Dulles I was in first class. Metal cutlery and ceramic dishes and everything. First time I’ve ever been in Boarding Group 1 instead of 6 or 9 or 42.
It was sweltering hot when I landed in D.C. but in Providence it was only 65 and it started raining heavily when I turned of 195 onto Highway 24. I stopped at the same small-town liquor store where I go every year, in Fall River, MA. Always the same people working at the place. I wonder if they recognize me and think: must be time for his annual binge! It’s a more convenient stop for me than 1776, the liquor store in Bristol, RI, for which Necon weekend is probably their Black Friday.
The weekend alternated from cool and rainy on Thursday to sweltering hot on Saturday. I had a panel on Friday where we discussed books we’d read recently. It was good catching up with people I haven’t seen in a while. I didn’t go to Necon last year. Hank Wagner and I spent a lot of time talking, and nearly 80 minutes discussing Season 3 of Stranger Things for our Dead Reckonings tag-team review, which I now have to transcribe into something sensible.
I was also the “fake nominee” for the Necon roast. Apparently Mike Myers had a blistering speech to roast me, so imagine his chagrin when the victim turned out to be him! I was half-prepared for a double-fake out, but I was reasonably sure I was safe. If Brian Keene had been there this year, I would have been less confident.
I had to get up at 3:30 am on Sunday to get to PVD for a 6 am flight. Those early morning flights always seem to be a good idea when I reserve them. On the plus side, I was back home by about 11 am, and the flight to IAH was almost half an hour early arriving.
Three forthcoming publications I can mention: I have a story called "The Patience of Kane" in the anthology The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods
, edited by Michael Bracken from Down & Out Books
, due to be published on October 21, 2019. I have a sort of review slash essay about the Angel
episode "That Old Gang of Mine" in Outside In Gains a Soul
, and my short story "Game Seven" will be published in the anthology Across the Universe
later this year. This latter one is kind of fun: the anthology speculates possible alternate realities where the Beatles aren't the Fab Four but instead something else. In my tale, they're from Liverpool, NS and play for the Liverpool Beatles hockey team.
I also received my copy of Cemetery Dance issue 77, which contains my 40th News from the Dead Zone column. This one has been a long time coming and I was amused to see that I stated with near certainty that by the the time it appeared, we would still be waiting on It Chapter 2. True, but only just!
|Thursday, July 11th, 2019|
My wife and I drove across the country bottom to top and back down again last week. We went from Texas to upper Michigan over the weekend before July 4th and returned on the weekend following, a grand total of about 2500 miles. Our daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter were over from Japan for our granddaughter's third birthday. We contemplated flying, but since we were going to end up driving around a lot once we got up there anyway, we decided to make a trip of it.
We stopped overnight twice on the way up, in Arkadelphia, AR and in Holland, MI (the third or fourth Holland we encountered on the trip) in addition to meal stops at a place called Boomtown (world's biggest fireworks mall) near Sikeston, MO and an Andy Griffith-themed restaurant in Manteo, MI. Our iPod was loaded with songs for the road, and we only got mildly disoriented once (each way, admittedly).
We stayed in a house on the eastern coast of Lake Michigan that had a northern view (see above). The amusing road sign in the image to the right was one of two we encountered not far from the house.
The sun was deceptively bright despite heavy cloud cover the first day and I managed to sauté my nose and forehead, which meant I spent the rest of the week lurking in the shadows.
One of our daughter's suitcases went astray for a couple of days. They'd seen it in Chicago, so we knew it made it that far, but after that, puzzlement and confusion. American Airlines couldn't say with any degree of certainty where it was. We were told on Sunday that it was on the next flight to Traverse City, an hour from where we were staying, so my wife and I went over to get it but...no joy. It was finally delivered to the house the next afternoon. Made us really glad we didn't fly.
Lots of family time, including the big birthday party and a July 4th outing, although we didn't stay up for fireworks. I also got to watch the first four episodes of season 3 of Stranger Things
with my daughter. The first evening someone was testing out their fireworks and there were two amazingly percussive blasts that shook the house. The first time, we thought something heavy, like a fridge, had fallen over upstairs!
