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|Thursday, October 25th, 2018|
|I think they're going to play my ring tone
As long as I've had a cell phone that allows you to customize the ring tone, I've used "Sirius" by Alan Parsons. You know the one, the lead in to "Eye in the Sky" made famous by the Chicago Bulls for the lineup introduction at home games.
Last night we got to see the Alan Parsons Live Project in concert at the Stafford Center, 22 years after we saw the original Project live. The venue is a long way from us, on the southwest side of the city, and it was raining very hard, so it took us well over an hour to get there. That didn't leave us with much time to eat before the show, so we went to Whataburger, the first time I've been to that famous Texas institution. It was o-kay.
I bought the tickets for the show long enough ago that I didn't remember where our seats were, so we were pleasantly surprised to be ushered to the fourth row from the orchestra pit. The venue was really nice, a small arts theater probably more used to symphonic music or stage plays. Reminded me a bit of the Rebecca Cohn Arts Center at my alma mater, Dalhousie University, which is where I first discovered Alan Parsons' music thanks to my next door neighbor, Rob Levings, during freshman year in residence.
The show started only a few minutes after the designated time, 7:30, and there was no opening act. The band consisted of a drummer who probably burned 5000 calories during the show (no joking, the guy was a maniac), a keyboard player, a percussionist/saxophone and recorder playing vocalist, a bass player, two guitar players, a lead singer and Mr. Parsons himself, who played keyboards, strummed guitars and sang lead on a couple of songs (including "Don't Answer Me" and "Eye in the Sky"). The sound engineer served double duty by emerging in the audience (behind us) during one song to play the violin.
We were pretty much the average demographic. There weren't many people much younger than us, although there were quite a few who were older. A lot of people around us were Alan Parsons experts. A couple behind us was related to the lead singer (P.J. Olson).
They performed all the hits fans would recognize and, to our delight, they played the entire I Robot
album straight through. At first, I wondered at the wisdom of this, as there are some challenging, experimental songs (notably the final "Genesis Ch.1 V.32"), but it was awesome. For the song "Breakdown," which features a huge choir in the background, the audience became the choir. We were coached in our two lines and belted them out with gusto:
Freedom, freedom, we will not obey
Freedom, freedom, take the wall away
Sounds like an anthem for today, doesn't it? After a beautiful rendition of "Don't Let it Show," Parsons said, "This is place where you used to have to get up and turn the record over. Now we'll play Side 2."
I've heard a lot of Alan Parsons concerts before, but this is the first one I know of where the band got to do solos, showcasing their impressive skills. This is also the first concert I can think of where I was close enough to the stage to hear the drummer live rather than through the sound system. He was amazing. At least twice I saw shards of his drumsticks go flying over his shoulder.
Before the song "Limelight," Parsons paid tribute to his former colleague, the late Eric Woolfson, saying that the song reflected Woolfson's thoughts about being and not being in the limelight. He had us turn on the lights on our phones during the chorus (which I captured in the slideshow below). He also admonished people to not take video of the concert. Photographs were okay. Not only did recording video violate their copyright, he said, the songs will sound crappy, which to a sound engineer is probably the greater offence.
They played for a solid two hours without intermission. With a revolving group of singers, it's probably easier for them to do that, although I feared for the drummer, who was casting off sweat at an amazing rate. After a brief gap for an encore demand, they came back to play "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Feather" and a rousing version of "Games People Play" to wrap up the night. It was a fantastic show. Here are a few highlights.
|Monday, October 22nd, 2018|
|Shoot / don't shoot
An interesting weekend. For one thing, I received two short story acceptances within about an hour of each other. That's always nice. One of the stories is about ten years old and has been out the door over a dozen times. Finally, it sold to a pro-paying market, so the moral of the story is: stick with it!
The second story has a slightly shorter lifespan, but it was written four or five years ago. It didn't get submitted as frequently because there weren't many markets where it would fit, but I finally found the perfect one. The other unusual aspect about this submission is that I sent it in to the market a little over a year ago, and then forgot about it. When I was revisiting my submission log a few weeks ago, I decided to query the market, only to discover that they had no record of ever having received it. So I sent it in again and had my positive response within a couple of weeks.
All very cool.
