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|Wednesday, October 18th, 2017|
|Hip to be Tragic
Time for a Tragically Hip listening marathon. I wasn't living in Canada any more when they burst onto the scene, so it's only been during the past few years that I've caught up with their discography, but they've become one of my go-to bands to listen to while writing. Sad to hear that Gord Downie succumbed to his illness. It's a day of national morning north of the 49th parallel.
I sent a manuscript today to my collaborator for a project that I hope will see print next year. It's breaking new ground for me, and the first few months of 2018 could prove interesting as I flounder around in unfamiliar waters, hoping I don't mess things up. I can't really say anything more about the project, but it is really, really cool.
I like Olivia Wilde a lot, and have always admired Sam Rockwell, so we queued up Better Living Through Chemistry
this weekend. We quit by mutual consent after about 30 minutes. Michelle Monaghan plays an absolute shrew and Rockwell is milquetoast. Wilde is a trophy wife who seduces Rockwell, probably because she wants him to murder her husband. I'm not quite sure...we didn't get that far. In retrospect, the abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score should have been a hint or, more to the point, the total
box office take of $75,000. No, there's not decimal place or two missing there. The movie is really, really stupid. Tragically stupid.
I'm still not sure why Jane Fonda was narrating it. We never did discover how she figure into the story. We gave the movie a shot because it appeared as one of those "people who liked this also liked that..." teasers. We'd started with the new Netflix movie Our Souls at Night
, which we'd seen an ad for on the back of our AARP magazine (yes, I know, but still...). It stars Fonda as a widow who invites her neighbor (Robert Redford) to sleep with her...but not in that way. Just spend the night in the same bed, because the nights are the loneliest times. It's a small town, so rumors start spreading, of course. It's a charming story that features Bruce Dern in a bit role and Judy Greer as Redford's daughter.
That led us to Peace, Love...and Misunderstanding
, which we realized after about 15 minutes we'd seen before, but we finished it off. Fonda is the hippy mom living in Woodstock who is visited by her daughter and two teenage grandkids (including Elizabeth Olsen). Another fun flick. Then I commented that I'd never seen On Golden Pond
, so that was a blast from the past. The film was nothing like what I expected: I thought it would be somber and confrontational and dramatic, when it's actually quite light and funny. It looks a bit like a made-for-TV movie by modern standards, and it features a terribly invasive score, but it's charming. Hepburn is terrific (and she did all her own stunts, including an impressive dive into the lake). Seeing Jane Fonda 35 years younger was a bit of a shock, and it was the last thing her father did before he died the following year.
I binged through the new Netflix series Mindhunter
, based on the book about the formation of the Behavioral Analysis Unit at the FBI. The 10-episode series dramatizes events, and it's not exactly fast-paced, but it is thrilling and fascinating. The two main characters are vastly different types: one looks like he should be rough and tough, but he's actually sensitive, cautious and smart, whereas the new kid on the block, who starts out looking sensitive and clever turns out to be ruthless and a little scary. Anna Torv from Fringe
comes in at Episode 3 as a university professor who manages to scare up some federal funding for their research, which consists of interviewing serial killers in prison (the term doesn't even exist at that point, nor do any of the other terms that we who watch crime shows all know by now). The guy who plays Ed Kemper is chilling, just enough degrees away from normal to be disturbing as he casually describes the horrific things he did to his victims. There's an interesting bit featuring BTK before the creepy credits of most episodes (subliminal flashes are very disturbing!) that helps put the story into temporal context. I'm definitely on board for Season 2.
I also got caught up with the first three episodes of the new season of The Exorcist
. It looks like the central story is going to be about this foster father who has a big house on an island in Washington State, where he looks after a bunch of teenagers (mostly) who have various issues (one is blind, one seems mildly autistic, the youngest seems agoraphobic). His wife committed suicide fairly recently (maybe), and there's something strange happening...but whether it's external to the house (something in the woods) or internal (one of the kids, or even the visiting social worker) remains to be seen. There's a parallel story that involves the infiltration of the Catholic church by humans who have been infused with evil spirits (creepy, creepy eyes with extra pupils), and an effort by a couple of people to eradicate them--that's less interesting to me so far. The Munchausen by proxy episode was particularly good.
Maria Bello joins NCIS
. That's interesting. It's always good when Gibbs has someone to spar with who can give as good as (s)he gets. I also watched Annihilation
, Patton Oswalt's new comedy show on Netflix. In an hour, he goes from political to personal to one of the funniest movie pitch sessions I've ever heard. I don't watch much stand-up comedy, but this was well worth the hour spent.
|Tuesday, October 10th, 2017|
The gulf coast is less than two hours from where we live, but it feels like going to a different country. Every so often—maybe once a year—we rent a place in Surfside to get away from it all. We spent the last four days enjoying the sun and the tide.
This time was a little bit different because it was more than just the two of us. My wife's family has a regular reunion, and this year it happened at Surfside. We ate some good meals, had a lot of margaritas and beer, and soaked up some rays. This was the view from our balcony in one direction:
and this was the view in the other.
We had the full benefit of the Harvest Moon, which rose before us on Thursday evening, and the balcony faces almost due east, so we were treated to a nice sunrise every morning. We took quite a few walks on the beach, and some in the group played in the water, although the tide was running high and there were rip tides further out, so caution was required.
One night during our walk, we passed a truck that was bogged down in the sand. It was clear to us that alcohol was involved. We were surprised the next morning to see that they had somehow rescued it.
However, the main event took place on Sunday afternoon. We were on the patio of the bar that you can see in the top photo when we noticed a truck in trouble. The truck had backed in with a trailer to extricate a couple of jet skis from the water and it got bogged down. A while later we looked back to find out another truck in a similar situation. So, nosey Parkers that we are, we went down to find out all the details.
Turns out the guy in the dark truck volunteered to help his friends out with their jet skis. They attached the trailer but were having a hard time setting the locking pin. He called out for them to forget about it until he pulled the trailer out of the water, but they either didn't hear or they ignored him and they continued to fritter around with the pin. The tide was coming in and soon the truck's rear tires were spinning. Then something snapped, and that was that.
A friend driving a big white truck (NOT the one in the picture above) tried to pull the dark truck free and failed. Another guy (with a smaller truck) decided to have a go. End result: a few minutes later he was stuck, too. We saw geysers of sandy water shooting up in the air as his tires spun. The water was so high around the dark truck by then that the driver had to climb out the window. If he'd opened the door, it would have flooded the cab. The chassis was resting on the sand, and the tide wouldn't be at its highest point for another few hours.
A guy with a jeep and a nylon cord on a winch thought he'd try to pull the white truck out, but he didn't understand the laws of physics and, well, that didn't work out at all. A Surfside police officer arrived on the scene. At first she seemed fairly dour, but she lightened up after a while and the whole incident ended up being pretty amusing. She left her truck idling and my wife's uncle heard it making a sound. He recommended a course of action and soon they were attempting to diagnose the problem. Someone in the group wanted to capture the moment, so she took out her camera. "Are you taking my picture?" the cop asked. "Wait a minute," she said...at which point she pretended to be arresting my wife's uncle for the photograph!
Vehicles get stuck in the sand at least once a month, she said. "But this is the first time in a long time where the drivers weren't drunk." She said Cecil was coming. Who's Cecil, we asked. He's a guy who knows what to do...and when to give up, she said. Cecil arrived in a huge, camouflage-painted truck with a massive winch, and he started to work on the problem.
Surprisingly, no one seemed terribly upset. The guy in the dark truck was quite nonchalant, and the driver of the white truck said he was planning on getting a new one anyway. A woman who knew one of the drivers said that someone in their group had gotten stuck last weekend, too. "We've been on YouTube two weeks in a row," she said.