On the way back, we only stopped once, in Sikeston, MO. We encountered heavy rain near Chicago on day 1 and near Little Rock on day 2, both times when I was behind the wheel, as luck would have it. We also observed that we should compile a list of stretches of interstate where the washboard roads are rough enough to jolt kidney stones loose, as a cheap alternative to lithotripsy. Yes, Arkansas, we're looking at you. We got home on Sunday evening, exhausted but exhilarated after spending time with family.
A couple of entries back, I wrote about a short story I'd conceived and executed in remarkably short order, and how it was written for so specifically themed a market that if it wasn't accepted, I couldn't see it ever getting published somewhere else. Fortunately, I won't have that problem, as I received an acceptance letter for it a couple of days ago. By my count, it will be my 90th published story (not my 90th story publication as I have several stories that have been published more than once). Once I receive and sign the contract, I'll announce more, but it's a cool concept with some interesting names attached.
Hank Wagner and I have been doing tag-team reviews of Stranger Things
for Dead Reckonings
, and we're getting ready to tackle Season 3. While we normally do this by email, this year we'll get to talk about it at Necon, which starts a week from today. I have a lot of thoughts about the season, almost all of them positive, so I look forward to hashing it all out with Hank.
My panel this year is on Friday morning at 9 am: The Frank Michaels Errington Five Star Books Kaffeeklatsch.
James Chambers, Frank Raymond Michaels, Melissa Sherlin, Madelon Wilson and I will discuss the previous year’s best books in honor of a reviewer and Necon alum who passed away recently.
|Thursday, June 27th, 2019|
|The last thing that went through his head
The other night when were getting ready to turn in, the outdoor A/C unit (like the one pictured here) came on. It's been hot lately, so that didn't come as a surprise, even in the late evening.
What was surprising was the clattering noise it made. It's not a quiet appliance, but it usually doesn't clang
. Once upon a time many years ago, in a similar situation, the A/C came on, sounding like an F-14. After a minute or so, my wife said, "I wish it would stop making that racket," which it promptly did a few minutes later...and forever. Dead unit.
Fearing the same situation, I got dressed, found a flashlight and went outside to investigate. The unit is in a small passage between the wall of our house and the fence that ensures we are good neighbors. There's barely room to squeeze past it to get into our back yard. The noise was still occurring.
The top of the unit has a grating to keep falling branches and leaves from landing on the fan at the top that pulls air into the system. I could see something spinning around like a marble in a roulette wheel and figured it was a pine cone or branch segment that had somehow squeezed through. Upon closer investigation, I realized it was a mouse who had made the worst decision of its life. Round and round it went; where it would stop, no one knows. Before coming out, I had reset the A/C temp so it would click off, but that takes a couple of minutes, so it was still running. Eventually, Mr. Mouse ended up--thanks to centrifugal force--lodged between the wires of the grating.
And then there was a splat and some piece of its innards went flying against the wall of our house. Luck of the draw--it could have hit me, which would have been bad. Then I pried the remains out of the grating and let them fall to the ground for some scavenger to take care of.
I told my wife later that I knew the last thing that went though its head...the fan. (groan)
Music video of the day: Sheryl Crow, featuring Joe Walsh
. That'll get your foot tapping.
I'm enjoying the second season of Dark
, the German crime/sci-fi series on Netflix. It's one of the most confusing shows I've ever seen. The time travel element means that two and sometimes three different people play the same character as kids, teens, adults, elderly people, and part of the challenge is mapping who is who. I was so lost when I started watching S02E01, I stopped after 10 minutes and found a couple of videos that recapped the first season, which I watched over 18 months ago. I still felt confused, but after a couple of episodes I think I had it under control.
