A byte out of the apple

I am very pleased by Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba. The embargo is as old as I am, and I think time tells us that it hasn’t worked. It impoverished the target nation, but it did virtually nothing to alter its political course. A one-nation embargo, in particular, doesn’t work very well. Growing up in Canada, Cuba was a popular tourist destination. I look forward to a day in the very near future when I can travel there on my US passport. I hear it’s nice. Like many Caribbean nations, there is an ugly underbelly juxtaposed against the part the tourists see, but I think an influx of cash and the possibility that the American tourist industry will be able to invest in Cuban destinations will have more good sides than bad.

I finished and turned in my latest writing project, which hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s good fun. I’ve done this a couple of times before, and it’s always different.

Last night we watched Codebreaker on Netflix, the 2011 documentary about Alan Turing, the father of modern computing. Turing is the subject of a couple of recent movies, including The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. His is a tragic story of a man whose contribution to the war effort saved countless lives and may have shortened the war since cracking the Enigma code allowed D-Day to happen when it did. And yet his personal life made him an outcast — he was chemically castrated as part of a plea bargain that kept him out of jail. The movie is a combination of documentary that features people who knew him from the Bletchley Park days, as well as friends and relatives, and dramatic re-enactment of his sessions with a psychotherapist wherein he struggles over what he can reveal, since much of his life is covered by the Official Secrets Act. One thing I didn’t know: the documentary claims that the Apple logo comes from the fact that Turing committed suicide by taking a bite out of a poisoned apple, the remains of which was found next to his body. (The logo designer considers this origin story an urban legend, however. Turing did eat a cyanide-laced apple, but there’s no indication Apple was inspired by this incident.)

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The Wild Trail

We saw a couple of good movies this weekend. First was Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon. It’s about a young woman who went a little nuts after her single mother dies of cancer who decides to purge herself and get life back on track by walking the Pacific Crest Trail, which goes from the Mexican border the full length of California and into Oregon, at least. It’s based on a memoir, so there’s a lot of truth in it, but some movie simplifications, too. (For example, in the real life the character has two siblings, but only one in the film.) I was reminded a bit of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, where he tried to do the Appalachian Trail, though with less angst and hardship. A woman by herself has some unique potential dangers to face. The support cast is excellent, too, including the guy who played Dan Dority on Deadwood, the guy who played Skinny Pete on Breaking Bad and the guy who played the minister on Gracepoint. And a fox, who plays her spirit guide, I guess. But the movie rests mostly on Witherspoon’s shoulders, and she pulls it off.

Last night we watched Nebraska on Netflix. It’s about an old geezer (Bruce Dern) who thinks he’s won a million dollars in a Publisher’s Clearinghouse-type sweepstakes and is bound and determined he’s going to Lincoln, Nebraska (from Billings, Montana) to pick up his windfall because he won’t trust the post office with all that money. And if no one will take him, dammit, he’s going to walk. So his son agrees to take him, even though everyone knows there’s no money. Bob Odenkirk (Saul from Breaking Bad) plays the other son, and Stacy Keach shows up as an old “friend” of Dern’s. The trip takes them back to Dern’s hometown. Once the story gets out that he’s a millionaire in the making, all manner of people from his past crawl out of the woodwork with hands out. It’s a poignant story and funny as hell, too, especially the scene where the two brothers decide to reclaim an air compressor that was loaned out decades ago. I don’t identify with the dysfunctional family in the least, but I understood them. It’s a road movie, and the two main characters learn a lot about each other along the way (although it’s the son whose eyes are opened the most.)

I started reading The Witches of Echo Park by Amber Benson this weekend. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms Benson at Necon last summer. When I heard she was a guest of honor, I expected her to be somewhat standoffish, a real celebrity amongst us regular folks, but she turned out to be very accessible and friendly. Had a good talk with her about foreign crime TV shows in the courtyard one night. I’m really enjoying this novel, which is set in the real world, where there are witches. A lot of the material she uses reminds me of a novel I wrote a few years ago where a character gets involved in Wicca and Tarot as a way of coping with a loss. The cover makes it look like a YA novel, but it isn’t.