I spent most of Saturday role-playing at the Montgomery County Sheriff Office Citizen's Police Academy. We were given a number of scenarios that were fairly common in the life of a police officer, and we had to be the cops and decide how to handle them. To add realism to the situations, we were given "air soft" guns that are virtually identical to real Glocks and other hand guns. They have CO2 cartridges in the magazine area and fire pellets hard enough to raise bruises. (Yes, we wore eye protection.) To get us comfortable with the guns, the first thing the deputy running the event did was ask for a volunteer to shoot him. I stepped up.
I think I'm the only person in the class who does not own a firearm and has rarely shot one. The last time I fired a gun was when I attended the Houston Police Department's Civilian Police Academy a number of years ago. They took us to the firing range one evening and we got to shoot a clip at a target. I did surprisingly well that time. I still have the target, with a decent narrow spread. This time I took aim at the officer's chest from about 10 feet away...and shot him in the arm!
The first batch of scenarios were domestic violence calls, which are among the most dangerous and unpredictable situations in which police officers find themselves. Very often, we were stumped at how to proceed once things went in a difficult direction. In the afternoon, we acted out "routine" traffic stops, most of which were anything but. Armed suspects, people who decide to flee, people who act unpredictably. It was fun, but it was also enlightening. Here are a few photos
from the weekend and earlier sessions we had with the Crime Scene Investigators (where we saw some real-life lifted fingerprints that look nothing like what you see on TV) and the bus that took us off to tour the jail.
On Saturday evening, we saw Patton Oswalt (pictured above) "in concert." The opening comedian didn't get a formal introduction, and he only called himself Richard, so I have no idea who he was. My favorite part of Oswalt's show is when he turns his attention to the people in the front row. He usually picks three, and the final one was pure comedy gold, a professional wedding singer that he got a lot of mileage out of. I guess I've been to a stand-up show before (my wife says we saw one back in the 90s), but I don't recall it at all. This one was quite memorable. In the picture above, he suddenly noticed the strange backdrop on the stage and invited people in the audience to take a picture and tweet them at him.
Last night we watched "Rosa," the latest episode of Doctor Who
. We were greatly impressed by it. Although there was an alien entity acting as the bad guy, the worst villains in the episode were human.
|Friday, October 19th, 2018|
|Scene of the Crime
It's been a while since I've written a post. Busy times--have to prioritize, and blogging hasn't been high on the list. I'm working on a new short story that required quite a bit of research, but also trying (as always) to get my desk clear so I can devote time to working on a novel. The perennial chase for time.
Keeping busy with Flight or Fright
-related stuff, too. Scribner will be publishing the anthology in trade paperback next June. You can see all the details here
, including their cover. New edition means more proofing, etc., which I expect will land on my desk shortly.
I've done a few interviews lately, including one that was translated into French for Club Stephen King (English and French versions available here
), a long podcast interview with Eddie Generous for his Unnerving Magazine podcast (available here
) and an interview with Justin Hamelin for Mangled Matters' 50 Days of Halloween
Anthology readers continue to take me up on my suggestion that they send me photographs of the book on airplanes. The most recent one was from a pilot who snapped a photo of Flight or Fright
in the cockpit of an A321. He assured me that he didn't read while flying the plane. Here's a slideshow of the images people have sent me so far
(Click the Inflight Entertainment tab). Keep 'em coming!
Speaking of Halloween (which I was, a couple of paragraphs back), Amazon has put together a series page for last year's Halloween Carnival eBooks
, edited by Brian Freeman. Volume 4 contains my story "The Halloween Tree," and 'tis the season, after all.
A week from today sees the launch of Fantastic Tales Of Terror: History's Darkest Secrets
, edited by Eugene Johnson for Crystal Lake Publishing. The theme of the anthology is that there supernatural events occurred around many of our most famous incidents and people. My story, "Ray and the Martian," reveals that Ray Bradbury had a close encounter with a Martian in Roswell, NM (he really did live there, briefly, long before Area 51) that inspired his fascination with the red planet.