One of the series' most interesting concepts is the notion that something can be sent from the future into the past, so that it ends up in the future, where it can be sent back into the past...and it's never really been created. It's called the Bootstrap Paradox, and it has been featured in time-travel fiction before, but it's quite cleverly implemented here. Also, because certain characters are jumping through time in 33-year bites, you end up with the situation that a boy can go into the past and get stuck there, so he grows up and ends up fathering a friend of the boy who was with him when he vanished. Or an old woman who visits her father during a period when she is still a pre-teen. It's all very twisty and clever, and it's not obvious any more who is doing the right thing to prevent an apocalyptic event.
|Friday, June 14th, 2019|
|By the Book
I rarely write short stories the way I wrote my most recent. Usually I dither over them for ages before I'm ready to start. In fact, I was in mid-dither over a different story when this one popped into my head. Not quite fully formed, but formed enough for me to write three quarters of it a couple of days ago and the rest of it yesterday morning.
It was for a themed anthology that I'd been aware for months, but I couldn't come up with anything for it. It's such a specific theme that if the story isn't accepted, there's no possibility that it will ever be publishable anywhere else. So, in that eventuality, maybe I'll post it here.
The inspiration for the story arose when my wife and I were watching the final game of the NHL playoffs the other night. Although I truly enjoy watching hockey games, I rarely see one. I caught the tail-end of a few games early in the playoffs, but I decided to watch this game seven, thinking it would be exciting, and it was. During the game, there was a commercial--Geico, I think--featuring a team whose goalie was a sea lion. Dumb idea, but it struck a chord. Before I went to bed that night, I scribbled about a dozen bullet points that arose from that idea and by the next morning I had the story well in hand. Yesterday morning, I woke up every 30 minutes or so with my mind refusing to stop working on the rest of the story, and when I got up I was able to finish it.
It's quite short, 2100 words, so I was able to edit, revise and proof it a number of times in a single sitting before submitting it this morning, right on the deadline.
Last Saturday afternoon, I was hosted by the Houston mystery bookstore Murder by the Book for a signing to celebrate the trade paperback release of Flight or Fright from Scribner.
I probably signed thirty or so books, including stock for the store. I had a good time talking with the small but avid audience and fielding their questions and comments afterward. I also read a few pages of "Zombies on a Plane."
We had dinner downtown afterward and then went home to finish watching Chernobyl. In retrospect--and especially after watching this series--I find it astonishing that I voluntarily spent a week in East Germany only a few months after this disaster, which had people in West Germany keeping their kids indoors after the meltdown was revealed. Although it is an engaging and extremely well done series, it contains a lot of fiction and scientific misinformation. For example, the firemen who were exposed to radiation while trying to dowse the fire would not have been radioactive themselves after they removed their gear and were washed down. Radiation isn't contagious. In fact, the fireman had more to fear from being close to his wife than vice-versa. He would be severely immune compromised and she could have given him something that shortened his life.
I remember a number of years ago when one of my coworkers thought she might have stuck her hand in front of the X-ray beam from one of our scientific instruments. When she went to the ER, they treated her like she might have been radioactive instead of suffering from a potential burn from ionizing radiation.
I've never been much of a Bob Dylan fan. I respect the songs that he wrote (although I hope to never hear "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" again so long as I live), but I don't care for his voice and many of his songs sound repetitive to me in tone and rhythm. In part, I attribute my dislike of his music from the fact that my introduction to him was "Gotta Serve Somebody" in 1979, at a time when my musical horizons were expanding...exploding, really...after I went to university. I hated that song with a passion (although this live version from the Grammy awards is actually pretty good).
I heard some discussion on Twitter this week about Rolling Thunder Revue, the new Netflix "documentary" about Dylan's infamous, financially disastrous tour from 1975-76. What's really strange about this movie is how much fictional material has been included in it, and there's no way to tell what's real and what isn't. All that Sharon Stone stuff is made up, as is the fictional filmmaker Stefan Van Dorp and supposed congressman Jack Tanner. I came away from the movie feeling like I didn't know much more about Dylan than I did before I watched it. Inscrutable would be a good word to describe him.