Only one more episode left of The Affair, which stars Ruth Wilson (Luther) and Dominic West (The Wire, The Hour). I swear this show gets under my nerves more than many horror films. My mother used to hate scenes in shows like Matlock or Murder She Wrote where the good guy is creeping around in the bad guy’s house, searching an office by flashlight, because she was sure the good guy would get caught. This show is something like that, except it’s a couple of philanderers who aren’t exactly all that discreet. It’s also a mystery series, because there’s a murder, and the identity of the victim is kept secret for a long time, let alone the identity of the killer. It has an interesting he said/she said structure that is revealing in the way that it reflects how Noah and Allison remember certain events. What was said, what they wore, what they did. There’s a lot to wrap up in one more hour.

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Willard

I’ve had a fairly productive writing period these past few weeks. Can’t remember the last time when I’ve had so many firm commitments, along with the usual on-spec writing. I turned in a four-story mini-collection of reprints that will appear sometime in 2015. Also my X-files story to Jonathan Maberry. Then, finally, a story for the Book 38 horror anthology.

About the latter: I was invited to pick from a list of the world’s most abandoned and haunted places and submit a 2500-story. I chose the Willard Asylum in upstate NY and wrote a story featuring a brother-sister duo who’ve featured in a few of my previous tales. After my research, including watching a few videos taken by urban explorers, it took a while to get the story in sequence, even though I always had a fairly good idea of how it was going to go. I pulled it apart and put it back together again several times, but I finally got there in the end, and I turned that story in over the weekend. 2500 words is quite brief, but I find the exercise in winnowing a 3200 word first draft down to the cut-off refreshing. Everything must go! My writing becomes much more direct and entire sentences and paragraphs that don’t contribute to the story get lopped.

Book 38 launched an Indiegogo fundraising campaign this week. As these things go, there are a number of rewards if you help fund the project, which already has a commitment from a publisher, as I understand it, and will be released be released in trade paperback and eBook format on May 1st, 2015. Among the other authors in the anthology are the following names, some of which you’ll probably recognize: Craig Spector, Rich Chizmar, Tim Waggoner, John Urbancik, Gary McMahon, Charles Day, and a host of others.

I’ve done a bunch of book review recently. Can’t remember when I last posted a list:

I have one more to do this week, then it’s on to the next project, which is a continuation of a story that was begun by someone else and will be completed by two others. I also got a couple of stories back into circulation over the weekend, something I’ve been lax about of late. I think I have about 10 out there in the submission-sphere at the moment.

Tonight is the end for Sons of Anarchy. Always a sad moment when a series ends after so many years, and I’ve been following it since near the beginning. It’s had an interesting arc. At first, the fascination was with Jax because he appeared to be a good man trying to do the right thing in a culture that made that kind of behavior difficult. He despised some of the things his step-father did and tried to get a compass bearing on what his father wanted for the motorcycle club. He failed, and in doing so he turned into everything he hated about Clay Morrow. Worse, though, he was betrayed by his mother, who has sent him on a collision course with Mayhem. She’s never been a terribly good influence, but her rash act at the end of the previous season, and the lies she and Juice told to cover that up, sent SAMCRO and Jax on a mission of vengeance for all the wrong reasons against all the wrong people. It’s not Shakespearean so much as Greek mythological. Patricides, matricides and just about every other “icide” you can imagine.

Season 5 (or 5a, if you insist) of Haven came to an end last week, too. They shot 26 episodes back to back (to back…), but are splitting the output into two batches of 13. Apparently there are contractual benefits to calling it a single season. For example, the actors can’t renegotiate a better deal in the middle! It’s been a wild ride, with a significant expansion of the mythology, and just when it seemed like there might be a calm moment for the troubled community, Duke let loose an epidemic of new Troubles and Vince & Dave stumbled onto something in the woods. William Shatner will be on four episodes in 2015. My theory is that he will play Mara’s father.

Looks like CBS got the use of a prison set and decided to make the most of it on Sunday night. First, The Mentalist had its “Orange is the New Lisbon” episode (my name for it, not theirs), and then the CSI team investigated a body found in a prison laundry. And then an interesting development at the end of Castle. Looks like Rick will have to strike out on his own in 2015, at least from an investigative point of view.

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Tan Friday

We don’t do Black Friday. And for Cyber Monday, the only things I bought were eBooks for myself! Instead of engaging in hand-to-hand combat with other shoppers over flat screen TVs at Costco, this is what we did (see photo). For the whole weekend, in fact. We went down to Surfside Beach, about 90 miles from where we live, on Wednesday evening and stayed there until late on Sunday.