One of the fascinating things about situations like this is how it brings people together of all cultures. Everyone had an idea about how to solve the problem, or at least an opinion about whether the current effort would work or not!
It didn't look like it was going to end quickly or well, and it was really hot out, so we went back to the rental house for a margarita. About 20 minutes later I went up on the upper deck to see how things were progressing and, to my amazement, both trucks had been pulled clear of the water. Cecil to the rescue, although we have no idea how he did it, and especially how he did it so fast. We should have stuck around a little longer.
|Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017|
October is here at last, and with it the launch of the Cemetery Dance anthology Halloween Carnival
, edited by my long-time pal Brian Freeman. The book is coming out digitally in five installments, with a new volume featuring stories from five different authors appearing each Tuesday in October. Volume One
is out today. My new story "The Halloween Tree" appears in Volume Four
, which will be out on October 24th, although you can, no doubt, pre-order it now, should you feel so inclined.
My review of the Netflix movie Gerald's Game
went up at News from the Dead Zone online
I've submitted quite a few stories for publication in the past week or so. Here's hoping some of they stick! A couple of them are brand new stories, and a few are ones that I've had in the "waiting to find an appropriate market" queue for a while. One of them was written five years ago and was originally accepted for an anthology, but the book collapsed and I've had a hard time finding somewhere else to send it until now, when I found the perfect
home for it. Fingers crossed.
I'm also working on a super-secret project that is very exciting, but I can't say a single word about it, so...well...I won't! But it is cool. Trust me on that.
We're into season six of Call the Midwife
on Netflix. Last weekend we watched The Big Sick
, which was based on a real-life experience by writer and star Kumail Nanjiani and also stars Elia Kazan's granddaughter, Zoe. He's a Pakistani stand-up comic who starts dating a white girl while his parents continually try to arrange a traditional marriage for him. When she figures out there's not much of a chance of a future for them, she breaks up with him but then gets terribly sick and he stays by her side throughout, while trying to navigate a complicated relationship with her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano). The movie has astronomic scores on Rotten Tomatoes, but I thought it was just okay. The culture dynamics were interesting, but there were a lot of awkward pauses and scenes of people trying to be funny without it paying off. I would give it a B.
Then we watched the documentary Score
, about the people who write scores for motion pictures. Among those featured: Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Bernard Hermann, Danny Elfman (geez, I had no idea he used to be part of Oingo Boingo!), Howard Shore, Quincy Jones, and many others. It starts with the use of the Wurlitzer organ for silent movies and runs up through people like Trent Reznor scoring Social Network
. It does a very good job of showing how much the score contributes to our understanding and, indeed, our memory of movies, and gives us a peek at the creative side of the process. It's amazing that in many cases, the people in the orchestra never see the music before the moment they start to play together the first time. No rehearsals, just dive right in; they're real professionals. I liked this a lot, and I would have watched another hour or two of material if it were available.
Terribly sad to hear about Tom Petty. Damn the Torpedoes
came out a month after I left home for university and experienced and explosion in the kind of music I was exposed to. Though I had an impressive record collection at that point, my range was fairly narrow. I had every Elton John album, but not a single Beatles album, and I'd never even heard of a lot of the musicians who are my current mainstays, even though they'd been active for years in 1979. "Refugee" was everywhere that first year, and Tom Petty has been a regular go-to guy over the ensuing years. I have all of his albums except the earliest, I think, as well as both Traveling Wilburys albums (some wag said you know a band is hard looking when Tom Petty is the "cute one"). I saw him once in concert, and I've also seen Runnin' Down a Dream
, the 4-hour Petty documentary directed by Peter Bogdanovich. It's currently streaming on Netflix and I think it's time to take it out for a second spin.
|Thursday, September 21st, 2017|
|You're not Sirius?
Alan Parsons has released a remixed version of his classic instrumental "Sirius" (the lead-in to "Eye in the Sky"). I've used the original as my phone's ringtone for as long as customizing ringtones has been a thing. The new one is called Sirius 2017 (Disco Demolition Remix)
On the subject of Sirius, the XM radio service (see what I did there?), Robin Furth and I are featured on "Behind the Scenes" with Anthony Brenzican from Entertainment Weekly
. The show debuted yesterday on Sirius XM 105 and probably runs a few more times this week. I don't know anything about Sirius, so I can't be any more helpful than that, I'm afraid, other than to provide this link to their schedule.
We were only supposed to be featured on part of an episode, but things went along so well that Anthony decided to extend the interview and use us for an entire episode. It was a neat experience that spanned many time zones: Anthony is in California, I'm in Texas and Robin is in the UK. Anthony uses an online audio recording utility that allows him to send each person's chatter to an isolated track, so he can post-process if there's cross-talk, etc. Near the end of our almost hour-long discussion, my computer hiccuped momentarily and, for a long, dreadful few minutes, we thought my track might have gotten lost. Talk about a sinking feeling, thinking that we might have to do the whole thing over again. Fortunately, technology prevailed and my words were saved. I haven't heard the episode yet to see how it turned out, but it was definitely a lot of fun.
I posted a new review today: Seven Days of Us
by Francesca Hornak. It's a little different from what I normally read, an interesting change of pace. Now I'm onto The Seventh Decimate
, part 1 of The Great God's War series by Stephen R. Donaldson. It takes place in a realm that has been at war with its rival for generations, a rivalry that started over two brothers in love with the same woman. Every so many years, once they've recovered from the most recent conflict, the two have a new battle that is supported by magicians who have a limited arsenal of tools. One side has developed firearms, which helps to level the playing field because they're outnumbered, but after the most recent battle, something happens that robs them of all magic, which sends the realm into ruination because they don't know how to do a lot of basic, important things without magic. So a small group is dispatched to try to find a library that has books of magic to see if they might figure out what happened and how to fix it. It's a relatively brief book, but I'm enjoying the story so far, although I'm constantly having to de-Game-of-Thrones
-ify it in my mind.
My wife's been in Okinawa for the past couple of weeks (she gets back tonight--yay! She was supposed to get home last night but backed-up traffic on the motorway to the airport because of a five-car pileup delayed her arrival by three hours and she missed her flight), so I've been binging through shows I know she wouldn't care much for. I saw the third and penultimate series of Bron
), which features a Swedish detective who is, as they say, on the spectrum. The crimes in this show always involve Denmark, too. The bridge in the show's title is a span that joins Malmo to Copenhagen. Then I watched The Five
, a British adaptation of a Harlan Coben book. Though it's an interesting story, about a boy who vanished twenty years ago whose DNA is discovered at a couple of contemporary crime scenes, I thought the filmmakers didn't put much trust in viewers. Every time something came up that hearkened back to an earlier scene or episode, there was an insert that showed that. See? Remember this? The French did much better with Une Chance de Trop
(No Second Chance
), which is an all-out thriller about a woman who is shot and nearly killed. When she comes out of her coma, she learns that her husband was shot and killed and her baby is missing. Lots of twists and turns, some great characters, and the added benefit of a beautiful Parisian setting. The denouement is a bit muddled, but on the whole a thoroughly satisfying six-part adaptation, which features an extended cameo by the author and Dana Delany speaking stilted French.
|Monday, September 11th, 2017|
|The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight
Some seven or eight years ago, I wrote a story called "The Bank Job" about a gang of friends who'd all had run-ins with the law. Not a very bright bunch, but harmless on the whole. One of them was in deep trouble with a loan shark and his friends banded together to help him. The story won the 2010 Al Blanchard Award, much to my delight.
When I saw the submission guidelines for the annual anthology from Level Best Books (they always publish the Al Blanchard Award winners), I decided it was time for the gang to ride again, so I wrote a story called "Sticky Business." During the height of Hurricane Harvey, I received word that it had been selected for Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories.
The anthology will be published in November at Crime Bake.