We also watched Now More Than Ever, the history of the band Chicago. Although I have at least fifteen of their albums, I didn't know much about them and couldn't have named anyone in the group beyond Peter Cetera. This rock-doc went back to the beginning and took them all the way through their induction in the Rock and Roll hall of fame. Cetera declined to be interviewed for the documentary, so it only presents one side of the story, and it really glossed over some things I would have been interested to see: how the horn sections worked in the recording studio for example. The creative process. Still, it was interesting and, unlike with the Dylan pic, I feel like I learned a lot about them in two hours.
Subsequently, I listened to their Carnegie Hall live album, where they debuted "A Song for Richard and his Friends" in which they beseech Nixon to resign. In 1971!
|Monday, June 3rd, 2019|
|Back to the howlin' old owl in the woods
Yesterday was my birthday. My wife like to tell people I'm 85 and dyslexic. We had a very nice day. Went to see Rocketman at a very early show, upgraded my cell phone, had dinner, watched a couple of episodes of Good Omens, talked to family on the phone. Clicked 'like' on several hundred well-wishing posts on Facebook!
We're due to get a mini-monsoon midweek from the first tropical disturbance of the 2019 hurricane season. It should all be well past us by the weekend, which is good, since we are going into Houston for my Saturday afternoon signing at Murder by the Book.
As I mentioned last week, I wrote an essay for Steve Spignesi’s book Elton John: Fifty Years On: The Complete Guide to the Musical Genius of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, which will be out around the same time as Elton’s autobiography, Me. It's called "This Essay Has No Title" in tribute to a cool song from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I got on board the EJ train in the mid-70s, and have been a fan ever since. Saw him in concert for the first time in 1984 at Wembley Stadium and several time since, including on his Face-to-Face tour with Billy Joel and a couple of his solo performances with percussionist Ray Cooper.
Rocketman is an interesting re-conceptualization of Elton John's life from the first time he sat down at a piano until he entered rehab in the late 1980s. Songs from his library (including a few deep cuts like "Rock and Roll Madonna" and "Amoreena") are used throughout the film and often well out of sequence (A 2001 track illuminates a scene when the future rock star is still Reg Dwight in short pants). There are elements of fantasy (people floating in the air while listening to him perform) and familiar stories are re-imagined. And yet, all the touch points are there, including meeting and marrying recording engineer Renate Blauel. His "suicide attempt" becomes a swimming pool dive where he meets his younger self at the bottom performing "Rocket Man." The film's core is a rehab session where an in-costume Elton recounts all the reasons why he's here. We really enjoyed it--good tunes, most of them sung by Taron Egerton (whose name always makes me think of a character from Game of Thrones). If someone isn't already at work turning this into a Broadway play, they're missing out on a great opportunity.
We're four episodes into Good Omens, the six-part series based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. An angel (Michael Sheen) and a demon (David Tennant) become uneasy allies over the course of human history and are forced to work together to ward off Armageddon. It's high camp, with a very definite Douglas Adams sensibility, and the two leads are hilarious. It's like eternity's greatest bromance. A fine supporting cast, too. You never know who is going to show up next, including John Hamm, Miranda Richardson, Michael McKean (with a Scottish brogue), Derek Jacobi, Mireille Enos and Benedict Cumberbatch, with the Frances McDormand playing the voice of God.
We also watched the Deadwood movie on Saturday evening. It was great to see the old gang back together a decade later, and to see old grievances bubble to the surface again. The dialog was even more Shakespearean than ever. Huge blocks of words that must have driven the actors to drink. My favorite moment involved Seth Bullock, late in the movie, when he almost stands aside to let something chaotic happen. Then he sees his wife watching him and his strong sense of conscience returns to him. And, of course, Al Swearingen got in the last punchy words. Rolling Stone has a great (and spoiler-filled) review of it.
|Friday, May 31st, 2019|
One week from tomorrow, June 8, I'll be signing Flight or Fright
at Murder by the Book in Houston at 4:30 pm. The store's event page is here
and the Facebook event is here
. Our anthology of turbulent tales comes out in trade paperback from Scribner (US) and Hodder & Stoughton (UK) on Tuesday, June 4. Of course, I'll be happy to sign anything at the event, and I'll be talking for a bit about how the project came about. We're up to 13 translations now, with the recent addition of a Chinese edition.