The previous two weekends were abysmal. Temperatures in the forties, grey and rainy. However, luck was with us. All four days were in the seventies, with partly cloudy skies. It got a little cool when the sun went down, but that wasn’t a problem: our rental property had a good heating system (once we got the vents cleared of dust that set off the smoke detector the first time we turned the heat on). It was a non-traditional Thanksgiving, in most ways. We did have family visitors one afternoon, but other than that it was as off the grid as you can get. We did some reading, soaked up the rays (I’m a little pink, thank you for asking), playing games, cooking meals and relaxing. We only left the place once, and that was to get more wine!

While we were away, I heard about PD James’s death. It was fun hearing Ian Rankin tell some brief tales about her on Twitter. I’ve been reading her books for decades, and always enjoyed them. She and I were nominated in the same category for an Edgar Award a few years ago. I was sure I was doomed, being up against her, but I went to the banquet in part hoping to get the chance to meet her. Alas, she didn’t make the trip over to NY for the ceremony. And neither of us won the award.

One of the books I read last week was 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman by Adam Plantinga. Crime writers like George Pelecanos and Lee Child had commented on it favorably and the cover blurb is by Joseph Wambaugh. Plantinga is a 13-year veteran of two different police departments, now a sergeant. The book is 400 anecdotes and observations, bundled into rough groupings (What Cops Know About Juveniles, What Cops Know About Hookers and Johns…) that give readers some insight into a cop’s life. I imagine most cops could put together something similar, except Plantinga can write really well. The anecdote format doesn’t give him a lot of opportunity to show off his writing chops, but it shines through. It’s droll, witty, amusing, sardonic, resigned, introspective and sharp. I enjoyed the heck out of it, and read many of the passages to my wife after they made me chuckle. If you’re writing about cops, this is a great reference book.

One of the things I worked on while on vacation last week was the short story I’m writing for Jonathan Maberry’s series of X-Files anthologies. The first, X-Files: Trust No One, comes out in March, with stories from Brian Keene, Tim Lebbon, and others. My story, “Phase Shift,” is slated for the second book in the series. It’s a lot of fun playing in someone else’s sandbox. I got to do it before, with Doctor Who: Destination Prague. For research and prep work, I binged through the first two seasons. My story is set in the midst of the second season. I wanted to familiarize myself primarily with the technology. Did they use cell phones (yes, but big suckers with retracting antennas), email (yes, but on Windows 3.1 computers), or the Internet in general (yes). Video conferences cost $150 an hour, by Mulder’s estimate. Only 20 years ago, but my how things have changed.

I can’t remember when I first encountered Rocky Wood, or even when I first met him face to face. I do recall, however, a series of “last meetings.” The first was at the World Horror Convention in Austin in 2011. Rocky had been diagnosed with ALS the previous year, but he was still in pretty good shape. However, he thought that his doctors wouldn’t allow him to travel outside the country by the end of that year. We said goodbye, thinking we’d never see each other again. Happily, that proved not to be the case, and he got to go on a series of adventures and trips after that, and continue his work on books and as president of the HWA. I saw him again in 2012 at the world premiere of Ghost Brothers of Darkland County in Atlanta, and then at World Horror in New Orleans last year. His most recent publication was the 2014 update to Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished, just out from Overlook Connection Press. In fact, I received my copy from Dave Hinchberger on Sunday evening, just hours before Rocky succumbed to complications from ALS. To the outside world, at least, he never seemed to let the disease slow him down. He had a plan early on to raise money for the devices he would need as it progressed, and he kept on going. It was an honor to know him.

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Stormy weather

It’s been a crazy week, weatherwise. Down below freezing in the early days, then back up to almost 80° and now we’re facing a fairly severe storm tomorrow afternoon that threatens to bring hail and, perhaps, tornadoes. Of course, this is nothing like getting 6-8 feet of snow over the course of a couple of days, but still. Good weather to “hunker down,” stay indoors and work.

