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|Monday, July 9th, 2018|
|Lost in Space
Publishers Weekly, the highly respected trade magazine, released their advanced review of Flight or Fright
this week. I'm very happy with what they had to say. In part, "This entertaining anthology of horror, mystery, and literary tales about aircraft (most reprinted) will have the reader thinking twice about flying. This is a strong anthology full of satisfying tales." Click the hyperlink to read the whole thing.
Last week, I was interviewed by a newspaper from northern New Brunswick, where I grew up. Alas, the interview is behind a paywall, but the people for whom it will mean something will be able to see it. The interviewer (also the editor, chief-cook-and-bottle-washer) is someone I knew in school. He's a year older than I am, so we crossed paths a little, and his mother was a substitute teacher that I had any number of times over the years. It was fun talking to someone from "back home," to hear the regional accent again.
I have only a sketchy memory of the original Lost in Space
. I no doubt saw some of it when I was a kid, in reruns, but I couldn't remember whether most of the story took place on a planet or whether they flitted around from adventure to adventure. Turns out, both are true. In the first two seasons, they were crashed on two different planets, but in the third they traveled from place to place.
We finally got around to seeing the new incarnation of the show on Netflix last week, watching all 10 episodes over a four-day period. We quite liked it. It's not as gritty as the Battlestar Galactica
reboot, but they've added some depth and breadth to the characters, giving them interesting backstories and mysteries that are revealed over the course of the season. The biggest change is to Dr. Smith, who is a conniving, identity-stealing schemer whose motivations aren't always clear. Not the comic relief like he was in the original, where he ended up being the focal character, along with Will and the robot. The robot, too, is vastly different from the tubby, harmless, arm-waving original, adding an ominous tone to the story. The kids are great, acting pretty much the way kids do. It's not perfect, but it was enjoyable, and we'll no doubt check out Season 2 when it becomes available.
|Thursday, July 5th, 2018|
|Raining on our parade
I feel bad for the people who spent a lot of time planning, organizing and arranging events for Independence Day yesterday. In the greater Houston area, most of these things were canceled on account of the torrential rain we received, starting in the early morning hours and lasting until late afternoon. It wasn't terrible where we live, just several hours of solid rain of the sort we rarely get around here. It typically pours
for 15 minutes instead of raining gently like that for hours. With the attendant thunder and lightning, parades and concerts were all canceled, although the fireworks went off. One of the best metaphors is this image from the Houston Chronicle, where the letters spelling "Houston" float away from the concert grounds in floodwaters.
After watching "The City on the Edge of Forever" for the first time in a long time (it holds up reasonably well), we dove into the new Lost in Space
. We only saw the first couple of episodes, but we're enjoying it. I like the way they reimagined the story, giving the characters some new backstories and treating the teenagers like real (but exceptional) teenagers.
Our daughter posted about Hannah Gadsby's standup show on Netflix, so we decided to watch. It's an experience we won't soon forget. Gadsby talks about discovering she was "a little bit lesbian" while growing up in very conservative Tasmania, and the problems she's had throughout her life, in part because of the guilt she was immersed in during her formative years, when homosexuality was both a sin and illegal. Her hour-long set starts out mostly funny, but then it transitions into something quite different. At first it becomes a meta-analysis of stand-up comedy. How comedians like her get laughs by deliberately creating tension and then releasing it with something funny. However, she came to believe that her self-deprecating form of humor was damaging, trapping her ideas about herself in an unhealthy state. She refers back to one of her earlier jokes, a story about how she stood up to a homophobic guy, and reveals that that story was incomplete. The rest of the tale is not in the least bit funny. She is angry and bitter, and the audience experiences a new kind of tension. It's all designed to make a point (and, perhaps, announce her plans to retire from standup, although he has, admittedly, given that a bit of re-think after the attention her show has garnered), but the anger is real. Definitely recommended (fair warning: the language can curl your hair).
We followed that up with Ali Wong's first Netflix show (Baby Cobra
), which is a very different creature altogether. She's crude and outspoken and pretty hilarious.
|Monday, July 2nd, 2018|
|The Shape of Water
Today is my granddaughter's second birthday. Well, it's actually July 3, but where she lives it's already July 3. It's all rather confusing. Time zones. What's the point of them?
At the end of the afterword of Flight or Fright
, the forthcoming anthology I co-edited, I ask readers who see anyone in an airport or on a plane with the book to send us a picture. Reviewers have taken up the challenge. So far, I've received three photos from people on long flights reading the anthology. The most recent is Larry Fire, who is shown here reading it on a flight to Hawaii. Brave souls.
We don't often give up on movies, especially ones that star the likes of Juliette Binoche and Gerard Depardieu, but we were bored to tears by Let the Sunshine In
(Un beau soleil intérieur
) and turned it off after 45 minutes. It's one of those films the critics loved (RT: 86%) and viewers like us didn't (RT: 21%). To me it felt like there wasn't a script, that the actors were placed in scenes and told to just talk. Ramble, more like—there's one scene where Binoche's character tries to ask her new coworker an uncomfortable question that goes on forever. It was almost farcical. Horrible, banal characters.
We were luckier on Saturday, when we watched Woman Walks Ahead
and The Shape of Water
. The former is based on the true story of an artist (Jessica Chastain) who travels West to paint Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes). She arrives when the military is trying to force the tribes to sign an accord that will have them giving up more of their land. Sitting Bull is mostly content to grow potatoes, but the artist helps him rediscover his former glory and he makes an impassioned speech when the tribes are called to vote. It's a good film, but apparently it plays fast and loose with a lot of facts, especially concerning Catherine/Caroline Weldon, who is portrayed as a widow with no political motivations when she arrives. In reality, she was divorced twice, and had a 12-year-old son who she took with her to the Indian Territory who isn't mentioned in the movie. Neither are Sitting Bull's two wives. In the real world she had previously corresponded with Sitting Bull and was an active member of the National Indian Defense Association. Never let facts get in the way of a good story, I guess! And the film has Sam Rockwell, which is always a plus.
I've been wanting to see The Shape of Water
for a long time. I wasn't sure it was the kind of film my wife would enjoy, but we both loved it. I didn't know anything about the story going into it beyond the trailer, so it was all fresh and exciting and new. Such great characters—even the supporting characters had entire little stories of their own. It's the second thing I've seen in the past year where the monster eats a cat. Yes, Stranger Things 2
, I'm looking at you.
|Thursday, June 21st, 2018|
|Sarah and Duck...Sarah and Duck......Sarah and Duck...SarahandDuck
It's been a while since I posted here—a solid month. Not because nothing has been happening, that's for sure! My wife got back from several weeks in Japan and our daughter and two-year-old granddaughter came with her. Our grand-daughter is an energetic and delightful little girl who can talk reasonably well and who sings almost all the time. She'll be eating supper and, for no obvious reason, burst into the A-B-C song or, more likely, the Baby Shark Song
, a simple ditty that gets into your head and is hard to shake off. They headed back to Okinawa a few days ago and I still hear that song.