For the past several weeks, I've been participating in the Citizen's Police Academy offered (for free) by the Montgomery Country Sheriff's Office. Each week we get presentations from all of the different divisions that are part of MCSO. Most recently, we heard from the Homicide and Violent Crimes division. On other weeks, we heard from Crime Scene Analysts, Narcotics and Organized Crime, Livestock Division, and we spent one evening touring the county jail. I'll write more about this adventure in my next post: tomorrow we are spending the day doing shoot/don't shoot scenarios where we get to play the cops and the cops get to play the bad guys. We'll be using toy guns that should pellets, but these toys look like the real thing, with magazine and slides and safety switches and all that. Should be fun. Then we're off to see Patton Oswalt in Houston. Other than the time we went to a driver's ed class run by Laugh Stop, I think this is the first time I've ever gone to a live comedy show.
|Monday, September 17th, 2018|
Today marks my 29th year working for the same company. Granted it's gone through a couple of name and regime changes over the years, but it's still much the same place and there are a few people who were here when I joined up in 1989 who are also still here now.
I was pleasantly surprised on Friday when I received a Google alert to the Publishers Weekly hardcover nonfiction listing
, where Flight or Fright
appears in the #17
position. Some interesting details about that appearance. First, the book was published by a small press, so it's fairly rare for one of them to appear on any kind of list like this. Back in the day, the Donald M. Grant edition of Wizard and Glass
made it into some brick-and-mortar stores and it became the first-ever small press edition to appear on the NY Times list. Also, this is only for hardcover sales, not for audiobook or ebook sales. And, more importantly, this is only for sales from retail stores that report to PW. The entry pictured here shows about 3300 copies sold. However, Cemetery Dance reported advanced orders of over 30,000 copies several weeks ago. If those had been taken into account, the book would probably have appeared in the #1
position. The J.D. Robb novel in that position sold 28000 copies for the week.
I had a nice, wide-ranging 90-minute chat with Jeremy Lloyd of the Dark Tower Radio podcast on Saturday afternoon. Here is his description of the broadcast, which you can listen to here
On this episode Jeremy is joined by author of The Dark Tower Companion, The Road to the Dark Tower, The Stephen King Illustrated Companion and the co-editor of the new anthology Flight or Fright the one and only Bev Vincent. They discuss Bev's history with the works of Stephen King, the new King renaissance and the new anthology he worked on with Stephen King, Flight or Fright. So hunker down fasten your seat belt and return your seat and tray tables to their upright positions and tune your dial to Dark Tower Radio and enjoy the palaver.
We watched The Children Act
on the weekend, based on the Ian McEwan novel of the same name. It stars Emma Thompson as a judge who must decide whether a 17-year-old (who is only a few months from 18) can be forced to accept a life-saving blood transfusion despite his Jehovah's Witness belief that it will pollute and damn him. Stanley Tucci plays her husband. There's one thing in the story that isn't well explained: she decides to visit the boy in the hospital before making her decision. Everyone agrees it's highly unusual, and it sets the rest of the story in motion, but in retrospect we couldn't come up with a satisfactory explanation for why she might have done it. Except for that puzzler, it's a good film.
|Wednesday, September 5th, 2018|
The past couple of days have been exciting. Previously when I had a new book out, things were fairly low-key. We celebrated with a dinner or something, but there wasn't a whole lot of fanfare.
Things are completely different with Flight or Fright
. For one thing, three different publishers are involved: Cemetery Dance, Simon & Schuster audio and Hodder & Stoughton in the UK.
Yesterday, I was stunned to receive a floral arrangement from my co-editor. Truly bowled over. Then, when I got home last night I found a package from the group at Hodder & Stoughton (see picture). It contained an oversized congratulatory card (about 12" x 8") signed by editorial and marketing, together with a trade paperback of the H&S edition (for Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and airside at UK airports), cleverly packaged in an airsickness bag.
Today, Simon & Schuster audio
has been releasing excerpts of the audiobook all over the place. You can hear (and see) Steve read from "The Turbulence Expert
," hear an excerpt of Corey Stall reading Joe Hill's "You Are Released
" and another of him reading from my story, "Zombie's on a Plane
(picture below)," Santino Fontana reading from Cody Goodfellow's "Diablitos
" and Christian Coulson reading from Roald Dahl’s "They Shall Not Grow Old
." Finally, there's a YouTube video of Norbert Leo Butz (Kevin Rayburn from the Netflix series Bloodline
) greeting people from the Simon & Schuster studio
as he's reading "The Flying Machine" and "The Fifth Category."
Also, new reviews, including one from Mike Ripley at SHOTS eZine in the UK
. Thus far, the response has been terrific. Everyone seems to be enjoying our collection of turbulent tales. We did get a 1-star review on Amazon from someone incredulous that anyone who flies regularly would want to read scary flying stories, without commenting on the stories at all.