Because I have no shortage of work to do. I honestly can’t remember when I’ve had so many things on the go at the same time, all of them destined for publication. I have a story due at the end of December that’s finished in first draft. I have to trim a thousand words from it, so there’s that. Another is due in mid-December. I’ve been working on that one for a couple of weeks, but I think I finally have a handle on its structure. This morning, I wrote nearly a thousand words at the beginning that launches it much better than before. I put my next Stephen King Revisited essay on the dashboard for when Rich is ready to tackle The Shining. I have a couple of other projects in the works that I can’t even talk about that much.

So I’m taking all of next week off from the day job to make sure I’m on top of these obligations. By the end of November, I’d like to have most of these well in hand so I can focus on the project Brian Keene and I are doing together during December. Time just keeps on slipping by so fast, though. It seems like just a few days ago we were handing out treats, but that was 3 weeks ago.

Very interesting to hear that William Shatner will be appearing on four episodes of Haven this season. I’m looking. Forward. To that.

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A Capitol Weekend

My second contribution to Stephen King Revisited went live today: Second Coming, my historical essay about ‘Salem’s Lot.

We had a getaway weekend in Austin. The weather wasn’t great, so we didn’t get out and about all that much, but we stayed downtown and had a fine dinner at the original Eddie V’s.

We’ve seen a batch of movies over the past week or so, too. First, we saw A Walk Among the Tombstones, starring Liam Neeson and based upon the Matt Scudder novel by Lawrence Block. It’s a decent adaptation, though of course Scudder has been amped up a little. Not quite into superhero mode, but a cut above the ordinary human being Scudder is in the books. It was an interesting choice to step into the series so late in the game. In the early books, Scudder is still drinking. Eventually he quits and attends AA meetings regularly. This movie introduces his Irregular companion, TJ, though he came into the book series sooner, and ignores Scudder’s companion Elaine and his long-time underworld friend, Mick Ballou. Some decently threatening antagonists.

Then we saw Rudderless, which is one of those films that you should not read about very much before you see it. It stars Billy Crudup as a man who lost his son and later reconnects with him when his ex-wife delivers a box of demo CDs of songs the son had written and recorded on his computer. He teaches himself a song or two and decides to present them at an open mike night, where he encounters another young man (Anton Yelchin from Hearts in Atlantis) who shoe-horns his way into Crudup’s life, convincing him to form a band with him and a couple of friends. This is William H. Macy’s directorial debut, and it also stars Macy’s wife (Felicity Huffman) and Laurence Fishburne, with Selena Gomez in a small part that could have been played by just about anyone. We were surprised by the reaction some reviewers had to the film. It delivers a hell of a wallop 3/4 of the way through that changes everything. It definitely provides food for thought, but I won’t say anything more about it than that.

We saw White Girl in a Blizzard, the story of a teenage girl whose bored and restless mother (played by Eva Green) vanishes one day. Christopher Meloni plays the father. The story jumps around in time, with the daughter (Shailene Woodley) coming of age and going off to college, only to have the past stirred up for her again each time she comes home to visit. She gets involved with the investigating officer (Thomas Jane) and gets naked a lot. I’m not quite sure what the movie was really supposed to be about. The ending comes as no big surprise (well, maybe a small surprise that shakes up expectations) and then it just sort of dribbles off into nothing. It has a bit of that Gone Girl vibe, but only a smidgen.

Finally we saw Magic in the Moonlight in which Colin Firth plays a pompous magician who also debunks shysters and frauds in the roaring twenties. A friend challenges him to find out how a supposed psychic played by Emma Stone is doing what she’s doing, so he travels to the Côte d’Azur to spend some time observing her communicate with the dead. It’s a Woody Allen film, perhaps one of the few of his that I’ve enjoyed, although it did have its slow moments. It’s amusing that Firth’s character is totally baffled by Stone’s shenanigans and even comes to believe that his worldview is totally wrong. The solution to the mystery is fun, but the ending is pretty much a foregone conclusion from the moment Firth and Stone’s characters meet up. An amusing distraction for a rainy afternoon.

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The truth is out there

One of the rules I’ve learned in the writing biz is that he who hesitates might miss out on opportunities. I heard last week about an editor who had a couple of open slots in a themed anthology. He was looking for proposals. Rather than dithering around, I contacted him within hours of the announcement. I found out this weekend that my proposal was accepted. So now all I have to do is write the story. It’s interesting in that I know better how it ends than how it starts. That never happens.