We also enjoyed many episodes of Puffin Rock
and Sarah and Duck
, both shows that are surprisingly watchable for adults. I preferred Sarah and Duck
of the two, but my granddaughter was apt to call for "puffin" in the middle of an episode of S&D. Fun fact: the "scarf lady" in that show is voiced by the actress who played Mrs. Patmore on Downton Abbey
Hodder & Stoughton, the UK publisher of Flight of Fright
, the anthology of scary flying stories I co-edited with Stephen King, released their cover design recently (see above/right). They went in a different direction from Cemetery Dance, aiming for something more restrained and artistic. It's quite striking, I think.
I also spent an hour and a quarter in a sound booth at a studio in Houston recording my Afterword from the anthology for the Simon and Schuster audio edition, which was an interesting experience. I'll write more about that in a few days.
In the Afterword, I put out a call for anyone who saw someone reading the anthology at an airport or, better yet, on an airplane, to snap a picture and send it to me. So far, even though the book is some ten weeks away from publication, I've received two photographs from people who received review copies of the anthology and chose to read them on long flights.
Because I knew my daughter wanted to see The Avengers: Infinity War
when she got here from Japan, and because I'm woefully out of touch with the Marvel universe (I'd seen a few Iron Man
movies and Black Panther
), I binged to get caught up, watching The Avengers
, The Avengers: The Age of Ultron
, Captain America: Civil War
, and Doctor Strange
before we saw the new film. Very glad I did, or I would have completely lost. Now I'm in the camp of people who can't wait for the next half of it to come out.
We also watched 15:17 to Paris
, Clint Eastwood's movie about the American soldiers and tourists who tackled a terrorist on a train in Europe. We've always enjoyed Eastwood's movies, but this one was terrible. Terrible. Using the real people to portray themselves might have seemed like a clever idea, but they had limited range and depth, which made the film feel awkward and low budget. Also, because the pivotal incident is over in a few minutes, much of the film is backstory and a lot of it, quite frankly, boring and irrelevant. The older history was interesting, but the parts of the story about their trip around Europe leading up to them being on the train was over-long and beside the point. The boat trip where they meet a cute girl in Venice...we never see her again. The long scene in the Amsterdam disco...pointless. I hate to say the director has lost his touch based on a single film, but, boy, what a drop in quality compared to, say, Sully
. Even the professional actors, like Judy Greer, turned in lackadaisical performances.
We binged through Season 5 of The Ranch
in a couple of evenings. My wife is a big fan of Sam Elliott. It's a show I could take or leave. I find a lot of the humor in it awkward and juvenile. It has a few good actors and a few who are clearly playing it purely for laughs. The season ends with the departure of Danny Masterson's character, the actor having been fired after serious allegations were leveled against him. We wondered how far into filming they were when that happened, and how long they allowed his character to continue in the season after that. Trivia: I briefly met his brother, Chris, in Nova Scotia a number of years ago when visiting the set of Haven
Oh, yeah, and I had a birthday since I last posted. 19x3.
|Monday, May 21st, 2018|
|While the cat's away...
Last fall, I was commissioned to write an essay about Stephen King's poetry and his relationship to poetry by the Poetry Foundation. I wrote about that experience here
. The essay itself came out today, the day before The Outsider
is released, and also the day before King receives the PEN America Literary Service Award (the timing of the release of the essay, which can be found here
, is not coincidental). My review of The Outsider
also debuted today at CD Online
My wife has been away for a couple of weeks, so I've been finding things to occupy all the free time I've had that we would normally spend together. Last weekend I went to a baseball game, my first in over 25 years. Texas Rangers vs Houston Astros...the home team won decisively. However, I'm not entirely sure I enjoyed myself. It was like going to a movie where people go to the concessions stands all the time
, and the space in front of the seats is so narrow that you have to get up to let them by. With the concessions as expensive as they are, I don't get the draw. Sit down and watch the game, people. It was quite distracting.
Last Wednesday, I went into Houston to meet up with Michael Koryta, who was in town to promote his new book, How It Happened
(my review at the link). I first met Michael at a NECON several years ago, and always meet up with him for drinks before his event and for dinner afterward. This time, we were with the owner of Murder by the Book and another store employee. Always an enjoyable time.
On Saturday, I went into Houston for the MWA Southwest monthly meeting where the guest speaker was...the owner of Murder by the Book! Unfortunately, the meeting room in the restaurant had been previously booked, so we were in the main dining area and had to compete with the din of fellow diners. It was the first of these meetings I've been to in at least half a dozen years.
Speaking of Murder by the Book, I will be signing at their booth at Comicpalooza
next Saturday from 1:30 to 2:30. Then I'll be on a panel with Joe Lansdale from 3:00 to 4:00 and another panel from 6:00 to 7:00.
Yesterday, I cashed in a Fandango coupon I won in the grocery store Monopoly game that ended recently and went to see Deadpool 2
at the late-morning matinee for less than five bucks. Most of the trailers/previews didn't interest me much (loud...hyper-kinetic...frenzied), not even the Sicario
sequel. I really liked the first movie, but the second looks far less interesting, perhaps because Emily Blunt isn't in it. I definitely want to see the new Oceans 8
, though. DP2 was pretty funny, with a decent plot that gave it some depth. I probably missed a lot of inside jokes because I'm not fluent in Marvel, but I still laughed a lot. And if you stick around to the very, very end, you'll hear something that should become popular as a ringtone. Afterward, I went to a nearby pizza place and enjoyed a carafe of wine while watching an intense thunderstorm. A mellow afternoon!
Last night, I finally watched Get Out
. I had studiously ignored anything and everything about the film, so I knew virtually nothing about it other than the basic setup: white woman takes her black boyfriend to meet her parents. It absolutely went in directions I didn't expect, but i thought it was a decent horror flick. The alternate ending was probably more in line with reality, and I imagined an even darker, more realistic way it would have ended, given recent events in this country.
|Thursday, May 3rd, 2018|
|The Big Bang
I was interviewed by Lilja and Lou for their Stephen King Podcast (#87)
about Flight or Fright
, the anthology I co-edited with Stephen King. We talked for over half an hour about how the book came about, how we selected the stories, etc. Check it out!
Last weekend we watched Molly's Game
, starring Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba. It's the true story of a woman who started running high-stakes poker games that involved high-profile people (although not named in the movie, some of the characters are stand-ins for Toby McGuire, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck), who ultimately ran into trouble and was arrested by the FBI for money laundering and other crimes. Elba plays her at-first reluctant attorney and Kevin Costner is her estranged father. It's a bit talky, but you don't have to understand Texas Hold-Em to enjoy the movie, and it is quite a journey.
The weekend before that we spent in Surfside, down the coast from Galveston, at a rental house we like to hire once or twice a year. There's only a dune between the deck and the beach, looking out on the Gulf of Mexico and the oil rigs and cargo ships and other traffic on the water, plus the surfers—the surf was high one day in particular. It was moderately cool but warm enough to sit on the deck, and we took quite a few long walks on the beach and enjoyed watching the families playing on the beach. Very relaxing!
Author Linwood Barclay and I had a DM conversation on Twitter earlier this week in which we diagrammed the finale of The Americans
. We agree there will be no happy endings for most (maybe all) of the characters, but we came up with a finale scenario that we thought would be perfect. It'll be interesting to see how close we come.
I lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia for most of the 1980s while I was a student at Dalhousie University, first getting a B.Sc. in 1983 and then my Ph.D. in 1988. During those years, and subsequently, I'd heard about the Halifax Explosion, and could probably have told you a few things about it, many of them, as it turns out, wrong.
The Explosion happened in December 1917, during World War I, and it devastated the north end of the city. The worst hit section was called Richmond, but by the time I went to Halifax that "neighborhood" name was never mentioned. My impression was that a munitions bought struck a grain ship and the explosion happen immediately. Nope. The munitions ship, Mont-Blanc, was a French vessel carrying unthinkable amounts of TNT, picric acid and other flammables and explosives overseas to support the war effort. Six million pounds of explosives. The aging vessel was heavily burdened, and the crew was forbidden from carrying matches, let alone smoke. The ship had been sent up from New York to Halifax to see if it could find a slow convoy across the Atlantic.
The other ship, Imo, was empty, on its way from Europe down the US coast to stock up with relief supplies to take back across the Atlantic. After a stupid game of chicken in the narrows part of Halifax Harbour, Imo broadsided Mont-Blanc and a fire started on deck. The crew knew their cargo (although few other people in the region did) and immediately skidaddled. My impression is almost cartoonish when I imagine them leaping into lifeboats, paddling pell-mell for shore so fast they beached their boats and then continuing to run for the hills.
Mont-Blanc drifted toward the waterfront on the Halifax side and burned for ten or fifteen minutes before it finally blew up in what was the biggest man-made explosion in history, and it remained the biggest until decades later when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. About 2000 people died immediately, 9000 were injured (in a city of 60,000). Parts of Mont-Blanc—heavy parts like anchors—were found miles away in the aftermath. A big part of the city was leveled. People—including many children—who were attracted by the spectacle of the ship burning in the harbour, went to their living room windows to watch and were blinded by flying glass.
It was a horrific disaster, but one from which Halifax recovered, with the help of neighboring cities and provinces and, notably, the people of Boston, who sent medical supplies and personnel and, later, rebuilding supplies, much of it en route before they'd even received a request for assistance (the telegram lines were down). The relationship between Halifax and Boston is cemented today with Halifax sending an enormous Christmas tree to be raised in the Boston Commons.
I wish I'd taken the opportunity to visit many of the sites in Halifax that contain remnants and memorials of that incident when I lived there. I knew more about the relationship between Halifax and the Titanic disaster. I think a return trip to Halifax is in the calling one of these days. In the meantime, I read an excellent account of the incident and its aftermath: The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism
by John U. Bacon.
I bought the book to do research for a short story I'm contemplating, but my wife took an interest in the story, too, and I ended up reading the whole thing aloud to her over the course of a couple of weeks, including while we were on vacation. Now we're reading Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World-and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling. The introduction alone is fascinating in that it poses a set of thirteen questions about the world: how well people are educated, have access to medical treatments, etc. And most people get only two out of thirteen right, on average, because we have a negative and uninformed picture of the overall state of things. Most kids on the planet have access to vaccines, for example, and the majority of the world is not in poverty, as one might think.
|Friday, April 13th, 2018|
|Speak low, if you speak love
Last fall, I was contacted by an editor with the Poetry Foundation, asking if I'd like to write an essay about Stephen King's poetry. He felt there was a story there to be told that hadn't been explored before. I was game, and it was the Poetry Foundation, after all, publishers of Poetry
The original brief was for 2500 words, which didn't take me long to write. I turned my first draft in several weeks before deadline. The editor sent it back covered in red "track changes" marks and a request to expand it significantly. Include more quotes from the works, dive deeper. So I did. Second draft was 7500 words! Sent that in and, after a while, I got another copy back covered in red editorial ink. Maybe I went a bit overboard for an online essay. Draft three was around the 5000-word mark. Another round of revisions. I've never been so heavily edited in my life! But at last we were there, nearly. Off it went to the digital editor, who had a few cuts and changes. A new draft.
And then came a process I've never been through before: fact checking. I knew it was coming, but in my mind it was going to be an interrogation. What is the source of this fact? Where does this quote come from? However, what it turned out to be was a request for supporting documentation for every single fact and quote in the essay. I ended up sending along nearly 60 scans from primary and secondary sources and hyperlinks to online articles. I only missed out on three "facts," which I was able to resolve. But still, quite a process!
The essay should be out late next month. I'll be sure to advertise it when it appears.
Last night I saw A Quiet Place
with my buddy Danel Olson. It was playing in the biggest theater in our cineplex, and it was virtually empty. No more than 20 people in attendance. Which was kind of good, because that meant the audience noise was low and for this movie that's important. I don't know that I've ever watched a film where I've spent so much time either holding my breath or with my hands clasped over my mouth. It is an incredibly suspenseful film, one where even an errant nail is a Hitchcockian source of tension.
It's also a lean movie—no messing around with backstory or exposition. We don't see the family in their life before the invasion. We don't even see the invasion: we're dropped into the story months after things go bad. We learn about the new reality by seeing it in action—and a little bit by reading some headlines posted on a basement wall. The family doesn't congratulate themselves on surviving because they have a deaf daughter and thus they are better equipped to communicate silently. We just work that out ourselves. The early scene on the bridge shows the stakes: no one is safe. It's a cleverly written movie that trusts the audience. Tight, intimate, chilling and devastating. The final shot is perfect.
My only question was: why didn't they find somewhere noisy to live or create a noisy environment around them so they didn't have to walk on "eggshells" all the time? They understood the concept, so why not put it into practice more on a daily basis? Still, I enjoyed the hell out of this film.
|Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018|
I have the first draft of a 5000-word story finished. It's the one I wrote about in my previous entry, the one I got up in the middle of the night to write notes about. It ended up being pretty much like I envisioned it during the wee small hours, although I added a new character and expanded some parts slightly. I dictated it into the computer on the weekend and have made a couple of passes to touch up the transcription errors. Now comes the hard work: whipping it into shape. I read a quote that said the first draft is where you tell yourself the story, and I find that increasingly to be true. I was figuring it out as I went along. Now I have to take what I discovered and turn it into the best possible representation of that found object.
I found a nice review of Halloween Carnival Volume 4
the other day. In discussing my contribution, "The Halloween Tree," the review concluded, "Vincent weaves a beautiful yet terrifying tale from the eyes of children that finds it true power after the final word. This is a very well written story that has a strong literary feel that I enjoyed. While it was more a coming of age story than a simple horror tale, it is still a four-star addition to the collection. " I'll take that.
File this under: we'll never really know for sure. On Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were sitting in the driveway sipping wine, as we do when the weather is fair and the mosquitoes scarce, when I saw a woman coming down the cul-de-sac across from us. She was carrying bamboo stalks. She was about five feet tall; the bamboo fronds were about six feet long, and she was clutching them in her hand like she meant to joust with them. When she reached our street, I noticed a man a ways behind her. Her partner, I assumed. He trailed along, but at a guarded distance. Like he thought something was going to happen, something he was helpless to stop but needed to witness.