Oh, yeah, and there was also this article at The Ringer
called The King Chroniclers
, for which I was interviewed a while back.
We didn't even get to have a celebratory dinner last night, though, because I spent the entire evening at the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office Citizen Police Academy. We'll rectify that tonight.
I finally got to the end of Season 2 of Jessica Jones
. I enjoyed the season, perhaps even moreso than Season 1, but I kept getting interrupted by other things. And I saw the final episode of Castle Rock
, which I'm sure will have people talking. I'm looking forward to seeing how people respond to it.
I also managed to get a few book reviews done recently, all for books that are either just out or soon to be out:
|Tuesday, September 4th, 2018|
Flight or Fright
was born in a diner across the road from Bangor International Airport thirteen months ago, almost to the day. By the end of 2017, we had a mostly complete manuscript, although there were still some pending revisions to make, and it took us a few months after that until all the contracts from the contributors were in hand.
Now it's a reality. Well, it has been for a little while, with Cemetery Dance shipping copies for the past couple of weeks. But today is the official publication day for our anthology of turbulent tales, tales to take your mind off a bumpy flight. The reviews so far have been overwhelmingly positive, and I've heard from a number of readers who have enjoyed the stories we assembled.
Not only has the book been published in the US and the UK, in hardcover, ebook and audio, we have ten foreign translations already nailed down with, hopefully, more to follow.
It's been a helluva ride so far. I'm tempted to make all sorts of flying/air travel puns, but I'll restrain myself. With a seat belt.
It was my wife's birthday this past weekend. We had a quiet time of it, but we watched a bunch of movies. The only one in the cinema was Juliet, Naked
, based on the Nick Hornby novel. It stars Rose Byrne as a woman whose long-time live-in boyfriend (Chris O'Dowd) is obsessed with an American musician who only ever released one album. When the boyfriend receives a copy of the original demos and can't stop going on about it, she posts a scathing review on his message board and receives a reply from the musician himself (Ethan Hawke), the man to whom O'Dowd's character has built a shrine in her basement. They become penpals. Hilarity ensues. A nice rom-com with all sorts of unexpected twists and turns.
We watched Book Club
, starring Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen and Diane Keaton as four long-time friends who meet monthly to discuss books. When Fifty Shades
is introduced, they all begin wondering about the current states of their love lives and make some decisions that surprise themselves and/or each other. We finally got to see Annihilation
, based on Jeff Vandermeer's novel. The book is somewhat recognizable in the film, but a lot has been left out and changed, particularly toward the ending. We both enjoyed it, although I found myself missing some of the bits that didn't make it into the film. Our least favorite film of the weekend was called Breaking and Exiting
. It stars Mel Gibson's son and Jordan Hinson, the latter of which also wrote the script. It's about a burglar who breaks into a house only to find a woman attempting to commit suicide in the bathtub. For some reason he decides (after pointing out that she'd taken the wrong kind of pills and supplying her with some that would do the trick) to stick around and talk her out of killing herself. It's a weird movie that defies explanation time and time again. You might recognize Hinson as Zoe from the SyFy series Eureka
, which explains why Colin Ferguson (who played her father) shows up in a cameo as a cop. We almost turned the movie off during the first 30 minutes. Finally we saw Jeremy Irons in An Author Prepares
as a self-absorbed famous actor who has a heart attack and is forced to drive from L.A. to N.Y. with his semi-estranged son to his daughter's wedding. En route, he does all the things he's not supposed to do, including drinking, eating unhealthy foods and carousing. It's a lighter than usual role for Irons, and we got a kick out of it.
I also read Joe Lansdale's Hap and Leonard novel Jackrabbit Smile
. It forms the loose basis for Season 3 of the Sundance series, although only very loosely. I found it fascinating to pick out the framework of the novel as distilled into the show and the creative decisions they made in "adapting" it.
|Wednesday, August 29th, 2018|
Only six more days to go until Flight or Fright
is officially published, although Cemetery Dance has been sending out copies to advanced purchasers for a while now. I took a box to Killer Con in Austin last weekend and sold most of them, including to Patrick Frievald, pictured here, who seems to have frightened everyone else off his flight with it.