I finished the first draft of another crime story this weekend, a 5000-word noir called "The Patience of Kane." I wrote it longhand over the course of the week and then dictated it into the computer on Saturday. Got most of the transcription errors fixed and made my first editing pass through it. I have a bunch of deadlines this month, so now I'll put it aside for a few weeks and look at it again in early October before sending it out to its intended destination. I like the way it turned out. One of those rare occasions where I knew the ending before I started writing.
I watched an odd Japanese series on Netflix this weekend. It's called Million Yen Women
, and it's about a struggling writer (his first novel won an award, but his books don't sell). One day, these five women show up, claiming that they've been invited to live in his house. They'll pay him a million yen each a month (about $10,000). There are a few rules: he can't ask them questions about their pasts. He can't go into their rooms. They have to eat dinner together. He's a diffident guy, and he can't figure out a way to get them to go away, so he ends up living with them as he continues to write, longhand. The kicker is that his father is a murderer, on death row for killing his mother, her lover and the first cop on the scene. His fax machine spits out a steady stream of anonymous hate messages.
The women range in age from 17 to 30. The oldest likes to eat dinner naked (although there's no overt nudity in the show: the camera angles are chosen judiciously). Over the course of the first half dozen thirty-minute episodes, we learn more about who they are. And then the show takes a very dark turn, and the mystery of who invited these women and why becomes important. It's weird and wacky and an interesting look at contemporary Japanese culture. The main character drifts through the series like has no control over anything, but his female roommates are a fascinating lot.
Then I watched Deep Water
, a four-part Australian series starring Yael Stone, who plays Morello, the inmate who drives the van on Orange is the New Black
. Who knew she was actually Australian, with that Joisey accent she uses on the show? A brutal murder bears striking similarities to a batch of hate crimes from twenty-five years ago in the Bondi Beach region of Sydney. It was a decent crime story.
|Friday, September 8th, 2017|
|All about It
I do some of my best thinking in the shower. Yesterday morning, while I was washing my hair, I came up with about four good concepts for the story I'm working on, things that will add depth and breadth to the tale. I'd already written the first 1500 words or so, and I knew where the story was headed, but all of a sudden I had the big picture, which was even bigger than I had in mind when I started out. Love it when that happens. I scrawled about two pages of notes on the left-hand pages of the notebook I'm using to write the story as soon as I got out of the shower. I didn't want to forget any of it.
Wednesday was my first trip into Houston since Harvey. I was supposed to go on Tuesday evening to a press screening for It
, but that got moved to Wednesday morning. Probably something to do with the curfew. I had heard traffic was bad in the city, and I was going in during morning rush hour, so I allowed two hours to get there, for a trip that normally would have taken 45 minutes, tops. I passed one neighborhood near the airport where the yards across from the houses contained piles of household belongings waiting to be picked up by the city. It looks like they lost just about everything, on the ground floor, at least.
I didn't run into any major backups until I got to the 610 loop (the innermost loop around the city). I only had to go about 10 miles on that loop, but it took the better part of half an hour. Once I got off on I-10, it was clear sailing, and the trip only took about an hour and a quarter total. Some of the other reviewers who were coming from different parts of town had a much worse time of it than I did. One guy set out at 7 am and was late arriving for the 10 am showtime.
This was the first time I ever attended a press screening. Many of the people there seemed to recognize each other. They weren't a chatty bunch, really. I figured we'd ask who we were reviewing for or something, but that conversation never got started. There were maybe 25 of us in total. The multiplex wasn't yet open for business, so we had the place all to ourselves. The concessions weren't open, though, so no popcorn! The projectionist popped into the theater and joked: For $50 I'll project it on the IMAX screen. I would have taken him up on that!
It was a digital print being shown from a computer. The title card on the screen said, "You'll float, too." One of the reviewers near me joked, "That's better than the alternative, really, given recent events." Before the movie started, there was a brief video message from Stephen King, which ended on one of his menacing notes that scared the reviewer next to me as much as anything in the film! The movie kicked off (you can find my review here
), and once it was over we all filed out past the Sony media rep, who asked us for our impressions, but she didn't seem to want to much detail. Just whether or not we liked it. She handed out a couple of promo items: a red balloon-shaped inflatable beach ball and a cute little balloon pin. The drive back north was comparatively quick, and I didn't encounter any of the backups that plague people in other parts of the city. Guess I was lucky.
When Tobe Hooper died, I realized I'd never seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
. I don't know how I missed it: it would certainly have been something we would have rented during my first few years in college after VHS tapes made movies generally available. So I decided to queue it up last night from iTunes. I guess you'd have to have seen it in context. It was massively controversial at the time, banned in a lot of places, given an X rating before a few cuts, but it's relatively mild by modern standards. I've seen worse on cable TV programs lately. There was hardly any gore or blood, and most of the murders were one-and-done episodes. Blink and you'd miss them.
I really enjoyed season 3 of Narcos
on Netflix. The season moves on beyond Pablo Escobar to the Cali Cartel, and it ditches the main character from the previous two seasons. Can't say I missed him at all: Javier Pena was by far the more interesting of the two, and bringing him to the forefront elevated the series. There were some great characters among the bad guys: Chepe was a hoot and Pacho was someone you wouldn't want to mess with. Jorge Salcedo was the most fascinating: someone who still considered himself a good guy despite the fact that he was up to his eyeballs with the cartel and he put his familiy in terrible danger. He ended up in witsec (but apparently he still gives interviews!
), but I feared for his life for most of the episodes.
And what is there to say about Twin Peaks
but, wow. What was that? I've been reading think pieces about the series and the two-part finale over the past several days, and I think I get it. There is a lot to process, though, and I wish I had an eighteen-hour chunk of time where I could binge through the whole thing beginning to end now that I know how it's going to turn out. I think there would be a lot from the early episodes that would make much more sense now. It was certainly an experience, and I hope more people get to see it once it's out on DVD.
|Wednesday, August 30th, 2017|
The rains have finally come to an end and we had our first glimpse of the sun as it was going down last night. I haven't seen a reliable total accumulation value for our area, but we seem to be in the approximately 20-25" band.
The rains started through the night on Friday, mostly after midnight so technically Saturday, and those were probably the worst. When I got up, the water in the ditch out front (behind the mailbox in the picture) was nearly level with the edge of our lawn and flowing like a raging torrent. However, there were some gaps between the regular squalls, and every time the rain stopped for more then half an hour or so, the ditch drained considerably, and I never saw it that high again. Our biggest worry were the tornado warnings. During the first day or so, pop-up tornadoes did a lot of damage in very specific locations, but as the days went on, most warnings passed without any actual tornadoes occurring.
Still, the imagination plays strange tricks. We received another batch of heavy rains overnight on Saturday/Sunday, and there was a new flash flood or tornado alert every hour or so. I couldn't help dreaming that I'd wake up, put my foot down on the floor and find water there. Fortunately, that didn't happen. Didn't even come close. The yard got soggy (see photo), the back yard even moreso, but the water stayed out. Not even a drop spilled over the lip into our garage, which is the point where I figured water might get in if it did anywhere. If ever the time comes to sell this house, we have a great pitch: it's been through TS Allison, Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Harvey without flooding.
For the most part, we had the television on to various weather channels. We watched The Weather Channel on Friday, but it got repetitive. We watched KHOU until their station flooded and they had to evacuate. One valiant reporter in the field stayed on the air for a while and managed to facilitate the rescue of a transport driver whose truck was filling with water. We eventually settled in on KPRC, where we were very impressed with the coverage provided by Chief Meteorologist Frank Billingsley, who did an excellent job of explaining what was happening and why. (Aside: Billingsley has a book coming out in August, Swabbed & Found: An Adopted Man's DNA Journey to Discover his Family Tree
, about his journey to track down his birth parents which sounds fascinating, too.)