The woman strode to the front door of the house diagonally across from us. We've often noted the fact that this neighbor has some healthy and hearty bamboo behind their house, tall enough that we can see it over their six foot fence. I thought I could see where this was going. She knocked or rang the bell—they were far enough away we couldn't tell, nor could we hear the words that were spoken once the door opened. Certain kinds of bamboo have a tendency to spread like wildfire, so I figured this woman—whose back yard, we assumed, butted up against our neighbor's—was complaining that the bamboo had spread into her yard, and she was none to pleased about it. Meanwhile, the trailing guy stayed at the intersection, a good hundred feet away from the action. I suppose he would have leaped into the fray if things had gone badly, but he definitely did not look like he wanted to get involved.
A few minutes later, the woman left, bamboo stalks still clenched firmly in her hand. She strode past our house and never gave us so much as a wave or a smile. The man beat a hasty retreat ahead of her. Last seen walking toward her house. I don't know what she planned to do with the bamboo. A little domestic drama on a Sunday afternoon. It takes little to entertain us.
I watched a three-part British serial called Trauma
over the weekend. It starred one of my favorite actors, John Simm (The Master from Doctor Who
, also from Life on Mars
) as a working class guy who's had a very bad day already, when he finds out his teenage son has been stabbed and sent to the emergency ward. The surgeon handling the case assures him that everything's fine, the boy's stable—and then he isn't. In a flash, the situation goes south. The doctor, tall, fit, dignified, is an affront to the father, who believes the doctor is lying to him, based on some behavioral tics. He thinks the doctor made a mistake, and he makes it his mission in life to get to the truth. He has little interest in blaming the miscreant who stabbed his son—it's the doctor and his conspicuous wealth and standing that offends him. It's difficult to watch at times. Some brutal confrontations, and Simm's character goes full out wacky stalker. I'm not sure I was completely happy with the way it was wrapped up. There seemed to be a slant in favor of the middle class versus the wealthy class. The truth does all come out in the end, and a lot of damage is done in the process, but (despite a terrific performance by Simm), I thought the father got off lightly for what he did. Worth seeking out, though.
|Wednesday, March 28th, 2018|
|I love it when this happens, sort of
I've been working on a short story for a week or so, mostly doing research, although I made a first stab at what I thought was going to be the opening section, and in a sense will be, although somewhat modified.
Then, at about 1:30 this morning, I woke up knowing exactly how I was going to write the story and the voices of the characters involved. Afraid that all this inspiration might be gone come morning, I had to get out of bed and write myself a couple of pages of notes. The handwriting is shaky but legible, but I needn't have feared: it was all still there this morning. Although, what's to say that the act of writing it down wasn't what helped me to remember it when I awoke. Inspiration like that is always nice; however, it would have been nicer if it had happened at 1:30 pm instead.
In any case, I had a very productive writing session this morning. Since I write by hand, I can't say exactly how much I wrote, but it was nine Moleskine pages, so I'm guessing something around or a little over 2000 words. That's a lot
for me in one sitting (although I have done a lot more on rare occasion). The funny thing is that I'm not writing the story beginning to end—what I wrote this morning was the middle, in three sections, and the sections will probably end up in a different order than I wrote them. Now I have to write one more "middle" section, the beginning and the end. I know them, more or less, I just have to commit them to paper. Then it'll be time to dictate the story into the computer and edit the crap out of it. That's a technical writing term, by the way.
Hodder & Stoughton hasn't yet revealed their cover art for the UK edition of Flight or Fright
. They have a web page
up for it, though. I received the final missing pieces for the manuscript, so now the book is in the proof-reading phase. All very exciting!
|Monday, March 12th, 2018|
|Now it can be told...
For the past several months—since last August, in fact—I've been working with Stephen King, editing an anthology of scary stories involving flying. Cemetery Dance Publications
announced the book today, so I can finally talk about it!
The anthology contains sixteen stories and a poem, all reprints except for new stories from King and Joe Hill. Some of the authors and/or stories you may be familiar with (Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Dan Simmons, Richard Matheson), while others will likely be as new to you as they were to me. Oh, and I have a story in it, too, a reprint called "Zombies on a Plane." We came up with a terrific lineup of stories and I'm very proud of what we've done with this book. We think it should be stocked in every airport bookstore on the planet so that airline passengers will have something to help them pass the time as they rocket across the atmosphere, miles up in the air, inside a metal tube held up by physics and thin air.
Cemetery Dance is releasing the hardcover and eBook on September 4, while Simon and Schuster is doing the audiobook. Hodder and Stoughton will be publishing Flight or Fright
in the UK.
Here's how the book came about: I was sitting next to Rich Chizmar in a Bangor restaurant when Steve came up to us with this idea for an anthology of horror stories involving flying. The fact that we were across the street from Bangor International Airport was especially apropos. Steve and I dug deep to come up with this collection of stories—some of them I'd read before but many of them I hadn't. It was a delight to find tales by some of my favorite authors that fit the loose theme and also to be introduced to several new-to-me writers who had published some chilling tales. Then there's the new stories by Steve and Joe Hill, both of which are terrific and disturbing contributions to this sub-genre. I spent 24 hours total on two flights to and from Japan while working on this project and I spent a lot of time...a LOT of time...thinking about all the things that might go wrong when I was 35,000 feet up hurtling through space at 500 mph in a torpedo with wings. Is it a little twisted that we hope this anthology makes a lot of other people equally nervous the next time they board a flight?
Hope you'll check it out. It's been a fascinating experience. I'll never look at an airplane the same way again.
|Thursday, March 8th, 2018|
|Watch this space
Be sure to visit this page next Monday, when I'll have some exciting news to announce. You'll probably hear it somewhere else before you visit, but check in, anyway! It pertains to a project I've been working on for the past several months, and it's really (really) cool.
Also cool: the number of languages in which I've been published has expanded by one. My story "Aeliana," which is in the Shining in the Dark
anthology, will be translated into Czech. That's the cover you see here, for Osvícení v temnotě
. If you're keeping track, my work has appeared in Russian, Italian, Dutch, French and Bulgarian, and by the end of the year I can add Czech, German and Swedish. Maybe more.
I was interviewed recently by Soraya Murillo Hernandez, and the article is now available (in English) at the Truth in Fiction blog
We saw Black Panther
recently and really enjoyed it. As with most people, the standout character for us was Shuri, the younger sister and technical genius. At times she reminded me a little of Q from James Bond. I really appreciated the fact that you can enjoy this movie without knowing anything at all about the greater Marvel universe. The only part that left us scratching our heads and firing up Google was the second post-credit scene. I'm still not sure I get the significance of it, but it doesn't really matter. The movie was sweeping in scope and yet intimate in concept. A lot of hand-to-hand combat, but plenty of characterization and a "villain" whose motives and issues were completely relatable. He wasn't the usual supervillain megalomaniac out to conquer the world to boost his ego.
I also watched the Netflix series Everything Sucks!
, which I'm describing as The Wonder Years
for the 1990s. It's light and whimsical, but there are some relevant issues handled with care. Some terrific performances by the two young leads.