We went to a concert/rally in support of Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic candidate for Senate, last Thursday. A few local bands got the crowd pumped up (we saw VODI and Wild Moccassins), then the candidate took the stage and spoke for the better part of an hour. It's a standing-room-only venue, and it was packed. We were near the front and got to see O'Rourke up close. He's passionate, energetic, and he's running on a campaign that isn't against anything or anyone (except, maybe Betsy DeVoss), but rather running for certain beliefs and tenets. He's closed to within the margin of error of the despicable Ted Cruz, funded solely on small donations, no PACs, and he seems to be outraising Cruz by a significant margin. Here's hoping all that enthusiasm carries into November.
On Friday, I drove to Austin for KillerCon, a convention that Wrath James White launched in Las Vegas that he has now migrated to the Texas capital. It's a small, intimate weekend with a single-track schedule, which means you never have to miss something in favor of something else. I registered very late, so I wasn't included in any of the programming, but I had a terrific time nonetheless. It was good to catch up with people like Brian Keene, Mary SanGiovanni, Kelli Owen, Jeff Strand, Edward Lee, Joe, Keith and Kasey Lansdale, as well as meeting a number of new people. The two highlights of the programming for me were the "hot wing" challenge, in which several authors consumed progressively hotter sauces while doing things like coming up with alternate endings for their work or reading one-star reviews of their books. It was hilarious. Then there was the always entertaining "gross-out" contest, in which authors have three minutes to read a gross but funny story. Comedy gold. As with any con, though, the social aspect is the biggest draw. I ended up staying up really late on Saturday night talking to people in the con suite, fueled in large part by a killer Cuba Libre mixed by Stephen Kozeniewski. I haven't been up that late in ages.
We watched a couple of movies on the weekend. First was Won't You Be My Nieighbor?
the Fred Rogers documentary. He was an amazing, motivational, inspiring guy, and this film does him proper service. His life had a terrific trajectory and he remained true to his beliefs all the way through. Highly recommended. Then we saw Oceans 8
, a decent caper film in the tradition of the Danny Ocean movies. The scheme is well crafted and executed. My biggest complaint is that there weren't any significant wrinkles along the way that made them wing it. It was smooth sailing all the way through. There was a little surprise near the end, but I would have like more stress and trouble. Maybe even some double-dealing and deception within the group. I also saw the finale of Sharp Objects
, based on the novel by Gillian Flynn. A difficult story, bleak and vicious, but well done. The ending was very much in keeping with the show's dreamy, subliminal style.
Last night was the first night of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office Civilian Police Academy. It's running for 15 weeks, and we'll get the inside scoop on just about everything that entity does. I did the Houston Police Department's academy a number of years ago. It's terrific research material for my writing, since I'm concentrating mostly on crime fiction these days.
|Monday, August 13th, 2018|
|Concerto for a Rainy Weekend
ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) has been one of my bucket list groups for decades. Never thought I'd ever get the chance to see them in concert, but they announced a tour last fall with a stop in Houston. I bought tickets immediately. Since last November, it has always seemed like the show was far in the future, but it finally happened on Friday evening at the Toyota Center in Houston (home to the Houston Rockets basketball team).
We went into the city early to have supper after parking at the garage by the venue. We had to walk about eight blocks to the restaurant but, thankfully, I had brought an umbrella, so we didn't get too
wet when it started to rain halfway there. Lots of people around us did. One older couple (by older, I mean about our
age!) were huddled in the bushes under the overhang from an office building. As we passed, the man said, "I'll give you $10 for your umbrella!"
After a scrumptious meal, we made our way back to the garage to get rid of the umbrella (it was no longer raining and we only had to cross the street to get into the Toyota Center), we entered the venue and found our seats, near the edge of the upper bowl. The opening act was a Los Angeles-based group called Dawes, who are apparently quite popular in Houston. I've never heard of them before, but they put on a good show. At times they reminded me of Jackson Browne, at others CCR and the intro to one of their songs sounded for all the world like Pink Floyd. I'll have to check them out.