Often, though, we found the news overwhelming, so we either switched off the sound and left closed-captioning on or watched a few episodes of Call the Midwife
, which we've been enjoying. I also went to work every day this week: the office is only a couple of miles away and the roads were clear. We had a skeleton crew, and at times I was the only person on the second floor.
We had stocked up on supplies before the storm, and we never lost power or internet service, so there were no hardships involved. It was interesting to see what was gone from the grocery store: bread and milk were among the first to go. That and bottled water. And potatoes, for some reason. When I strolled through the store yesterday, just out of curiosity, there was very little by way of produce left, no fresh meat or dairy. The beer aisle had been plundered, although some of the higher-end beers were still available. The potato chip aisle was picked clean (although an early photo on social media
showed a store where all the chips were gone except for the "Chicken and Waffles" flavor, which were still available in abundance).
On the social media side of things, Eric Berger provided some of the most solid weather reporting in the region. He's a former weather reporter with the Houston Chronicle who became the senior space editor at Ars Technica
but established the Space City Weather blog as a hobby—a passion, really. Every day, sometimes several times a day, he updated the status and what was coming, even if it was dire news. He wrote this essay for Ars Technica
to sum up the experience: it's well worth reading. This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same.
I am grateful for his straightforward reportage.
It's hard to predict when the city will be back to normal. We haven't had mail delivery since Saturday. Both airports are closed. (My wife was suppose to be on a flight on Monday night—rescheduled to later this weekend, but even that isn't guaranteed at this point.) There are places in the heart of Houston where the homes may be under water for a month. The major roads are starting to clear up, but there'll be debris and potential structural damage. What we experienced in our northern suburb was but a minor inconvenience compared to what many will have to deal with for weeks, months, maybe even longer.
I was touched, though, by the number of people who reached out to us during the past several days to see how we were doing. Not just friends and relatives, but people I only know as icons and screen names and twitter handles. Your concern was greatly appreciated and truly touching.
The Houston region has been through an ordeal, and will continue to suffer, but it has demonstrated in the past several days a resolve and a spirit that makes me glad that it has been my home for half my life. We like to make fun of "Mattress Mack," the skinny, aging furniture salesman who for decades has been making campy commercials in which he brandishes handfuls of money while yelling, "Gallery Furniture will...save...you...money!!" but he's the kind of guy who steps up in a crisis, opening his huge stores as shelters for regular people and first responders.
And it wasn't just greater Houston: many other communities and municipalities were hard-hit, too. The storm impacted a vast region in a way never before seen. Hopefully we'll never see the likes of it again.
|Thursday, August 24th, 2017|
As of mid-September, I will have lived in Texas for 28 years, during which time I've seen one hurricane (Ike, 2008) and a couple of very damaging tropical storms (Allison, 2001 being the worst). Now we have Harvey headed vaguely towards us. Ish. He'll either be a tropical storm or a Category 3 Hurricane, depending upon who you believe. Landfall will occur hundreds of miles away from us, far down the Texas coast, but we'll be on the wet side of the storm, so a lot of rain is forecast. When I say "a lot," I mean anywhere from 12" to four feet.
The strengthening might be good news for us. Not so good for people in its direct path. The first predictions were that it would come ashore and then sort of amble east and sit on us for a few days, pulling in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and dropping it on us. I don't see that eastward jag on any of the current maps, so I think that's good. If it speeds on through, so much the better. The real trouble comes when storms like that—like Allison—stall. We're doing minor storm prep, making sure there's nothing in the yard that will go airborne, filling the car gas tanks, getting a few supplies so we don't have to venture out if it rains hard. Our part of the community doesn't flood, as a rule, and we don't have to go anywhere this weekend, so we'll be fine, I figure.
My work has been translated into French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Russian and, now, Bulgarian. I received word this morning that the anthology Shining in the Dark
, which contains my new story "Aeliana," will be published by Pleiad Books in Bulgaria
in late November. The anthology title in that language is СИЯНИЕ В МРАКА
and my name is written on the cover thus: БЕВ ВИНСЪНТ.
We've been watching Call the Midwife
on Netflix lately. It's set in East London in the late 1950s, the story of a handful of nurses who work as midwives in conjunction with a group of nuns. It's based on the memoir of a real midwife and the stories are charming but they also delve into social issues of the era: poverty, abortion, mixed marriages, incestuous relationships, abuse, etc. There's one old nun, Sister Monica Joan, who is suffering from bouts of dementia, often prone to quoting philosophers or poets, but who occasionally becomes properly lucid and can cut straight to the heart of an issue thanks to her many years of life experience. She's a delight. We're in season three of five, and it has been renewed to run for a few more years.
I also finished Ozark
, which I quite enjoyed. It's been drawing some comparisons to Breaking Bad
, but it's not quite as artistic as that earlier show, and it has a few stumbles and mis-steps, but I'll be back for season two. We went out to see An Inconvenient Sequel
last weekend. A lot of it focuses on Gore's behind-the-scenes efforts during the negotiations over the Paris Accord, which I hadn't heard about before. It's a State of the Union statement on how things have changed—and how they haven't—in the years since An Inconvenient Truth
. Well worth seeing, but I doubt any climate deniers will bother, so it's hard to gauge its real impact.
|Wednesday, August 9th, 2017|
|The Geeks and Me
After I got back from Bangor last Wednesday, I spent 45 minutes on Skype with the four hosts of the Geek Cast Live podcast. The podcast is now available online.
My part starts about 20 minutes in and runs through the end. I had a great time talking with them!
Also available as of a couple of hours ago: my preview of Mr. Mercedes
, the TV adaptation of King's Edgar-Award winning crime novel, which premieres on Audience Network tonight. I haven't yet heard where people who don't have U-Verse or DirecTV will be able to see it. Stay tuned: it's probably the best TV adaptation of King to date. I've seen the first four and can't wait for the rest.
We watched The Zookeeper's Wife
this weekend, and then followed it up the next evening with Fiddler on the Roof
. I first saw the latter in 1979-80 when I was living in Halifax. Saw it at the Barrington Street cinema with some high school friends. I'd forgotten how long it was (just over 3 hours), and there's a song that I've always associated with it that I now discover is not in it at all—it's in Oliver
, which I don't think I've ever seen. But I must have, else how would that song be so strongly imprinted on my mind?
Trying to find time to get back to Ozark
, which I'm halfway through.
|Thursday, August 3rd, 2017|
Life is an adventure, an interesting one at that. I've been very fortunate. My wife says I live a charmed life, and I can't argue with that.
This week, I flew over two thousand miles (each way) for dinner and a movie!
The destination: Bangor, Maine, a city I have visited numerous times over the years. I grew up in New Brunswick, Canada, and Bangor was a regular destination, either for camping or shopping. I've also passed through a number of times on my way back to visit family.
I went up on Monday because it takes a long time to get there from Texas and I was worried that a delayed or missed connection would mean I wouldn't get to attend the main event on Tuesday afternoon/evening. That gave me plenty of time to wander around town. I visited Gerald Winters and Son on Main Street, the relatively new store devoted to King books. I'd met Gerald previously at NECON, but I'd never been to his store. He has some amazing stuff. In addition to a full-scale reproduction of the crate from Creepshow
, he has the original stamp used to print the text on the spine of The Eyes of the Dragon
. Stuff like that. I chatted with him for a while before visiting a couple of sites that I'd never managed to get to before: the Standpipe and the Paul Bunyan statue, which will be familiar to readers of It
. I was bemused to discover that the standpipe has a WiFi network. How different would that make the story, were it told today?