Winter is coming, or so they say. Current forecasts have us below freezing for 6-8 hours on Friday morning. So long as there’s no precipitation, that shouldn’t be a problem. But if it rains…

The accompanying photo is of the Sai Wan cemetery in Hong Kong where Commonwealth soldiers who died there during WWII are buried, along with a memorial wall (the building at the top) for all those whose remains were never identified. One of my uncles falls into that latter category. My grandmother had several sons involved in that war. One landed on the beaches of Normandy, one spent the war afloat and a few of them went to Hong Kong, two of them ending up as POWs in Japan. My father tried to enlist, but he was too young and his faked ID apparently didn’t fool anyone.

Yesterday was my 19th wedding anniversary. We had a nice dinner with our daughter and her boyfriend. The day before, my wife and I went to the “downtown” section of our suburb and saw two movies and had lunch on a patio (probably won’t be doing that this weekend). First we saw The Judge with Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall, plus Vera Farmiga and Vincent D’Onofrio. A decent family drama about an insufferable lawyer long on the outs with his father who returns home for his mother’s funeral and ends up having to defend his father. There is a lot of family and local history to unravel. The movie’s a tad on the long side, but we liked it. Then we saw Interstellar, which is even longer. It wears its 2001 influence on its sleeve, without that earlier film’s obsession with itself. It has some Doctor Who wishy-washy timey-wimey stuff near the end, but it’s a decent thriller with some fascinating set pieces and a moderately strong emotional core. Some of the science is as solid as a film can get and some of it will wrap your head in knots trying to rationalize it. Fun, and definitely one for the big screen.

 

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The Incredible Journey

I’m always fascinated by how my concept of a story I’m working on can change and morph over time. The one I finished yesterday is case in point. I agreed to write this story for a themed anthology. I chose a location. For a while, I thought I was going to write it in tweets. The max word length was 2500, so I imagined 20 or so tweets to tell the story. Sort of a “found tweetage” idea. I honestly thought that’s what it was going to be, but I never wrote a single tweet.

Instead, I picked two characters who’ve taken me on adventures before. A brother and sister who’ve so far been to Centralia, PA and Cheshire, OH in published stories. (A third story is on hold with another anthology.) These two have an interesting family story that establishes the baseline for these adventures. Some day, when I get enough of them, I might put them together into a collection. Anyway, the first draft is about 20% over the limit, so I’m going to have to do some slicing and dicing.

Several weeks ago, Rich Chizmar and Brian Freeman approached me to see if I was interested in being part of a project that launched today. The idea behind Stephen King Revisited is that Rich will read all of King’s books in publication order (including collections, Bachman books and non-fiction) and blog about the experience. In fact, the blogging part was King’s idea after Rich told him what he was going to do. They asked me if I would write an accompanying essays that puts each book in its historical context. Rich estimates that he’ll read two to three books per month, which means we’re going to be at this for at least the next two years! My first essay, How Carrie Happened, went up today, along with Rich’s introduction to the project. His blog about Carrie should be up in a few days, with ‘Salem’s Lot to follow by Thanksgiving. I’ve been working ahead: I have my first five essays ready to go. Check it out. Sign up for email updates. Comment on the blogs. It’s going to be an interesting journey.

I’m enjoying American Horror Story much more than I thought I would. The teasers didn’t do much for me but the story, so far, is decent. Glad to see Elementary back, too. The murder method in the first episode was a tad preposterous, but it was mostly something to hang the interpersonal drama off.

The episode of Haven that airs tonight is the one being filmed when my daughter and I visited the set in June. The scene we saw takes place in a house (a real house, not a set), and I suspect it’s from late in the episode. A couple of major characters are handcuffed together. The scene also features Chris Masterson, Lara Jean Chorostecki, and Kris Lemche. It was raining really hard outside during filming. A gully washer. I’ll be curious to see if any of that external sound is audible.

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This kid

I finished the first draft of a short story I’ve been wrestling with for a couple of weeks. It came in long, so some of it’s got to go, but I’m happy to have it down. I’ve known for quite a while how it was going to end, but for some reason it just took me a while to get there. Plus I was working on other things—one of which you’ll find out more about in a couple of days. Part of an ongoing project that sounds cool.