At 9:15, the lights went down (subtle ELO reference) and the main event started with "Standin' In the Rain." From that point on it was pure bliss. Every song felt like an encore. Just about any ELO hit you care to mention was played (except "Xanadu"). They also did one Traveling Wilburys song ("Handle with Care"—they showed Lynne's other
band's members on the rear-projected video) and one song from the most recent Jeff Lynne's ELO album Alone in the Universe
("When I was a Boy"). Lynne looks and sounds terrific (he's 70), and his band is fantastic. In addition to some guitars, a couple of keyboards and drums, there were two cello players and a violinist who recreated the orchestral parts of the classic ELO songs. The light show was great, with bursts of lasers, and lots of things projected onto the back screen and the stage. The audience was fully engaged during the entire concert, and my voice was raw from singing along to songs like "Don't Bring Me Down." Certainly one of the top five concerts I've ever attended. We had a blast.
Yesterday afternoon, we went to see the new Spike Lee film. We parked in the theater garage and went up the hill to our favorite pizzeria. When we left, it was pouring down rain again. I didn't have any real reason to think it might rain, but I had brought along the umbrella, so we didn't get soaked. Well, not quite as bad as we would have without it, but it was a small umbrella for two people and the rain was really strong, so my back got wet, which didn't feel so good once we got into the air conditioned theater. Still, it was in keeping with the theme of the weekend, I guess.BlacKkKlansman
is based on the real-life story of Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado Springs officer (played by Denzel Washington's son, John David Washington) who manages to go undercover with the KKK using another officer, Flip Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver). Stallworth ends up talking to David Duke a few times. Duke has political aspirations, but even Stallworth's white colleagues think there's no chance of someone like him ending up in the White House. It's played for laughs, but it's very definitely not funny.
Zimmerman—who is Jewish but non-practicing—pretending to be Stallworth, is offered the chance to become president of the local chapter. In parallel, the real Stallworth begins a relationship with black student activist Patrice Dumas without revealing he's a cop. The movie is a fascinating look inside the Klan in the late 1970s, and it becomes more of a crime thriller as the story builds to a crescendo. Most of the cops are good guys doing their jobs, although there's one bad apple amongst them and another scene involving Stallworth that will be familiar to anyone who watches the news these days. The resolution is quite satisfying. You feel good. Then there's the punch in the gut that Lee uses as a coda to the movie: real-life footage from recent confrontations between American Nazis and anti-fascist demonstrators. What a powerful statement. Definitely a must-see movie, but it will leave depressed.
|Wednesday, August 8th, 2018|
|Lots and lots of movies
We've watched a number of movies that we enjoyed recently. The most recent was Tully
, starring Charlize Theron as a mother struggling with a newborn and a son who is probably somewhere on the spectrum, although he isn't officially diagnosed, plus another daughter. See this one without reading anything about it. The less you know in advance, the more you're likely to enjoy it. Theron is impressive in an unglamorous role in which she is called upon to be brash and sarcastic on a regular basis. There is the requisite "didn't see that
coming" moment late in the game.
I finally got around to seeing Thor: Ragnarok
on the weekend. I'm still working on my MCU movie catch-up, but this one was a decent entry. A cheeky sense of humor. Especially liked the scenes between Thor and Doctor Strange, and Jeff Goldblum was a hoot. The director voiced one of the funnier minor characters with a full-on antipodean accent.
We also saw Like Father
, the new release on Netflix starring Kristen Bell as a workaholic bride-to-be and Kelsey Grammer as her long-estranged father. Improbably, they end up on a week-long cruise together in one of the honeymoon suites while they attempt to ignore each other (at first) and get past their long-standing issues. Lots of cute scenes, and it's a low-risk film, a rom-com without the rom, really. Seth Rogan plays an awkward Canadian divorcé, and his wife directed the movie. It has the hugest and most pervasive instance of product placement of which I'm aware: the Royal Caribbean cruise ship that is almost a character. Not a very demanding film, but we liked it well enough.Final Portrait
is a Geoffrey Rush showcase written and directed by Stanley Tucci. Rush plays real-life tortured artist Alberto Giacometti, who asks a friend (played by Armie Hammer) to pose for a portrait at his Paris atelier. It's only supposed to take a couple of hours, but it stretches into days and then weeks, with Giacometti occasionally painting over much of what he's accomplished in a fit of pique and artistic melodrama. Rush throws himself into the role and at first you wonder whether he'd be an interesting person to know but later you'd probably decide he'd be tedious to be around. He was a conspicuous philanderer, to boot. The big question is why the friend, James Lord, would put up with Giacometti's behavior for so long, especially when he had pressing business in America. Tony Shalhoub (Monk
) is almost unrecognizable as Giacometti's brother, who has seen this all before. It's a rare dramatic turn for him, and he's quite good in it.