On the reading front, I'm well into I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
by Michelle McNamara. The author is Patton Oswalt's late wife, a lifelong true crime aficionado. The book is as much about the nature of obsession as it is about her pursuit of this horrifying criminal who committed dozens and dozens of rapes and murders without ever being identified or caught. The nature of his crimes are guaranteed to creep you out, and you may have a few sleepless nights after you read this one.
|Wednesday, February 21st, 2018|
So, I'm back from a week in Japan, except my mind still thinks I'm on the other side of the planet, refusing to let me sleep at the usual time. I was over there just long enough to almost get adapted to their time zone, only to turn around and come right back.
The outbound flight was roughly 14 hours. I left in the late morning on Saturday and got into Narita on Sunday afternoon. During the flight I read the first 450 pages or so of The Outsider
, King's forthcoming novel. Slept a little, but not a lot. Took the Narita Express in to Shinjuku, where I spent the night in a little hotel that was apparently on the edge of one of Tokyo's red light districts. It's hard to tell. There's no shortage of sex parlors in that city. Monday was a national holiday, so I spent the day wandering around until it was time to head out to the western side of the city, where I spent the next three days in meetings.
It was cold over there. Below freezing at night and barely above in the day time. I saw the remnants of their recent snowfall on some streets. We were entertained by our hosts one evening at a Korean Shabu-Shabu restaurant. You get a pan with two different kinds of boiling liquid (one mostly flavorless, the other sesame) and racks of very thinly sliced meats (we got marbled beef and pork, thankfully none of the tongue that seems to be popular at these places) that you cook in the boiling liquid. Vegetables, too, so that ultimately you end up making a kind of brothy soup.
I knew from my daughter that Star Trek Discovery
, the new series set before the original Star Trek
, which is only available in the US if you pay to subscribe to CBS's online service, is free on Netflix, so I binged through the entire season, often at 3 am when I was wide awake due to the time change. The final episode of the season dropped a few days before I left, so I was able to see the whole thing.
It's an interesting show. Much, much harder on its main characters than any of the other series. There's a lot of duplicity. You never know who to trust, nor who is going to survive. Main characters get killed. Main characters commit treason. Main characters cause galactic wars. My biggest problem with the show was in wrapping my head around the technology. Because film has progressed so much since the original series, everything looks much more modern than it did, but some tech was used in ways that Captain Kirk and his team never did. There was a fair amount of teleporting within the ship, for example, and I don't remember ever seeing that on TOS or TNG. The computer and one character have a debate about the ethics of her instructions, which seemed more advanced than the older shows. In some ways, the show felt more like Doctor Who
than Star Trek
. But I liked it and look forward to seeing where it goes in season 2. I just hope I don't have to go all the way to Japan to see it.
At the end of meetings on the third day, I relocated to the hotel airport, and what a pleasant surprise that was. I got upgraded to a junior suite for free (huge, massive, compared to most Japanese hotels), got free drink and meal discount coupons, and they let me check out late, which was good because my flight was late in the afternoon. On the eleven hour flight back (gotta love those shorter return journeys), I watched videos rather than read, and slept a fair amount. I watched War for the Planet of the Apes
, which I've been trying to get to for a while. I've been enjoying these reimagined films, and like seeing all the places where they call back to the original films, in this case mostly Battle for the Planet of the Apes
. All the little echoes from that earlier film. Then I watched most of Season 1 of Veep
, which I've never seen before. Obviously satire, but it demonstrates how impotent the role of the Vice President can be...until it isn't.
Which segues into the movie we saw last weekend after I got home: LBJ
, starring Woody Harrelson as Lyndon Johnson, directed by Rob Reiner. Who would ever have imagined casting Woody as Johnson, but it was a good choice and it was probably Harrelson's best performance ever. He disappears into the part, mostly. I confess I didn't know that much about LBJ's presidency, not even what his legacy was, so I found the film interesting from that perspective. They only skimmed over some of his more colorful aspects (his habit of consulting with his staff while sitting on the toilet with the door open) and didn't get into the Vietnam war issues. It focuses mostly on the JFK assassination and Johnson's decision to embrace Kennedy's initiatives and see them through. Decent film.
|Monday, February 5th, 2018|
I finished the first few drafts of my new short story. It took two days to write the first draft (longhand), which ended up being 4900 words. It's funny how many of my stories end up being close to 5k. This was probably one of the easiest stories I've written in a long time. All the beats came right where I thought they needed to, and I felt like I was taking dictation as I scrawled on the pages of my notebook.
I dictated the story into Word on Saturday and spent the rest of the weekend's writing sessions cleaning up the transcription errors and researching a few points that I'd annotated in my holographic manuscript. Two or three passes through and I have a solid draft that I'll let sit for a couple of weeks before I take another pass at it and then turn it in to its prospective home. I think it's one of the funniest things I've ever written.
We saw Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
on Saturday. I missed it during its initial release, but it came back to theaters after it was nominated for a bunch of awards, so we got to see it on the big screen. It's a remarkable film for a number of reasons. The performances are top notch. The story is compelling, and the choices they make in telling the story aren't the obvious ones. It's easy to feel compassion for Frances McDormand's character, because who wouldn't feel compassion for a mother whose daughter was murdered? But she's a challenging individual in a lot of other ways. Was she a good mother? She said some terrible things to her kids before the tragedy, things that come back to haunt her. She speaks her mind, even when it's not necessarily in her best interests to do so. Then there's the racist deputy played by Sam Rockwell. One of several characters who are as dumb as bags of rocks. I know there has been some push-back against the movie because of the transition his character makes, which some people feel was undeserved and unearned. And Woody Harrelson is charming as the cussing sheriff.
The movie never goes where you think it will. It looks like it is headed for a tidy ending in which everything gets neatly resolved, but then you get to the end and it looks like the movie is designed for a Thelma & Louise
style sequel. There are a lot of things you have to swallow—there is an exaggerated set of incidents where, in the "real world," one hopes the consequences would be more severe for the perpetrators. But even with all that, it is a helluva film. Highly recommended.
I wish Absentia
on Amazon Prime were better than it is. I had high hopes. I'm a big fan of Stana Katic from Castle
, who is always interesting to watch because you always feel like she's present in scenes. Re-acting as much as acting. Her character, an FBI agent, vanished six years ago and was presumed dead. Her husband remarried. Her little boy is now a bigger boy. But she returns with a splash, upsetting all manner of apple carts, and there's growing evidence that perhaps her disappearance wasn't what it seemed and that she might be involved in shady things. Or not. The script probably looked good to Katic, but the execution is weak. It was filmed in Bulgaria, but it's supposed to be Boston, but they didn't go to many lengths to Americanize the staging and things feel off. Many of the secondary cast members speak accented English, and it ain't Bah-ston English. It feels like a run-of-the-mill TV series compared to some of the stellar streaming series we've been treated to lately. I'll stick through to the end, but it's not as good as I'd hoped.