Unbeknownst to me, Columbia Pictures had brought a "gaggle of movie writers, bloggers, podcasters" to town on a private jet and they were following a similar itinerary to mine. Our paths never crossed. #19hoursinbangor brings film writers to Bangor for an exclusive Stephen King tour
We had a large group dinner before the main event, which was an advanced screening of The Dark Tower
, sponsored by Zone Radio
. After dinner, we headed over to the cinemas at the Bangor Mall. I missed the entrance and went into the mall ring road, where I proceeded to drive my phone's GPS system insane. Turn right, turn left, make a U-turn. By the time I got back to where I needed to go, the voice was no longer speaking in complete sentences, and when I got back in my car after the movie, it still wasn't very happy with me.
The radio station gave away some Dark Tower books and audiobooks, t-shirts and a few signed galleys of Dark Tower novels as door prizes before the movie, as well as movie posters and stickers. The woman who was "handing out" the t-shirts lobbed them into the audience like a quarterback. One of them spiraled right at me and hit me in the chest surprisingly hard! It was a small, so I passed it on to someone else who'd be able to wear it.
Then Stephen King appeared and made a brief speech before the movie started. I posted my review of The Dark Tower at Cemetery Dance Online
earlier today. Also check out an excerpt from my interview with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman
, conducted in 2012.
After the movie, a gang of us decamped to the nearest Denny's to discuss the movie and have desert. It was a great excursion. I enjoyed myself immensely. I also have to say that Bangor airport is one of the most chill airports I've been through. The TSA people were so friendly and amiable. It may have to do with the fact that I was there at 6:30 am and they hadn't had to deal with travelers for hours, but their friendliness impressed me.
Then, last night I spent about 45 minutes talking about all things King with the geeks who produce The Geek Cast Live Podcast. I'll let you know when that episode airs. It was a lot of fun talking with them.
This is cool, too: I was interviewed by Tony Tremblay and Matt Bechtel at NECON for The Taco Society Presents on YouTube
. The focus of the episode was Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
, the charity anthology that contains my short story "Truth or Dare?" My bit starts at 29:15. After we chat for a couple of minutes, I read an excerpt from the story. Note my flashy Hawaiian shirt, purchased specifically for the convention.
|Wednesday, July 26th, 2017|
|Necon 37: The anthology and the roast
Last weekend was my annual camping vacation, also known as Necon. Probably my twelfth time attending that writing conference, plus or minus. It's always a great time. There's a core group of people who almost always attend, together with a healthy injection of newbies to keep things fresh and interesting.
Compared to others, I had a trouble-free journey there and back again. Flew into PVD via Philadelphia and picked up one of the newbies at the airport. Went out to dinner at Jacky's Galaxie, an annual tradition, with a bunch of friends and another newbie.
On Friday, when many others were out playing Miniature Golf (a Necon Olympics event), I was on a Kaffeeklatsch where five us discussed our recommended books from the past year. That afternoon, I was interviewed by Tony Tremblay and Matt Bechtel for the Taco Society Presents. All of the attending authors who were part of the Necon charity anthology Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
were interviewed briefly about our work and read a short excerpt from our stories. That was fun.
In the evenings, after the organized events, people normally congregate in the quad (on some nights there's a saugie roast—i.e. hot dogs), chit-chat and drink, staying up to the wee small hours. Lack of sleep is a Necon thing, so much so that I often found myself in need of an afternoon nap.
On Friday night, we had the mass signing event. The Necon anthology
was a hot property (all proceeds go to the Jimmy Fund at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) and I signed my story many, many times during the evening. Another annual Necon tradition is the "roast," where an unsuspecting victim is lampooned, teased and tormented. Last year was the first time I participated in a roast, part of the lightning round. This year, I got bumped up to a full player, and I think my bit went over pretty well. I don't get many chances to be funny in public, so it was a neat experience.
Before the roast, a bunch of us went to Thames (not pronounced like the river!) on the waterfront for dinner, another semi-regular tradition. We had been evacuated from the hotel in the midst of the last panel session of the day when the kitchen set off the fire alarm. Something to do with roast garlic, I hear. One unexpected benefit of the fire drill is that we took our first group picture. I'm somewhere in the back of this motley crew (photo credit: Tony Tremblay):
For the first time in years, I was able to get a morning flight back to Texas that didn't require me to leave the venue at 5 am. I actually got to have breakfast! My return journey, via Charlotte, was uneventful and more or less on time, although we did have to divert around a storm as we approached Houston, which got the flight in a few minutes late. Not bad compared to many of my friends, who spent extra hours, even into the following days, trying to get home.
Necon is a wonderful time, always. Great to see people who I interact with throughout the year online, and to make new friends and acquaintances. Even do a little business, although no writing whatsoever. Takes me a couple of days to recover from the excesses in consumption and the shortfall on sleep, but I enjoy every minute of it.
Here is the lineup for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
: a fine anthology, edited by PD Cacek (this year's roast victim) and Laura J. Hickman, with cover art by Cortney Skinner:
- Foreword by Christopher Golden
- Mother and Daughter by Jack Ketchum
- Messages by Errick Nunnally
- Sleepless by Mark Steensland
- The Vacant Lot by Thomas Tessier
- blood, cold like ice by Doungjai Gam (Doungjai Gam Bepko)
- A Life Unremembered by G. Daniel Gunn (Dan Keohane)
- Wired by Elizabeth Massie
- Blue Stars by Tony Tremblay
- Happy Now Mother? by John Buja
- Nina by John M. McIlveen
- Housing the Hollygobs by Marianne Halbert
- Inertia Creeps by Charles Colyott
- Leave Here Alive by Bracken MacLeod
- Sleep Well by Angi Shearstone
- The Fine Art of Madness by Gary Frank
- The Beach by Cara M. Colyott (Cara Marie)
- Angel Tears by Jill Bauman
- Darkness on the Edge of Town by James A. Moore
- Would You, Could You, In the Dark? by Craig Wolf
- Wishing Won’t by Richard Dansky
- The Phobia Where You’re Afraid of Words by Paul McMahon
- Nightly Rituals by William Carl
- White Wings by Mark Morris
- The Other Side by Paul McNally
- Truth or Dare? by Bev Vincent
- Unexpected Attraction by Matthew Costello
- The Ritual Remains by Jonathan Lees
- The End of All Stories by Trevor Firetog
- Duality by Brian Keene
- The Lake Children by Izzy Lee
- The Circus Under the Bed by T.J. Wooldridge (Trisha Wooldridge)
- 1-2-3 Red Light by Gregory Norris
- The Old Men Know by Charles L. Grant
- The Oldest Fear (internal art) by Shikar Dixitby
Available as a trade paperback exclusively from Amazon
, and soon to be available in eBook format as well. Great stories for a very good cause.
|Tuesday, July 18th, 2017|
|The Doctor Is In
I'm off to Necon in a couple of days. I have a Kaffeeklatsch on Friday at 10 am, where William Carl, Frank Michaels Errington, Tony Tremblay, Frank Raymond Michaels and I discuss the best books we read since this time last year.
Later that afternoon I'll be interviewed for the Taco Society Presents as part of the launch of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
, the anthology containing my short story "Truth or Dare?", which debuts at Necon. The antho can be pre-ordered on Amazon right now
! 100% of all proceeds will be donated to The Jimmy Fund. Many of the contributors will be at Necon, so we'll be signing the anthology during the mass signing on Friday evening.
We watched an odd movie last weekend: Certain Women
. It consists of three (very) loosely linked stories set in Montana. It stars Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart, and the odd thing about the film is that these aren't exactly stories. They start out with interesting premises, but ultimately they don't go anywhere. It has a vaguely Lynchian feel, mostly because of the long, awkward pauses in dialog (especially at the very end of the third vignette, which is pretty much ALL pause.