I was surprised by Red Sparrow
, the Jennifer Lawrence Soviet spy thriller. Based on trailers from back when it was first released, I expected her to be more of a femme fatale. Instead, it turns out she was forced into the sparrow program by her lascivious uncle. There is a decent amount of ambiguity to the story: which side is she really playing, and is she an agent, a double agent, a treble agent or what? We enjoyed the unexpected turn of events at the end. Also stars Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker (briefly, as a ditzy and drunken US politician), and Jeremy Irons. It took a critical drubbing, but it wasn't as bad as we were led to believe it might be.
We also saw The Leisure Seeker
, with Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland as a couple of a certain age. She decides to dust off the old Winnebago (which bears the same nickname as the film) for one last long vacation trek with her husband, who has dementia. Her goal is the Florida Keys, because Sutherland was a big fan of Hemingway. They have numerous adventures along the way, and Sutherland's character swims in and out of awareness. He's well enough to drive (if she gives directions), but a lot of the time he doesn't know where they are or, indeed who they are. Mirren's character is frustrated when he suddenly recognizes a student he had many years ago, everything about her, but then a few minutes later can't recall their children's names. It's a poignant film about a difficult situation that has an ending you might see coming...or maybe not. Two great actors doing their best with a road movie for the ages.
On the TV front, I watched La Forêt
) on Netflix, a French crime series that reminded me a little of Broadchurch
. The local police gets a new boss on the same day that a teenage girl goes missing. The disappearance calls to mind a similar incident from a decade earlier when two girls went missing. All the signs point toward the culprit being someone from the village, which makes long-time friends and acquaintances suddenly suspicious and wary of each other. There is a vaguely supernatural air to the story, which also involves a French teacher who was a foundling who may have lived in a cave in the woods for some prolonged stretch when she was six or seven years old. Not quite as well done as Broadchurch
, but I enjoyed it, and it's a breezy six episodes.
I also saw The Rain
, a Danish series that starts off with a misguided scientist seeding rainclouds with a virus that he thinks will "fix" humanity. Instead, it kills off almost everyone. His two children, a teenage daughter and her younger brother, spend years in a bunker until they're forced to emerge, where they join up with a group of other young people. The rain is still deadly, so they have to take cover every time the clouds grow dark, and there are various groups of people they need to be wary of, including paramilitary guys in armed vehicles scooping up survivors in search of someone who might be immune. There are some real surprises from episode to episode, the individual characters have interesting back-stories and it's definitely open for a second season. I liked it a lot.
|Wednesday, July 25th, 2018|
|Salmon of Doubt
I remember a time when you set your VCR / DVR and it did exactly what you told it to do, and nothing else. If a show was delayed starting because of an overlong basketball game, you missed part of the program.
Now, DVRs are smart. If something is delayed, it knows. And if something random comes along that's associated with a series you record, it grabs that, too. Thus, we ended up with a recording of a "lost episode" of Doctor Who
that I would have otherwise missed. The episode, titled "Shada," was written by Douglas Adams (of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
fame) during the Tom Baker / Romana / K-9 era.
As with these things, there's a story behind the story. Apparently Adams wanted to write a series where the Doctor decided to retire from traveling, but the BBC didn't want that. Adams decided to procrastinate writing the show (something for which he was famous), thinking that if he waited long enough, the producers would have no choice but to allow him to write what he wanted. That strategy didn't work, and he was forced to write a new story, which is this one.
They started filming it, but because of a strike by technicians, it was never completed. Last year, someone decided to get it ready for presentation. The actors, of course, have aged a tad in the intervening decades (it was originally supposed to air in 1980), but they were still around, so the missing footage was animated, and the original actors provided the voices. I'd say about a third of the 3-hour (including commercials) show is animated. A lot of it was filmed in Cambridge (scenes of the Doctor punting on the River Cam were used in The Five Doctors
when Baker declined to participate in that project). Most of what was animated takes place in various space ships.