I wonder if we got a hint about what will happen with Jax on Sons of Anarchy. He’s always been obsessed by his father and now there’s an indication that John Teller might have run his motorcycle into a transport deliberately, supposedly to save his MC and his family. Does the same fate lie ahead for Jax? Even his strongest supporters are starting to wonder if he’s in control. And was I the only one who thought for a moment, when Gemma found the dead birds in her bed, that Abel was responsible? That kid is getting ready to explode and it’s hard to know exactly what’s going to happen when he does. Is he the one who is going to be Gemma’s downfall? Because Gemma deserves a downfall: everything bad that’s happened this season has been a result of her deadly impulsive actions. It was fun to see her squirm for a while when she was summoned to the cabin, sure that she was about to be executed.

The amazing child actress, Millie Bobby Brown, who played Madison on Intruders (and then something other than Madison) was a guest star on NCIS this week. She started out as the child of the victim and then turned into so much more at the end. The kid has a future. Ever since we saw her on Intruders, I’ve suggested she could play the lead in a feature adaptation of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

I finished the first season of Case Histories, the BBC Scotland adaptation of Kate Atkinson’s novels. It’s in six parts, with each pair adapting one of her Jackson Brodie novels. They’ve tweaked things a little, moving Brodie front and center in places where he wasn’t quite and relocating everything to Edinburgh (the first book was set in Cambridge), but they maintained the sense of random and coincidence that makes her novels so appealing and charming. I’m glad they resisted the urge to tie things together neatly. Amanda Abbington (Watson’s wife on Sherlock and Martin Freeman’s real wife) is the DC who has a love/hate relationship with Brodie. The little girl who plays his daughter is a precocious cutie, and there’s an engaging teen-aged nanny in the third part, a Welsh actress who has this Billy Idol twist to her upper lip from time to time. It was good enough for me to get the second season. They’ll run out of novels in this one, so some of the stories must be original. Edinburgh looks very nice on this series.

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First World Problems

When my daughter and I visited the Haven set, we saw a couple of other actors that we weren’t allowed to talk about because their appearances hadn’t been announced yet. The first was Chris Masterson from Malcolm in the Middle, brother of Danny Masterson from That 70’s Show who was the cameraman on “Shot in the Dark,” the Darkside Seekers episode of Haven last season.

The other was Lara Jean Chorostecki, the Canadian actress who plays Freddy Lounds on Hannibal. While we got to talk to Emily Rose and Lucas Bryant for a while, and I got to hang out with Kris Lemche in the morgue, we didn’t get much of a chance to interact with these two as they were in the middle of filming an intense scene. I did get to say hi to Lara Jean when she wandered back to “video village” between takes, but she was concentrating on her work. Still, it was neat seeing her in person. Like they often say: she is somewhat smaller in person than she appears on screen.

We voted in the mid-term elections this on Saturday morning. These are my first mid-terms since becoming a US citizen. Quite a lengthy ballot, with federal, state and local items. We got to vote for the Justice of the Peace who officiated at our wedding back in ’95, though she was running unopposed. A guy named Sam Houston was on the ballot: how could anyone in Texas not vote for him?

I like to try new recipes from time to time. This weekend I made my first blackened dish. I found a good concoction of spices and made blackened salmon. It was really quite good. As a side benefit, I also confirmed after 19 years living in our house that the smoke detector really does work. Next time I think I’ll do my blackening in the back yard. With advance warning to the fire department.

We watched a movie called The Last Weekend on Saturday. It’s one of those “everyone comes home for the weekend and exposes their dysfunctions” films. Patricia Clarkson plays the mother and Chris Mulkey the father and Tahoe plays Tahoe. They have two adult sons, one of whom writes for a TV series and the other who just got fired by making a typo that cost his company $30 million. You get the sense that there’s something bad going on in the background. Are mom and dad going broke? Does one of them have a fatal disease they’re trying to tell people about? As it turns out, the big family “crisis” is that they’ve decided to sell one of their two vacation homes. Quelle domage! It almost seems like the writer is poking fun at this sub-genre of movies. It’s the Labor Day weekend, after all, not exactly a holiday known for family reunions. But if he’s taking the piss, he’s not doing a terribly good job of it. The characters are self-absorbed and unlikable, starting with Clarkson’s character, who is snarky to the max. There are some moderately interesting subplots, but it all seems too much like first world problems. Not recommended.

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