Speaking of odd, I watched Bordertown
on Netflix, a Finnish crime series (11 parts that comprise five stories) set in a small city on the border with Russia, near St. Petersburg. The main character, Kari, is one of those intuitive detectives who can put all the pieces together like Sherlock Holmes does. Kari's trick is a memory mansion, in which he lays out a grid with tape on the basement floor and moves around from segment to segment while he envisions evidence. He also has a repertoire of odd hand gestures (he tends to grip his head). Physically, he reminds me more than a bit of Graham Joyce. Some of the stories get wrapped up a little too quickly for my liking, but it's an interesting series. One of the other main characters is a former FSB agent who ends up in Finland because of the first case and stays on.
I was very pleased to find out who would be playing Doctor Who next. Jodie Whittaker was excellent in Broadchurch
, and I'm sure she'll bring something fascinating to the show. Alas, we have to wait nearly half a year to see her in action.
|Wednesday, July 5th, 2017|
|Every weekend should have four days
I like this four-days-off / three-days-on thing. I could get used to it.
Saw Baby Driver
this weekend at a 4 pm showing, and the theater was packed to the brim. As an added bonus, I got to see the trailers for both It
and The Dark Tower
beforehand, the first time for both on the big screen. Of the two, I would say The Dark Tower
generated more buzz among the audience, for whatever that's worth.Baby Driver
is a heist/chase movie set to a soundtrack. The main character has tinnitus, so he listens to music on iPods (he has many) most of the time to drown out the constant noise. He's gotten himself in debt to Kevin Spacey and is working it off by driving the getaway car from audacious heists—and he's a very good driver. Everything that happens happens to the beat of whatever he's listening to at the time. Every tire squeal, every gunshot, every door slam, everything. The movie is high-energy, non-stop action, as Baby goes from one scheme to the next and manages to fall in love in the middle of it all while looking after his deaf foster father to boot. Highly enjoyable, although the bit with John Hamm at the end was a touch too horror-movie generic. Thoroughly enjoyed it, though. Jamie Foxx is terrific as the self-professed crazy Bats.
We collected the last several episodes of Doctor Who
to watch over a couple of evenings. I was able to avoid most spoilers (and forgot any that I couldn't), so it was a good way to watch Capaldi's final run. Mostly very good stories, and it was great to see the "round-faced" Master again and the interplay with Missy. The appearance of the pilot was more than a tad on the deus ex machina side (the first episode of the season feels like a long time ago, so it was a stretch expecting us to remember everything about that character), an overly simple way to solve a complicated problem, but all in all we liked how things worked out. Although we mourn the loss of Capaldi, who started out as a cold, unfeeling Doctor and ended up one of the most sensitive of them all. (I'm fairly certain he is the first Doctor who I'd seen in other things before I saw him in Doctor Who
I won two tickets to see Steve Earle and the Dukes at the House of Blues on Monday night. I've been a fan of his ever since he was on Treme
, especially his album The Revolution Starts Now
. The opening act was The Mastersons, a husband-wife duo who are also part of Earle's band "the Dukes." They got half an hour to show us their "solo" chops before the band started rocking at 9:00. It was a great show. The band is highly talented and Earle's gravelly voice is still in fine form. He did several songs from his new album, the Waylon Jennings inspired So You Want to Be an Outlaw
. He chatted a little between songs, but half of what he said was unintelligible to us (in part because of the chit-chat going on around us, and in part because he tends to mumble). This was their first gig of the tour, and it went off pretty well, with a minimum of glitches.
We don't always go out into the crowds to see the fireworks. Our community has a number of venues where they can be observed, and some are easier to get to (and away from) than others, but this year we decided to dive in. Five parks had live performances, and we chose the one at the waterway (our faux Riverwalk) that is next to our favorite pizza joint. We went early to get parking, had dinner and then took our portable chairs to the park and settled in for the evening. It was pretty hot, but we found a shady patch and there was a breeze every now and then, so it wasn't too bad.
Music was supplied by Level One Band from Kingwood (except for one park where the musical offering was country, most of the options were R&B/Motown acts). They were good, interactive, talented, and it was fun to watch the small kids playing around and hopping and dancing to the beat. The fireworks went off at 9:30, and we had a ring-side seat for them. I have to echo a sentiment tweeted by my writing buddy Michael Marshall Smith, though. He wrote: "If I'm honest the ideal fireworks show would last two minutes and be perfectly visible from wherever I already was." I'd be just as happy if the whole shebang went off at once rather than drawn out over a 15-20 minute stretch.
The local online radio station did a simulcast to synchronize all the locations where the fireworks were being launched. Either someone simply googled songs containing the word America without scrutinizing the lyrics too carefully, or there was some top-notch trolling going on. The first song was "Fortunate Son," followed by "Pink Houses" and "Born in the U.S.A."
|Tuesday, June 20th, 2017|
Apparently we're getting our first tropical storm of the season tomorrow. It doesn't look like a major storm—it doesn't even have a name yet, and the path is uncertain. We might get some rain out of it, which wouldn't be bad. At least it's not 120° like they're reporting in Phoenix. So hot that it exceeds the flight tolerances of many commercial aircraft. When we were descending from the higher altitudes into Phoenix at the end of our recent vacation, it was over 100° in Phoenix, and this was around 6 pm. Can't imagine adding another 20° on top of that.
Yesterday was the first time I've ever been called to jury duty when I got as far as voir dire. I was called once many years ago, but at the time I wasn't a U.S. citizen, so I wasn't eligible. Then I was called again last year, but the day I showed up we were met outside the courtroom and sent home. "Everyone's been good this week," we were told. "No trials today."
I got my summons in the mail last week and went online to register. Although the summons was for the first week of July, I was given several weeks to choose from. I picked the closest date. In retrospect, given that it was Thursday and the next date was the following Monday, I probably virtually guaranteed I wouldn't get picked. I ended up with #56
out of perhaps a pool of 60. Even with no-shows and people excused for cause, together with the strikes exercised by the lawyers, they didn't need to go beyond about #32
to impanel the jury.
It was a civil case, someone claiming a pre-existing back injury had been exacerbated in a car accident, and gross negligence was on the table. Might have been interesting. Perhaps next time I'll make it farther in the process. Sitting in the back row, I barely got to open my mouth during jury selection.
Today's the day the issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
containing my story "Pain-Man" goes on sale. I haven't received my contributor copies yet, but I hear it has been seen in the wild.Issue 21 of Dead Reckonings magazine
features a conversation between me and Hank Wagner about the Netflix series Stranger Things
We watched an odd movie the other night, Beatriz at Dinner
, starring Selma Hayek and John Lithgow, along with Connie Britton and Chloe Sevigny. Hayek plays a masseuse and holistic healer who ends up stranded at the mansion owned by a wealthy couple hosting a dinner for a billionaire real-estate mogul named Doug Strutt (Lithgow). The wife graciously invites Beatriz to stay the night and join them for dinner, which turns into an awkward affair when Strutt starts gloating over his hunting exploits and various business deals that are amoral and destructive. Beatriz can't remain quiet, speaks her mind, and causes a stir. It's tempting to interpret Strutt as a certain buffoon who elevated himself to the highest office by screwing people over, but the movie was in production before or during the campaign. The film's bottom line is that there are a lot
of people of his ilk. What do you do about it? Strike or retreat? In a sense, the movie has it both ways. A choose-your-own-ending adventure. It's a challenging movie. There is palpable discomfort during some of the scenes. But it's definitely thought-provoking.