Today is the last day
to order Brian Freeman's new LetterPress Publications' Deluxe Special Edition of Revival
. I wrote a "Historical Context" essay for the book, called "A Nasty, Dark Piece of Work."
Last weekend, we watched a batch of movies. On Friday, we saw The Professor and the Madman
, with Mel Gibson (not as the Madman) and Sean Penn (as the Madman). It's based on the real-life story of a professor who tackles the huge challenge of compiling the first ever dictionary of English. He sends out a call-to-action to readers across the nation to read everything that's ever been published and annotate all of the vocabulary. However, the project founders under its own weight until an inmate at a mental institution volunteers to contribute. After all, he has nothing but time on his hands and is a voracious reader. He's a Civil War survivor with PTSD who thinks he's being pursued by a scar-faced man. In a moment of hysteria, he accidentally killed an innocent man, which is why he's in the asylum. It's an interesting movie about words and sanity. Equally interesting is the story around the film: the director took his name off the movie and he and Gibson sued to stop it from being released because they'd wanted to film more scenes and the studio stopped them.
Our daughter had seen Monster
when it first came out. We saw Charlize Theron talking about her physical transformation for that role on an episode of Graham Norton
, so we thought we'd check it out. Then we found the documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer
, made by a British guy who clearly didn't want Wuornos to be executed. It revealed a lot about her background, the things that led up to events at the start of Monster
. It's a gruesome story, but there is a lot of conflicting information. Wuornos herself changed her story a few times, so who knows what the truth of any of it is?
Then we watched On the Basis of Sex,
starring Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsberg at the beginning of her legal career, when she joined up with the ACLU to take the case of a man whose tax deduction for providing care for his ailing mother was denied because the law was designed for women. She saw it as a test case for equal rights that had the advantage of demonstrating gender bias against a man.
Finally, we saw The Mule
, the latest Clint Eastwood film, based on the true story of a 90-year-old man who became a drug mule for the Sinaloa cartel. The story didn't go the way I had assumed it would from the trailer: I thought he was going to get caught much earlier and have to go undercover for the Feds. There's a great scene in a diner between Eastwood and Bradley Cooper (DEA agent who is pursuing Eastwood but doesn't know who he is). They have a conversation about work vs. family and Cooper's character says, "It's good to talk to someone like you." Eastwood says, "Like me?" Cooper responds, "Yeah, someone older, who doesn't have any filters any more." Eastwood, as he gets up to leave says, "I'm not sure that I ever had any." Given the movie's focus on how bad a husband and father Eastwood's character was, and his regrets about that, I found myself wondering how much of it was Eastwood expressing his own regrets.
I enjoyed the series White Dragon
on Amazon Prime. It stars John Simm as a university lecturer who finds out that his wife, who spends a great deal of time in Hong Kong, has been killed there. He goes to Hong Kong and discovers she's been keeping many secrets from him. They make maximum use of the setting: lots of great shots of Hong Kong from all angles. I've been there twice, both times over 25 years ago, but I enjoyed seeing all that great footage of a fascinating city-state. It's a decent thriller, too. I always enjoy Simm.
This weekend, I hope to see Rocketman
, the Elton John biopic. His first Greatest Hits
album was the first non-K-tel record I ever purchased and I've been a fan of his music ever since. I've seen him in concert numerous times over the years, and I wrote an essay for Steve Spignesi's book Elton John: Fifty Years On: The Complete Guide to the Musical Genius of Elton John and Bernie Taupin
, which will be out around the same time as Elton's autobiography, Me
|Tuesday, May 7th, 2019|
I had a fascinating weekend attending Northern FanCon in Prince George, B.C. That's about a 90 minute flight north of Vancouver, in the interior. A smallish mill town, where Dreamcatcher was filmed. I had to fly to Calgary and then to Vancouver before catching the final flight to PG, as they call it, so Friday was an early morning and a long day of travel. It felt so good to be back in Canada again, though, my first trip back to my native land in five years.