I'm not a huge football fan. We went out to dinner when the Superbowl was on (the restaurant wasn't completely empty, but almost), returning home mid-way through the third quarter. Decided to watch the rest, and that was pretty exciting. It occurred to me that football is basically a sport in which two different teams play two other teams. There's the quarterback and the offensive line against the other team's defense, and vice versa. The two quarterbacks never play against each other. When one of these team leaders is in command, the other guy is on the sidelines, looking on helplessly. It's a strange configuration, and not the head-to-head challenge its often portrayed as. Still, exciting finale. I think a lot of people expected Brady to pull off a miracle as if it was par for the course (to mix sports metaphors). He tried.
|Thursday, February 1st, 2018|
I started a new short story today, my first of 2018. I've been busy working on The Project That Cannot Be Named lately, and that has been consuming most of my writing time. But I've been cogitating over this new story for a while and I have most of it mapped out in my head, so I went to the bagel cafe this morning for breakfast and hand-wrote over nine pages in my Moleskine journal, which amounts to about 2000-2500 words, I guess. Over half the story, although I'm not quite sure how it's going to end yet. I have a pretty good idea, but there are some logistics I need to research first.
I also sold my first new short story of 2018, a tale called "Ray and the Martian." I'll announce more once the publisher gives the go-ahead. Swedish and British editions of Shining in the Dark
have been announced as well. My story "Aeliana" is going to be well published this year!
I discovered that I am one of those offered Special Thanks at the end of an extra feature video on the Blu-Ray of It
, which is pretty cool. There I am, crammed between the Thomas Hill Standpipe and Canadian actor Finn Wolfhard, who was also in Stranger Things
I hear that Cemetery Dance #76
is showing up in mailboxes. I haven't received my copy yet, but I'm looking forward to it. I have four pieces in that issue.
When I heard the news about Dallas Mayr (aka Jack Ketchum), I gasped. For real. I was self-aware enough to hear myself making that sound. I don't know Dallas well, really, but I've known him for a long time and we've had some good times together. I know him from various Necons, of course, but my wife and I also sat with him at the Jekyll & Hyde Club in New York as part of a dinner organized by Stephen King's office before the Harry, Carrie and Garp event. Rich Chizmar and I met up with him before the National Book Award banquet at which King cited Dallas as someone people should be reading more. And at the World Horror Convention in Austin, where I served as Guest of Honor Liaison, I had the pleasure of driving Dallas around in search of a liquor store so he could stock up on scotch. That was a fun outing. I always enjoyed talking with him. He took a lot of crap from people at Necon, all with good humor. I will miss seeing him. Maybe some day the book of essays about his work for which I have contributed a piece will see the light of day. That would be nice.
I just finished watching a French series called La Mante
(The Mantis) on Netflix. It's about a series of copycat murders many years after a crime spree committed by a young woman who killed reprehensible men. There's an element of Silence of the Lambs
to it, in that the investigators go back to the original killer for advice in trying to catch the new murderer, but the big twist is that she's the mother of the guy in charge of the team, although only a couple of people know that. For the sake of the family's privacy, the perpetrator's name was changed and news reports declared that his mother had been killed in a plane crash, without connecting the two to each other. There are a few implausible moments and far too many people connected to the family show up as persons of interest, but it's not bad, and at six hours, quite binge-able. The creators have obviously seen a lot of movies based on Stephen King books. There are a couple of really overt homages, including the use of a particular camera angle that rips off Kubrick. The actress who plays the Mantis reminds me a lot of Charlotte Rampling. She is an ice queen...until she isn't.
I also enjoyed The End of the F***ing World
on Netflix. It's a British dark comedy about a teenage boy who thinks he's sort of a young Dexter Morgan who tortures animals and doesn't feel anything. The next logical move is to kill a person, and he picks a quirky girl. However, she's the exact opposite of him: she feels everything
, and he soon discovers he's way out of his depth with her. They run away from home and make a series of increasingly bad decisions that puts them at greater and greater jeopardy. Each episode is only 22 minutes, which is just about right. Along with The Good Place
, this is the only "comedy" I've enjoyed in recent years, and in this case there aren't many laughs. It's dark.
I binged through The Deuce
recently, too. That's the HBO series that takes place around Times Square in the 1970s, created by David Simon (The Wire
) and George Pelecanos, with Megan Abbott on the writing team. If you've been missing The Wire
, this is the show for you. Not only does it have that feel, it has a number of actors from that series. James Franco plays twin brothers, one moderately responsible, one not so much. The story involves pimps and prostitutes who walk the streets, the cops who police the streets and the gangsters who have interests in just about everything. It explores violence toward women, but also the change in the sex trade during that period, with pornography attempting to go mainstream (Deep Throat
) and the migration of prostitutes into brothels and the creation of personal video booths at porn shops. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a prostitute who transitions into the porn movie making business. It's also dark, although it has some pretty funny moments, too.
We also took a deep dive into the seventies by watching Battle of the Sexes
and The Post
. We followed this with The Final Year
, a documentary about Obama's last year in the White House. It's a fascinating look behind the curtain, not only at Obama but at some of his most trusted team members. Finally, last weekend we saw I'm Not Your Negro
, the documentary based on James Baldwin's outline of a project he wanted to do about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers. It's eye-opening, to say the least. For me, one of the most profound lines came when Baldwin said that black people knew white people far better than any white person knew black people because black people have had to watch and be acutely aware of white people all their lives.
|Wednesday, January 17th, 2018|
|OK. Enough with the snow.
It's been a winter for the record books. We had significant snowfall in early December, recordable snow a few weeks later and then we got winter. We knew it was coming: the forecasters were predicting a hard freeze with sleet and freezing rain, but we didn't really know how bad it would be. Southeast Texas was essentially closed for business yesterday when the roads became impassable. Overpasses and bridges were too hazardous for most drivers and there was ice on the roadways across the metro area. I worked from my home office.
The first precipitation was probably sleet, but there was enough of it to make a white coat over everything. Unlike our December snowfall, it was cold enough outside for the precip to stay...and it kept getting colder. We were in the teens most of the day, with wind chill temps in the single digits. More freezing rain and sleet in the afternoon, followed by some big fluffy snowflakes. A hard freeze overnight and for the first time since we moved into our house 22+ years ago, the water pipes froze.
It was a bad moment when I was getting ready for work this morning and turned on the shower faucet...and nothing happened. I discovered that some varmint had chewed away a chunk of insulation on the pipe going into the house and I speculated that the freeze happened there. My father would probably have gotten out the butane torch and hit the thing with a direct flame, but I opted instead for the hair drier method. But, boy, was it ever cold out, and after fifteen minutes with no obvious progress, I went in search of another option. My wife suggested the heating pad she uses when she has back pain. I wrapped the pipe with the heating pad and we wrapped that in turn with a big towel and let it run. An hour later, the water started flowing. No burst pipes, fortunately, and I plan to re-wrap the pipes tonight to keep that from happening again. We are barely above freezing now, and it's going back down to the low 20s again tonight, with another hard freeze warning.
Schools remained closed today. This weekend it will be high 60s and low 70s. Can't wait. But this must be the longest we've had snow on the ground in this region in a long time: over twenty-four hours.
When my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter were home for the holidays, we had family photos taken. It was a chilly morning (not as chilly as this
morning) but they turned out quite well. I don't normally post pictures of my granddaughter to social media, but her back is to the camera in this one and I got special dispensation to use it! My daughter says it's adorable, the elbow-patch pals. I think so, too!
|Thursday, January 11th, 2018|
|2018 -- the New Year
We've been having fun entertaining our daughter, son-in-law and 18-month-old granddaughter for the past couple of weeks. We see them every other week on Skype, but this is the first time they've been here in person for many months. The last time I saw our granddaughter in person, she was barely crawling and now she's toddling and babbling and very, very active. We now know everything about our house that isn't childproofed.