I've been enjoying the Netflix series Shetland, a crime drama set in the islands of northern Scotland. The first two seasons are based on the novels of Anne Cleeves. Season 1 is one book adapted in two one-hour episodes. Season 2 is three novels, six episodes. Season 3 is also six episodes, but it tells a single original story, not based on Cleeves' work. The scenery is spectacular (especially the story set on Fair Isle), the accents are thick (especially among some of the older folk), and the stories are intriguing. The third season reminds a lot of the work of Ian Rankin. I hear they're filming a fourth season.
|Monday, June 12th, 2017|
|Waiting for Gadot
We watched a very strange movie called Wakefield
on Friday, based on a story by E. L. Doctorow. It stars Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner as a couple with issues. Cranston is a Manhattan lawyer who is delayed getting home after work one day, chases a raccoon into the detached garage facing their house, and ends up deciding to spend the night in the attic, from which he can surveil his family, which also includes teenage twins who don't have much use for dear old dad any more.
When morning comes, he realizes how difficult it will be to explain his decision to camp out in the garage, so he decides to stay there longer. And longer, and longer. Days stretch into weeks stretch into months, as his situation becomes more and more untenable in terms of explaining his behavior. He becomes in effect homeless, looking somewhat like Tom Hanks from Cast Away
and behaving like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window
. He eats food he finds in the trash, battles with Russians over the choicer bits of things people throw away, befriends a couple of special needs children who live across the fence from them, and basically checks out from society. Is it a nervous breakdown? I guess you could make that argument. The more we learn about Wakefield, the less we like him. We learn how unfair he was to his best friend and how duplicitous and controlling he was toward the woman who would become his wife. Only Cranston can make us go along for the ride, because this is another version of Walter White. I envisioned him claiming a fugue state and showing up naked in a convenience store to work his way out of his dilemma. How do you resolve such a situation? Will your family rejoice at his return after so long or will they hate him for what he put them through? An interesting question, isn't it. The answer, alas...
On Saturday night, we listened to the Blue Grooves playing a free concert at the waterway park and then saw Wonder Woman
, which is every bit as good as everyone is saying. There is the origin story part of the movie, featuring Robin Penn Wright as a fearsome Amazon general, and then there's the part of the film where Gal Gadot's character truly becomes Wonder Woman, and then there's the final conflict. All well handled, though I might like fewer Matrix-y conflict scenes in favor of more natural (as natural as superheroes and demigods can be) battles. A good turn for David Thewlis, currently chewing up the scenery in Fargo
. The movie works well for us in part because it has zero reliance on any other part of the D.C. universe. Even if you didn't know who Bruce Wayne was, it works. And the fact that it's set against the backdrop of a conflict everyone knows and more-or-less understands is so much the better.
Alas, I have fewer kind words to say about Season 3 of Bloodline
(Netflix original). This is a Florida family drama that hinges on an incident from the childhood of the Rayburn children in which they were coerced into lying to the police (and everyone else) about how brother Danny was injured on the day their sister drowned. That lie, which they have to continue to live, is poison to the family, and it culminates in a Biblical reckoning at the end of Season 1. The truth is that the Rayburns are not nice people, external appearances notwithstanding. Danny took a dark path, Kevin is a lazy screw-up, and John is so tightly wound that he has never been able to enjoy any of the good things in his life. Sister Meg has gotten away from the toxic environment on occasion, but she keeps getting sucked back in.
So it's not the easiest of shows to watch, as the Rayburns continue to do self-destructive and damaging things and then have to pile lie upon lie to cover up. The murder that ended season 2 propels Season 3 up to a point, but then, nine episodes in out of ten, they decide to pretend the show is Twin Peaks
. A solid hour of baffling storytelling. They make poor use of some of the supporting cast (John's wife, for example). Not to mention the fact that there's this character played by John Leguizamo who wanders around like the purveyor of doom, making gloomy predictions and dire threats, only to have the character expunged from the story without anything coming of it. Mystifying. I would have been happy if the final season had ended with the rather jarring incident at the end of episode 8, although it would have been a shame to miss Sissy Spacek's show-stopping rant in the final episode. And then there's that ending. Hmmmm. Shame, really. Good actors doing good work, poorly served by the story.
|Tuesday, June 6th, 2017|
|A week above 5000 feet
Last week, my wife and I took a vacation in Arizona (mostly), New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. We flew into Phoenix, picked up a rental car (a Mustang GT, not the convertible we had reserved—thanks, Hertz) and drove up the Oak Creek Canyon scenic route to Sedona, where we spent our first night in an outwardly plain but well-appointed and centrally located motel. We had a late dinner at the Sound Bites Grill, overlooking the mountains while we listened to the music of Estaban and his ensemble. We were, at that point, at about 4000 feet above sea level, and we'd stay at least at that height for the rest of the week, though we were often above 5000 feet and, at one point, as high as 8800 feet.
The next morning, we completed the drive up Oak Creek Canyon and turned east. Our first stop was in Winslow, Arizona, a little town made famous by "Take it Easy," the first hit single by The Eagles. The town itself looks terribly depressed, and I'm not sure it would still exist if not for the song. According to the legend, Jackson Browne came up with the line "I'm standing on a corner in Winsolow Arizona, such a fine sight to see..." but got stuck until Glenn Frey convinced him to lend a hand, coming up with the line about the girl and the flatbed Ford. There's a statue on a corner that is supposed to represent Browne and a more recent one added to depict Frey, and a permanently parked flatbed Ford with a painting on the nearby wall that looks like a window reflection showing the girl. It's a place rooted in nostalgia, as evidenced by the average age of the people hanging around the corner that Sunday afternoon.
From there, we continued west, driving through the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. We stayed overnight in Gallup, New Mexico and headed north the next day toward Cortez, Colorado. From there, we went east to Mesa Verde National Park, which is famous for it pueblos. We spent most of the mid-day hours there, viewing the types of accommodations the natives used hundreds of years ago. Also saw a very large snake outside one of the Anasazi pit houses. From there we drove west, passing through Cortez again on our way to Four Corners. My wife had been here decades ago, when it was just a disk in the middle of nowhere, but it's fairly built up now, with souvenir stands, and a lengthy queue to take a picture standing at the junction of the four states. We decided to skip the line and take a few stealth photos nearby.
From there we continued west in Utah, driving through some of the most spectacular landscape this country has to offer, namely Monument Valley, which has served as the setting for many classic Westerns and other movies. Breathtaking at every turn. We ended up in Kayenta, Arizona for the night. The next day we moved on to Page, where we took a cruise on the Colorado river into Antelope Canyon, joined a tour of a slot canyon where the colored walls and lighting from above made for some spectacular views, and ended the day at Horseshoe Bend, a scenic overlook that is, again, breathtaking.
We drove up to Kanab, Utah the next day and had a fairly relaxing afternoon in the low-key town. We took a drive up the Johnson Canyon trail, where one of the attractions is the dilapidated remains of a set used to film Gunsmoke
, and had a fantastic meal at Sego. We also learned the importance of keen attention to detail at an artisanal deli where we both misread "roast beet sandwich" as "roast beef." It was like those old Wendy's commercials: where's the beef? Much amusement.
The next day, we drove down to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is much less frequently visited than the South Rim. This part is at least a thousand feet higher than the other side, and it's closed in the winter. A deer dashed across the road in front of us while we were driving up the mountainside, which gave us a fright. Then a few minutes later there was a sign on the side of the road warning of bison, which was worrying, although we didn't see any that day. I tried to keep a mental list of all the things we were warned might be crossing the road during our journey: deer, antelope and elk (they each had their own unique picture), bison, mountain lions, children, old people, ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles, trucks, and boulders. I'm probably forgetting some. (We did see some snow on this side, tucked in at the edges of the treelines, and on the tops of some distant peaks, but I didn't think there was much chance of snowmobiles.)
The north rim visit was really nice. There are a number of hiking trails that take you along the edge of the canyon overlooking some spectacular vistas. The crowds were relatively small (compared to what we'd see the next day), and it was all very low-key and laid back. However, a thunder-and-lightning storm rolled in (and we were at 8800 feet at that point!) so we hid out in the general store for a while and purchased a couple of $1 ponchos that kept us dry and warmer on the long walk back to where we'd parked. By then, the worst of the rain was over and we had a pleasant drive to our penultimate destination, Tuba City, which is east of the Grand Canyon on Navajo/Hopi land.