The first thing I did was visit a Tim Hortons in the Calgary airport. There's something about the cadence and sound of the Canadian accent that blisses me out. I feel like I'm home. And I know people like to make fun of the Canadian predilection for apologizing, but I swear that if I had a nickle for ever time I heard someone say "sorry" this weekend, I'd be a wealthy man.
The third flight was on a small Bombardier Q400 turboprop. All the other aircraft on the runway dwarfed it. I saw a familiar person get on after just about everyone else was seated: Edward James Olmos from Battlestar Galactica and Miami Vice. Owing to a mixup with his route through customs in Vancouver, he ended up barely making this connection and his luggage didn't, although it came in on the next flight.
One of the cool things about being an invited guest of a con like this is that I got the full star treatment. I had a driver (not a specific driver, and not exclusively mine, but any time I wanted to go somewhere, there was always someone to take me) and a liaison who made sure I was happy, and I got to hang out in the Green Room with the A-listers. In addition to Olmos, there was Lou Ferrigno (The Hulk), Alan Tudyk (Firefly) and Amy Acker (Angel), to name a few. The promoter, Norm Coyne, is a bundle of energy, always on the phone or the radio putting out fires, but always present, too.
I had a presentation on Saturday morning. At first I thought I was going to be talking to myself or one other person, but an audience gradually formed and I ended up talking to maybe twenty people in total. Seemed like it was well received. I skipped a few of the after-hours events (karaoke, for example). I watched some hockey games instead, and rediscovered the yummy goodness that is brown gravy on French fries.
My favorite workshop of the weekend was Marc Bernardin's -- he was one of the writers for Season 1 of Castle Rock. To show us how things go in a writers' room, he had us "break" an episode of the "classic" TV series Knight Rider. He gave us the basic rules (four-act structure, certain beats that had to be met, the rules of the Knight Rider universe) and then we brainstormed a plot, which he mapped out on the white board, as below. It typically takes a week to break an episode, so obviously our process was accelerated and condensed.
It was a lot of fun but also instructive. A writers' room is democratic, except the showrunner is the person who has the final say, so it's like a benign dictatorship, too. Everyone throws out ideas and the good ones survive. I've always said I'd love to be a fly on the wall in a writers' room some day, and this may be as close as I ever get. Here is how our episode turned out. When everything is in place, he said, Act 4 essentially writes itself as you solve all of the things set up in the first three acts, which is why it's blank here.
I attended the VIP reception on Saturday evening, where we got to chat with the A-listers. Amy Acker, when she found out why I was there, said, "Oh, you probably know my neighbor," who turned out to be Mick Garris (director of The Stand, etc.).
I spent a fair amount of time at my booth, talking to the occasional person who stopped by. There was a lot of cosplay, and I especially enjoyed seeing the tiny tots dressed up like some sci-fi or Marvel character, absolutely agog at everything going on around them.
I had lunch with James Douglas on Sunday. He directed the Dollar Baby "The Doctor's Case," which is a really good adaptation. They got Denise Crosby and William B. Davis to star in the wraparound section, and it was filmed in a wonderful castle-like mansion in Victoria, so the setting is spectacular. We're discussing the possibility of adapting "Zombies on a Plane," my story from Flight or Fright. James hosted a Dollar Baby Film Festival at Northern FanCon but unfortunately I was only able to squeeze in "The Doctor's Case" due to scheduling conflicts.
Chris Dias wandered the show floor interviewing people and he cornered me for nearly ten minutes. It was completely unplanned, but I think it turned out pretty well.