Now that the visit is over, we set about putting everything back in place from where it was hidden to keep the little girl safe.
The temperature has been all over the map. We had another flirtation with flurries a couple of weeks ago. Snow was recorded at the airport, but nothing like what we saw in early December. The temps have been down to the 30s, up to the 70s (earlier today) and back down to the 30s (tonight).
Over at News from the Dead Zone
, I posted a year-end summary and a look forward to the year in Stephen King news. I signed my first short story contract of 2018 (the project hasn't been announced yet, so I'll hold off on more details until it is) and am getting very close to signing another contract for something that will be out toward the end of the year. I'm awaiting the editor's feedback on the second draft of an essay I worked on late last year, so I'll have that to play with next week, more than likely. I also have a new short story I'm contemplating before launching fully into novel-writing mode for 2018.
I finally got to see The Last Jedi
last weekend, and I managed to avoid all spoilers before doing so. It wasn't that hard--I just looked away from any articles or posts that mentioned Star Wars. I was amused by the way the gung-ho pilot who always breaks the rules was relegated to the role of dinosaur in this film and the level-headed women were the voices of reason, even when it seemed like they weren't. The female characters in general ran the show in this film, and I'm completely okay with that. I found it interesting that a significant part of the movie dealt with a side-mission that not only didn't accomplish what it set out to do, it ended up making things significantly worse. If those characters had done nothing at all, things would have been better for the "good guys." I thought the porgs were cute, and I laughed at the scene where Chewie is trying to have his dinner of roast porg while the others give him big sad puppy eyes. They were good comic relief inside the Millennium Falcon, too. I patted myself on the back for figuring out the clue about the red earth under the salt during the big battle at the end. I had no issues whatsoever with the resolution of Luke's story. I thought it was a good, solid addition to the Star Wars saga. Not OMG good, but good.
I've been watching the series Travelers
on Netflix. It's about time-travelers who come from the future to try to correct things that have gone terribly wrong. They enter the bodies of people at the moment of their deaths and take over their lives moving forward. The focus is on a team led by FBI agent Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormack). His colleagues include a young woman who traveled into the body of a mentally handicapped individual, an old man who inhabits the body of a teenager, another guy who has the misfortune of being hosted by a heroin addict, and "MacLaren's" partner in the future, who is now a single mother with an abusive police officer ex. So they have to try to save the future while blending into these complicated lives in a world that they only know about in theory from far in the future. It's an interesting premise, and their personal problems are as interesting as their missions. I finished the first season and will move on to Season 2 shortly. It's produced in Canada and a lot of familiar Canadian actors appear in it, including McCormack, who was born and raised in Ontario.
|Friday, December 29th, 2017|
|Year-end review, part 3: publications
We finally saw the Doctor Who
Christmas special last night. [mild spoilers ahead]
The story hearkens back to the beginning with the appearance of the first Doctor and it is the swan song for the twelfth, as well as the end of the Steven Moffat era. New things are in the offing with the appearance of the first female Doctor, although we'll have to wait until the fall to see how it all plays out. It was nice that, for once, the alien incursion was not hostile, and it was good to see the Doctor a little befuddled by that discovery. It had a few good cameos, although at times it felt overly drawn out, like the parody of how an actor stretches out his death scene in an old Western. I liked the interplay between the two Doctors, especially the way #1
made fun of some of the things that had evolved with his character and "ship" in the intervening 1500 years. (It's also funny to consider what an utter bastard David Bradley played in Game of Thrones
.) I absolutely did not recognize Mark Gattis as the soldier until I saw he after-show scene with the table read for the episode. And the scene of the legendary World War I Armistice was terrific. And I loved the 13th Doctor's first word, her reaction to the revelation. Brilliant!
2017 was a pretty good year for publications. This collage above contains the covers of all the physical venues where my work appeared this year. I had six new short stories come out this year: "Truth or Dare?" in Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
, "Aeliana" in СИЯНИЕ В МРАКА
, the Bulgarian translation of Shining in the Dark
and my first publication in that language, "The Halloween Tree" in Halloween Carnival: Volume Four
, "Sticky Business" in Snowbound: The Best New England Crime Stories 2017
, "The Illusion" in The Shadow Over Deathlehem
and "Pain-Man" in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine
, a market I've been trying to crack for many years.
I wrote the introduction to a new edition of The Godsend
by Bernard Taylor from Centipede Press and my interview with Richard Chizmar and Stephen King has appeared in multiple venues, including Where Nightmares Come From
. My essay on King's crime fiction appears in Reading Stephen King
from Cemetery Dance Publications. I contributed several items to Horror Literature through History: An Encyclopedia of the Stories that Speak to Our Deepest Fears.
Hank Wagner and I discussed Stranger Things
in Dead Reckonings #21
and I reviewed Sleeping Beauties
in DR #22
At Cemetery Dance Online (aka News from the Dead Zone
), I reviewed The Dark Tower
, Gerald's Game
and Sleeping Beauties
. I got to attend my first movie premiere (The Dark Tower
, in Bangor) and my first press screening of a film (It
, in Houston, a week after Hurricane Harvey). I also made my first appearance on Sirius XM satellite radio when Robin Furth and I spent the better part of an hour talking about all things King with Anthony Brenzican of Entertainment Weekly
All in all, as I said, a pretty good year, and I already have a number of things cued up for 2018, including one huge project about which I'm terribly excited but can say absolutely nothing about. If the stars align, my novella project with Brian Keene might see the light of day next year, too. Here's hoping.
In some aspects, this was a dismal year, though. Let's hope for better in the New Year.
|Thursday, December 28th, 2017|
|Year-end review, part 2: movies and TV
Within a few minutes of each other I received what I assume will be the last acceptance and rejection letters of 2017. The rejection was for a story that I really like that's been out for a long time, so I look forward to taking another pass through it and finding it another home. The acceptance is for an anthology that won't be out until 2019, so at least I have something queued up for the year after next!
My short story "The Illusion" is included in the new charity anthology Shadows over Deathleham
. This is book four in the popular holiday anthology series to benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. It is available as a print edition
or for Kindle
.Issue #76 of Cemetery Dance magazine
is shipping soon. I have four articles in this one: my usual News from the Dead Zone column, a book review (Sleeping Beauties
), an interview with Mike Flanagan (director of Gerald's Game
) and a reprint of my interview with Richard Chizmar and Stephen King about "Gwendy's Button Box."
I watched a series on Amazon called Tin Star
. It stars Tim Roth as a British law enforcement type who becomes sheriff of a small town in Alberta, Canada. The town is becoming home to a plant extracting oil from the tar sands, which is bringing money and trouble. Christina Hendricks plays the PR wonk who tries to get the town to swallow the bitter pill. It has a number of recognizable Canadian actor, including the old sheriff from Haven
. The series reminds me of a blend of Banshee
and Sons of Anarchy
. The sheriff is a recovering alcoholic and something happens at the very beginning of the first episode to push him into a dark place. The tall Quebecois who is head of security for the oil company is a dangerous force. Plus the sheriff has a teenage daughter. And someone's trying to kill him. In one of my favorite scenes, he stirs up trouble with a biker gang. They catch up with him and he knows he's in for a beating. They tell him he's in for a beating. So he voluntarily lies down on the sidewalk, gets into a tight crouch and lets them kick the crap out of him. It stars with a bang and ends with a bang. Stay tuned for season 2.