On Friday, we drove to the Grand Canyon again, approaching from the east to get to the South Rim. It was my birthday, so we splurged on a 1-hour helicopter tour that took us over the entire canyon from about a mile up, at about 130 mph. Truly spectacular. There was a controlled burn in one part of the mesa that we flew right through, and a section where we saw some bison from above. The pilot told us that the herd was a few hundred in number and that they had moved 100 of them to another part of the region a few years ago, but within a week they had returned to their original location.
We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking along the rim and taking in the vistas one last time before the three-hour drive down to Phoenix, where we caught our return flight on Saturday morning. We drove 1600 miles from start to finish. I posted some of our many photos on Facebook, but I'll put together a slideshow here in the coming days, too. It was a fantastic vacation. We had mapped out the stopping points in advance and reserved all of our motels/hotels, which took most of the stress out of the trip. We always knew where we were staying, so we could just enjoy ourselves and take in the scenery.
Since Arizona doesn't observe daylight savings time, but the Navajo reservations do, we had fun pinpointing exactly what time it was during most of the trip. We switched back and forth an hour at least once a day, it seemed, and sometimes more often than that.
I picked a Tony Hillerman novel (The Blessing Way
) as our night time reading on the trip, and we were thrilled to find many of the places we visited mentioned by name: Gallup, Window Rock, Teec Nos Pos, Four Corners, Monument Valley, Mexican Water, etc. We could visualize the locales as they came up in the story.
|Wednesday, May 24th, 2017|
|With an ‘E’
There's been a fair amount of controversy and negative reviews accompanying the new CBC / Netflix version of Anne of Green Gables
, called Anne with an 'E,'
but we really liked it. It diverges from the novel's storyline at a number of points, and it certainly presents a darker version of the story, but it feels honest and realistic. Anne's past in the orphanage was traumatic, and she has the occasional issue dealing with it. Her transition into school life in her new environment isn't smooth, and she is faced with a number of issues that confront teenagers during any era. The acting is top-notch, and it comes with a jaunty set of opening credits set to "Ahead by a Century" by The Tragically Hip. Fine cinematography and scenery. We are eagerly awaiting the second season.
I'm glad I watched the original Twin Peaks
and Fire Walk with Me
recently before tackling the new season of Twin Peaks
. I would have been mightily lost otherwise. Blue Rose? The ring. The talking tree (okay, that one was just messed up, and there's apparently a real-world story behind why "the arm," also known as the little dancing man, is now represented this way), etc. But it all makes perfect sense now
. Well, as much sense as one might expect. Lynch has managed to recapture the feeling of the show and prequel movie very well, and add some new viewing experiences as well.
Speaking of the talking tree: as with everything else in the Black Lodge, its dialog is captioned. I swear when it said "2-5-7" the captions read "2-5-3." I wonder if that means something.
I was intrigued by the fact that the opening credits started with the casting director and that the actors themselves weren't named until the closing credits, but I guess that was to keep the identity of some of the new (and returning) cast members a secret. I liked the way the subtle image of Laura Palmer is hidden in the mist at the very opening of the credits. Blink and you'd miss it.
There is a lot of strange shit going on here, and not much of it is taking place in Twin Peaks itself so far. After four episodes, the weirdest thing happening there is Doctor Jacobi spray-painting a bunch of shovels (gold? I can't tell—my poor color perception defeats me in situations like that). I wonder who the billionaire is behind the mysterious viewing chamber in New York. It's a little sad to see some of the returning cast members, a couple of whom have passed away since filming, but it was good to see David Duchovny again.
Kyle Maclachlan looks like he's having a blast playing several different versions of Cooper, including one who is reminiscent of rain main. His reaction to peeing for the first time was hilarious. The show occasionally tests your patience—the cameo by Michael Cera was only a few minutes, but it seemed interminable—but I'm along for the ride to see where they plan to take us. I'm also enjoying the musical performances at the end of each episode: the Chromatics and Au Revoir Simone. Trippy stuff.
|Wednesday, May 10th, 2017|
|Truth or Dare?
Acceptance and rejection letters come in many forms. For the latter, there are form letters and postcards with checkboxes. Sometimes these come with a handwritten scribbled note at the bottom. Sometimes the rejections are personalized and constructive. I once received a rejection that was a strip of paper about ¾" wide cut from a sheet of printer paper. It had a couple of lines of type, and was tossed into a legal-sized envelope, where it rattled around as the letter made its way through the postal system. How frugal, I remember thinking at the time. They could get nearly a dozen of those rejection missives from a single sheet.
Acceptance letters are generally unique, and the one I received for my short story "Truth or Dare?" this week easily qualifies as the cutest ever. It opened with a colorful green monster with a polka-dotted body, Viking horns and a facial expression—including extended tongue—that would rival the happiest of dogs. This was Manny the Monster, I learned, and the editors said that if they hadn't accepted my story, Manny would have eaten their toes.
The story will appear in Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
, an anthology from Necon E-Books that will launch at Necon 37
in July. There will be both a print and an electronic version, and many of the authors will be present to sign at the convention. The coolest part is that all proceeds will go to the Jimmy Fund from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
"Truth or Dare?" has a long history. I originally wrote it in 2007, or thereabouts, and I think I submitted it to a few places and had it accepted to a pro-paying market. Signed a contract and everything. However, ultimately the terms of the contract lapsed after a few years; therefore, I took the story back because I had no faith the market was ever going to appear. So it was available when this call came out and, happily, it found a receptive audience.
We've been working our way through Bill Nye Saves the World
on Netflix. It's a more grown-up version of his popular science show. It's frenetic and fun and informative, with a clear political and social slant. It doesn't always hit on all cylinders (I thought the Rachel Bloom segment fell flat), but we're enjoying it. Nye also does a good job of bringing diversity to the table in his panel discussions.
Small quibble about NCIS
: I know it would have taken screen time to explain who these strangers were, but I found it strikingly odd that every one of McGee's co-workers was able to attend the very special event this week and not a single one of Delilah's co-workers was there. They hand-waved away family members, but not that.
We watched and enjoyed the Tim Burton movie Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
on the weekend. I've never read the book it's based on, and I didn't really know all that much about the story going into it, but it was cleverly done, with a terrific cast and the expected spectacular special effects. Liked Chris O'Dowd as the boy's father, although poor Kim Dickens got relegated to a single scene as his mother. Samuel L. Jackson chewed up all the scenery.
|Friday, April 28th, 2017|
I've gone on two protest marches so far this year. I've contacted my congressman. I joined the ACLU.
And I've written to complain to a cereal company!
I've always been a big consumer of cereal. Growing up, I ate it for breakfast most days. I had a number of favorites, and Alpha-Bits was always near the top of the list. At first, it might have had something to do with the fact that they were letter-shaped, but I enjoy the flavor and consistency.
A number of years ago, for reasons I don't quite understand, the cereal was pulled from grocery stores. However, it didn't vanish completely. It was still available at places like Target and Wal-Mart. So I'd stock up on a couple of boxes any time I went to those stores.
I didn't notice the "New & Improved" banner on the top of the most recent two boxes I bought. But I did notice something wrong when I poured the first bowl. The cereal was bigger and puffier, and it didn't taste the same. And not in a good way. Quelle dommage! I did a search of social media and found out I wasn't the only person who felt that way.
So, I decided to write the company, Post. I told them it reminded me of the New Coke debacle. I asked them to bring back Alpha-Bits Classic! I had a response from them saying they would pass my complaint on to their Product Development Department.
I don't expect to go on a March for Cereal, but I'm not going to take this lying down!
|Tuesday, April 25th, 2017|