Although it's a fairly small convention, I had a great time at Northern FanCon. Got to talk to some cool people and make some connections that someday may pan out into something. You never know about these things. I like to joke that if I'd been in the bathroom when Steve came up with the idea for Flight or Fright instead of sitting next to Rich Chizmar, someone else might have ended up as his co-editor! It's all about being in the right place at the right time.
Yesterday was another travel day. I left PG at 9 am and got home last night at 10 pm. En route I wrote notes for a review of Ted Chiang's fascinating story collection Exhalation and watched several episodes of the new Netflix dark comedy Dead to Me starring Cristina Applegate and Linda Cardellini. I spent the rest of the time avoiding spoilers for Game of Thrones because the hotel where I was staying didn't have HBO!
This Saturday, I'll be at Comicpalooza at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. My only scheduled event is a panel called "World-Building for Short Stories, Novelettes and Novellas" at 10:30 am with moderator Tex Thompson and co-panelists Michelle Muenzler and Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam.
|Monday, April 29th, 2019|
|An Epic Weekend
My wife's away for a while, so I had a lot of free time on my hands this weekend. I got quite a bit of work done, especially yesterday, when I did another draft or two of a couple of short stories, wrote a book review and finished my presentation for Northern Fancon
, which I'm attending next weekend. I'll be checking in with the Dollar Baby Film festival at that event from time to time, but I have a Content Creator panel on Saturday morning at 10:30.</p>
I checked the weather in Prince George this morning...brrr! When I looked at 6 am it was around freezing and it's only a couple of degrees above that now, although it will get into the fifties later in the day. It'll be at or below freezing at night when I'm there, and there's the possibility of flurries. I sure hope they told the talent coming from Los Angeles what to expect!
On Friday evening I finished watching Season 5 of Bosch on Amazon. This one is based on Two Kinds of Truth, and although there are numerous differences from the source novel, the spirit of the book is captured very well. Unlike some crime drama series, this one has several different things going on at the same time, mostly unrelated, and they spend a significant amount of time setting up the events that will transpire in Season 6.
At noon on Saturday, after successfully dodging spoilers, I went to see Avengers: Endgame. The Ironman Triathalon was taking place near the movie theater, so I had to do some circumnavigating to get there. I hadn't realized I'd signed up for a 3D showing. I tend to avoid those because, as a glasses-wearing person, the 3D glasses are an awkward addition, but it wasn't bad and I appreciated the extra depth of field the 3D effect created. I'd put myself on a liquid-free diet for several hours before the movie, since the running time is 3 hours and there's always half an hour of trailers beforehand. I'm not as conversant with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as many of my friends and colleagues, but I've watched at least half of the previous films and re-watched Infinity War on Thursday to prepare myself for this event movie. It was well done. Not as many deaths as I'd expected. The ending was like the curtain call from a long-running play as everyone who's anyone is trotted out for a few onscreen seconds.
So far I've seen a grand total of about 10 minutes of the NHL playoffs. We saw the final 5 minutes of the penultimate game between Toronto and Boston last weekend and I saw the final 5 minutes of the Columbus/Islanders game yesterday. I need to track down more. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to watch a good hockey game.
One of the songs featured on Killing Eve this week was "Where Evil Grows" by the Poppy Family, a Canadian act from the 70s that consisted of Terry and Susan Jacks. Haven't heard that song in many, many years. Terry Jacks was on the radio all the time when I was growing up with his "Seasons in the Sun" dirge. I wonder if Sandra Oh was the one who came up with that song for them. Aside: I saw Jodie Comer on Graham Norton this week and was amazed by her normal accent. She sounds like one of the Beatles.
My friend Linwood Barclay described this week's episode of Game of Thrones as "World War Z meets Saving Private Ryan. The most ambitious ep of TV ever." I couldn't agree more. It was amazing from beginning to end. I found it interesting that the writers understood that prolonged battle sequences can get boring, so they found interesting ways to break them up and change the mood/tone. As with Endgame, there were fewer deaths of major characters than I expected, but there are still battles to come.
|Wednesday, April 24th, 2019|
|Fun in the sun and under the full moon
That looks like the sun rising in the image above, but it's actually the full moon climbing out from beneath the Gulf of Mexico. My wife and I spent a four-day weekend at a vacation rental in Surfside Beach, a place we've been to numerous times over the years. It's a nice close getaway, less than a two-hour drive, but it feels like we're in another world when we're there. We don't go completely
off the grid, but we do minimize our time online, so it is quite relaxing.