It's an okay story, dealing with a guy who has come to Earth to recover a Gallifreyan book he needs to locate a Time Lord penal colony that all the Time Lords have forgotten about. There's an old, forgetful university professor with the very obvious name Chronotis, and a student who borrows books, and a floating sphere that can suck a person's mind dry. The usual Doctor stuff. A few scenes are very Adams-esque, especially one near the end where a don of the college tries to convince a bobby that someone has stolen a room from the university, to which the bobby responds that the number of times a room has been stolen is very low...in fact, it is zero, he concludes. Apparently Adams recycled some of the characters for his novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
It's been a long time since I read that book, so I didn't realize that.
In modern hands, the whole thing would probably have been an hour long. A lot of time is spent twiddling knobs and turning dials, but that was the era, when they weren't wibbledy-wobbly and talking a hundred miles a second.
The show ends with a funny cameo by 83-year-old Tom Baker, who plays the Doctor again, with a wink and a sly nod to the passage of time. It's fun to see something new from that era, so if you get a chance, check it out!
|Monday, July 23rd, 2018|
|That Derry Air
I learned late last week that Flight or Fright
is already going into a second printing with Cemetery Dance, and publication is still six weeks away. So that's pretty cool.
In other publishing news, Simon & Schuster audio is going to release Shining in the Dark
as an audiobook next February. I received my Czech copy last week. (Or, as I told my wife, the Czech was in the mail, har-de-har-har.)
Normally, I would be writing about my NECON experiences right about now, but this year I had a scheduling conflict that prevented me from attending. Turns out, if I had opted for NECON, I would probably have had to cancel because of a day-job obligation. As it was, I was able to duck out mid-day on Friday and catch a plane for Bangor. A group of friends who know each other through Stephen King's message board held their annual King Kon in that city this year, and a few people were invited, including Robin Furth, Glenn Chadbourne and me.
I got in late (very late) on Friday. So late that all the traffic signals in the city were flashing. It was a little disconcerting and disorienting, driving down Stillwater Avenue. Most of them were flashing yellow, but the odd one was flashing red and with my limited color perception, I had to look very carefully to make sure I didn't cruise through one of the latter. I was driving a Kia Niro, my first time behind the wheel of a hybrid. It was a little strange, driving something that is so quiet
. At times I wasn't sure if the car was running.
On Saturday late morning, I meandered into downtown Bangor, where I took the above picture, which reminded me of a certain scene from It
. No floating balloons, though. That would have been awesome/creepy. I only went a few blocks when I met Gerald Winters, owner of the King bookstore in town. We chatted a few minutes (he was also invited to attend) and I went a few blocks farther, where I encountered Glenn Chadbourne. He and I decamped to a nearby pub for a little fodder before the main event, a panel at the Arts Exchange. The four of us (Robin, Glenn, Gerald and I) signed stuff, answered questions, told tales, took pictures, etc. for a couple of hours. Then Robin, Glenn, Marsha (King's executive assistant) and I hung out at Denny's for a while, waiting until it was time to go to the Oriental Jade restaurant, location of a pivotal scene in It
. We had a nice buffet dinner, there were door prizes, swag bags, etc. The conventioneers had other things planned, including a trip to Dysart's (Maximum Overdrive
) the following morning, but I had to get back to Texas. Those 5:30 am flights always seem like a good idea when I book them, but getting up at 3:30 wasn't my favorite thing to do!
Of course, the flight was 90 minutes late departing. First, the navigational computer on our plane was misbehaving and it was going to take an hour or more just to get the repair crew on site. Fortunately, the pilots were able to convince the airline to let them swap to another plane. We were on the taxiway when they were told that they couldn't take off because of a hold at Philly airport, where we were heading. So we had to sit there until 7 am, Fortunately, I was able to rebook my connecting flight while we waited. After that it was smooth sailing, and I was back home by early in the afternoon.
It was a nice time. Always fun to catch up with old friends and make new ones. My only disappointment was that I discovered, after I was back in Texas, that there are Tim Horton's restaurants in Bangor. Three of them! And I didn't get to go to one. No timbits for me! Ah, well. Next time.
I received the above postcard in the mail today. Note the return address! If you haven't checked out my Castle Rock
preview, you can do so here
. The first three episodes drop on Wednesday on Hulu.
I finished watching Season 2 of Goliath
(Amazon) en route to Bangor on my iPad. Billy Bob Thornton plays a hard drinking lawyer who ends up taking on high profile cases, playing David to various Goliaths. It's a very good series. Season 2, stylistically, reminds me a lot of Breaking Bad
. Episode 7 is very, very strange (in a good way).
|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!