Last night I started Department Q
, a Danish series of three noir movies, adapted from novels. The scripts are by Nicolaj Arcel, who adapted The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
(the original version) and directed The Dark Tower
. The main character is a former homicide cop who makes a bad call and gets busted down to a newly formed division, located in the basement, where he is expected to read cold case files and file closure reports at the rate of three a week. Of course, he finds a case that intrigues him and he goes well beyond his mandate, dragging his unwilling but affable Muslim partner along with him. This guy is about as emotion-free as they come, but he's a good cop. The first one is called The Keeper of Lost Causes
. One way it differs from the usual cold case show is that the viewer is supplied with more information than the cops, via flashbacks to the scenes of the crime, as it were.
OK, yesterday it was my top books of the year. Today, let's move on to top films and TV series. I watched a goodly number of both in 2017, and the full list is here, if you're interested
. Boy, it sure seems a long time ago when I saw Manchester By the Sea
in the theater.
Again, in viewing order, my top 15 films of 2017
|Manchester by the Sea
||La La Land
||Beatriz at Dinner
||It (Chapter 1)
||Murder on the Orient Express
TV series is much harder list, so I'm going to go with 20:
||Hotel Beau Séjour
||Hap and Leonard
||Better Call Saul
||The Leftovers S3
|Anne with an 'E'
||Twin Peaks: The Return
||Game of Thrones S7
||Top of the Lake: China Girl
||Stranger Things 2
||The Crown S2
|Wednesday, December 27th, 2017|
|Year-end review, part 1: books
My buddy Glenn Chadbourne pinged me on Facebook earlier this month to verify the name of the device used in King's novel End of Watch
. He was working on the Christmas card design for King's office. Yesterday, I was rewarded with the fruits of his labors: a card from that very office with Glenn's creepy characters enjoying their equally creepy presents. I do believe I see Gwendy's button box, as well as a Pennywise ornament and an eerie recumbent figure, in addition to other familiar gift items.
We watched the Christmas special last night. No, not that
one. Call the Midwives
, which featured a story from the end of 1962 and early 1963, a time during which London endured the Big Freeze, one of the coldest on record in the United Kingdom. This meteorological event had numerous consequences (people dying, waterworks freezing, travel impeded) that are used to good measure in this story. It's not without tragedy and heartbreak, but it's the Christmas special, so everything's all right in the end. Except for the dead people. I have yet to see Doctor Who
. Maybe tomorrow night.
We watched Victoria and Abdul
the other evening. It's the fictionalized story of the real-life relationship between Queen Victoria and a Muslim from Agra, India who became part of her inner household for the last fifteen years of her life. Judi Dench reprises her role from Mrs. Brown
with panache, although I saw some presumably valid critiques of the story in the way it whitewashes and minimizes the effect of England on India at the time. Still, we enjoyed it in the same way we enjoyed The Crown
: recognizing that it is, for the most part, a work of fiction with historical characters.
Tomorrow, I look more in depth at the movies and TV series I watched in 2017. Today is about books. By my tally, I read over 60 novels and novellas this year. The number is a little imprecise because I read some books more than once, for purposes of review, and I read some things I can't yet talk about. If you're interested, the full list (with aforementioned caveats) is here
I'm rubbish when it comes to top-X lists. I would spend too much time quibbling with myself over whether this is #7
. So I present here my top fifteen books from 2017 in no particular order. Or, rather, in the order in which I read them, which is about as random an ordering as I could come up with:
|Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
||Final Girls by Riley Sager
|Ill Will by Dan Chaon
||Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein
|Sourdough by Robin Sloan
||The Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers
|The Force by Don Winslow
||Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King
|If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? by Alan Alda
||Strange Weather by Joe Hill
|Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker
||The Ghosts of Galway by Ken Bruen
|IQ by Joe Ide
||A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré
|Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner
I posted 21 reviews at my book review blog, Onyx Reviews. The list of reviews with links to them can be found here
|Friday, December 8th, 2017|
|It's beginning to look a lot like...
Reports of snow in Texas started coming in yesterday evening. I saw comments on social media from Laredo, Austin and San Antonio. The forecasters said we might get flurries in the Greater Houston area, and when I went to bed the precipitation was decidedly thick. Sleet, at the very least, but it wasn't accumulating.
So imagine my surprise when I looked out the back window at 5:00 am and saw: a very confused and irate possum. Oh, yeah, and snow all over the ground and trees.
For perspective, the fence behind it is six feet tall and that big black thing to the right, with the snow all over it, is our gas barbecue. This possum was big! At least as large as a cat.
I took a few pictures then went up to my office to work for a couple of hours. I looked out the window later, after the sun was up, and realized how beautiful it looked outside, so I went out and snapped some pictures.
The ground was warm enough to melt the snow, but it was still 32° out, so the snow stayed on the trees and bushes. The grandson of our neighbor across the street built a little snowman. Overpasses and bridges froze, so there were plenty of accidents in the area. No one around here knows how to drive in the winter. School openings were delayed to give the roads a chance to clear. Surprisingly, by mid-morning, there was still snow on the trees and car rooftops. No doubt it will all be gone soon enough, but it was a pleasant surprise. Alas, there's no way to hold onto it for Christmas, when family arrives for vacation.
My binge viewing this week was the new German series on Netflix, Dark
. Some people are referring to it as Darker Things
, and there are a few comparisons to be drawn to Stranger Things
, but it is very much its own thing. As much as I liked the Duffer Brothers' series (and I liked it a lot
), I think I liked this one even more. I never knew what was coming next (although I did guess one of the major mysteries early on). Other comparisons have been made to Twin Peaks
, but it's not quite that weird, and to Lost
, which I think has merit. I see a strong connection to 11/22/63
. It takes place in 2019 in a small German village that benefited from the building of the first nuclear power plant in Germany in 1960. That plant is about to be decommissioned. A boy has been missing for nearly two weeks and by the end of the first episode another one will disappear. There are ties to events from 33 years earlier (and, ultimately, to 33 years before that
). It's a creepy mystery with dead sheep and mutilated bodies and plummeting birds.
The default play mode on Netflix is to overdub the audio with English voices, but that is terrible, in my opinion. Play around with your settings and switch to German audio (not German descriptions, which is also an option) and English subtitles for a far better viewing experience. My biggest problem with the series was the fact that there's a very large cast of completely unfamiliar actors, and some characters appear as younger versions of themselves played by different actors. The director takes some steps to help viewers link up who is who, but it can still get somewhat confusing. I feel like I need to watch it all over again, now that I'm more familiar with the characters.
That past influences the future, but the future also influences the past. It's cleverly constructed and they obviously knew the ending when they started or else none of it would hold together. I have no doubt it will get picked up for a second season, and I cannot wait.