We left on Thursday afternoon. We had torrential rain the morning, but that packed it in around noon and from that point on, we had nothing but sunshine. It wasn't oppressively hot, in the seventies for the most part, so that was nice. Despite taking precautions, we did catch a bit of sun, mostly in the face. Nothing serious, but enough for people to take note of the fact that I've been in the sun. Of course, I tend to burn if I get too close to a 60W light bulb...
The rental house is right on the Gulf, behind a protective dune. It has a big deck where we sit and listen to the water crashing in and watch the people who are visiting the beach for the day. Unlike in most places, people are allowed to drive on the beach in Surfside, so the beach is lined with cars parked perpendicular to the waterfront. Every so often, vehicles get stuck in the sand, which is always a source of amusement for us watching.
As the sun moves across the sky, we scoot forward on the deck to keep on the edge of the roof's shadow. Close enough to feel the warmth but out of the direct sunlight. You could almost set your watch from our position on the deck. It was the long walks on the beach that did us in, I think, even though I was wearing my Indiana Jones hat. Light reflected from the sand, probably.
The moon was quite full when we were there, too, which was nice and atmospheric. We had some great meals, drank some wine and some Surfside Tea (their version of Long Island Iced Tea) and read. I finished The Pandora Room
by Christopher Golden, Lord of the Flies
(first time I've read it since junior high) and Cold Paradise
by Stuart Woods. I found the latter as a battered paperback on a bookshelf in the vacation home and it looked like a good beach read. It was--I zipped through the 400+ pages in a single day. I was rather bemused to find a passage early in this novel, first published in 2001, where the main character is being given a tour of Palm Beach, FL. "That's Mar a Lago over there - the home of Marjorie Meriwether Post, now owned by the awful Donald Trump." Yes, nearly 20 years ago, we knew. We knew.
Some stories take a long time to germinate. I've had this idea--only a title really--for nearly two years, and it finally turned into something. I've always been interested in hearing how Stephen King has, at times, worked on story ideas as he goes to sleep at night. Telling himself the story, a little more each night, until it either demonstrates it can work or fizzles. I remember him saying that about The Green Mile
, and I recently read he did that as early as The Long Walk
, the first novel he finished writing.
I do that every now and then, although I generally fall asleep quite quickly, so I don't get far. But I decided it was time to take this story title idea out for a test drive. I got a little way with it, but it wasn't until I actually put pen to paper that the story came to life. I wrote a couple of pages yesterday morning and a few more today and, in the process of telling myself the story, I discovered what it was really about. It is so cool when that happens. Things popped out from wherever details come from that I didn't at all anticipate when I started writing it.
I enjoyed Black Summer
on Netflix. It's yet another zombie flick, but it does some interesting things with how the story is told and the direction is intriguing, too. A neat King cameo in one episode in a library (Rich Chizmar cameo, too). The episodes are of different lengths, dropping down to a mere 25 and 20 minutes for the last two. Yhere are instances of people doing dumb things to serve the plot, but on the whole I quite liked it. The last couple of minutes made my jaw hit the floor, but I have a theory about that.
I have my ticket to see Avengers: Endgame
on Saturday. I just might watch Infinity War
again in preparation for it. The following weekend, I'm off to Prince George, BC to attend Northern Fancon. It'll be a quick trip, but I'm very much looking forward to it. I'm also booked into NECON and, for the first time, Bouchercon at the end of October, which is in Dallas, a mere three-hour drive away, which in Texas terms is as good as next door.
|Friday, April 12th, 2019|
Every 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|
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|
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|
|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|
|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
. 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.