Speak low, if you speak love

Last fall, I was contacted by an editor with the Poetry Foundation, asking if I’d like to write an essay about Stephen King’s poetry. He felt there was a story there to be told that hadn’t been explored before. I was game, and it was the Poetry Foundation, after all, publishers of Poetry magazine.

The original brief was for 2500 words, which didn’t take me long to write. I turned my first draft in several weeks before deadline. The editor sent it back covered in red “track changes” marks and a request to expand it significantly. Include more quotes from the works, dive deeper. So I did. Second draft was 7500 words! Sent that in and, after a while, I got another copy back covered in red editorial ink. Maybe I went a bit overboard for an online essay. Draft three was around the 5000-word mark. Another round of revisions. I’ve never been so heavily edited in my life! But at last we were there, nearly. Off it went to the digital editor, who had a few cuts and changes. A new draft.

And then came a process I’ve never been through before: fact checking. I knew it was coming, but in my mind it was going to be an interrogation. What is the source of this fact? Where does this quote come from? However, what it turned out to be was a request for supporting documentation for every single fact and quote in the essay. I ended up sending along nearly 60 scans from primary and secondary sources and hyperlinks to online articles. I only missed out on three “facts,” which I was able to resolve. But still, quite a process!

The essay should be out late next month. I’ll be sure to advertise it when it appears.

Last night I saw A Quiet Place with my buddy Danel Olson. It was playing in the biggest theater in our cineplex, and it was virtually empty. No more than 20 people in attendance. Which was kind of good, because that meant the audience noise was low and for this movie that’s important. I don’t know that I’ve ever watched a film where I’ve spent so much time either holding my breath or with my hands clasped over my mouth. It is an incredibly suspenseful film, one where even an errant nail is a Hitchcockian source of tension.

It’s also a lean movie—no messing around with backstory or exposition. We don’t see the family in their life before the invasion. We don’t even see the invasion: we’re dropped into the story months after things go bad. We learn about the new reality by seeing it in action—and a little bit by reading some headlines posted on a basement wall. The family doesn’t congratulate themselves on surviving because they have a deaf daughter and thus they are better equipped to communicate silently. We just work that out ourselves. The early scene on the bridge shows the stakes: no one is safe. It’s a cleverly written movie that trusts the audience. Tight, intimate, chilling and devastating. The final shot is perfect.

My only question was: why didn’t they find somewhere noisy to live or create a noisy environment around them so they didn’t have to walk on “eggshells” all the time? They understood the concept, so why not put it into practice more on a daily basis? Still, I enjoyed the hell out of this film.

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Bamboozled

I have the first draft of a 5000-word story finished. It’s the one I wrote about in my previous entry, the one I got up in the middle of the night to write notes about. It ended up being pretty much like I envisioned it during the wee small hours, although I added a new character and expanded some parts slightly. I dictated it into the computer on the weekend and have made a couple of passes to touch up the transcription errors. Now comes the hard work: whipping it into shape. I read a quote that said the first draft is where you tell yourself the story, and I find that increasingly to be true. I was figuring it out as I went along. Now I have to take what I discovered and turn it into the best possible representation of that found object.

I found a nice review of Halloween Carnival Volume 4 the other day. In discussing my contribution, “The Halloween Tree,” the review concluded, “Vincent weaves a beautiful yet terrifying tale from the eyes of children that finds it true power after the final word. This is a very well written story that has a strong literary feel that I enjoyed. While it was more a coming of age story than a simple horror tale, it is still a four-star addition to the collection. ” I’ll take that.

File this under: we’ll never really know for sure. On Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were sitting in the driveway sipping wine, as we do when the weather is fair and the mosquitoes scarce, when I saw a woman coming down the cul-de-sac across from us. She was carrying bamboo stalks. She was about five feet tall; the bamboo fronds were about six feet long, and she was clutching them in her hand like she meant to joust with them. When she reached our street, I noticed a man a ways behind her. Her partner, I assumed. He trailed along, but at a guarded distance. Like he thought something was going to happen, something he was helpless to stop but needed to witness.

The woman strode to the front door of the house diagonally across from us. We’ve often noted the fact that this neighbor has some healthy and hearty bamboo behind their house, tall enough that we can see it over their six foot fence. I thought I could see where this was going. She knocked or rang the bell—they were far enough away we couldn’t tell, nor could we hear the words that were spoken once the door opened. Certain kinds of bamboo have a tendency to spread like wildfire, so I figured this woman—whose back yard, we assumed, butted up against our neighbor’s—was complaining that the bamboo had spread into her yard, and she was none to pleased about it. Meanwhile, the trailing guy stayed at the intersection, a good hundred feet away from the action. I suppose he would have leaped into the fray if things had gone badly, but he definitely did not look like he wanted to get involved.

A few minutes later, the woman left, bamboo stalks still clenched firmly in her hand. She strode past our house and never gave us so much as a wave or a smile. The man beat a hasty retreat ahead of her. Last seen walking toward her house. I don’t know what she planned to do with the bamboo. A little domestic drama on a Sunday afternoon. It takes little to entertain us.

I watched a three-part British serial called Trauma over the weekend. It starred one of my favorite actors, John Simm (The Master from Doctor Who, also from Life on Mars) as a working class guy who’s had a very bad day already, when he finds out his teenage son has been stabbed and sent to the emergency ward. The surgeon handling the case assures him that everything’s fine, the boy’s stable—and then he isn’t. In a flash, the situation goes south. The doctor, tall, fit, dignified, is an affront to the father, who believes the doctor is lying to him, based on some behavioral tics. He thinks the doctor made a mistake, and he makes it his mission in life to get to the truth. He has little interest in blaming the miscreant who stabbed his son—it’s the doctor and his conspicuous wealth and standing that offends him. It’s difficult to watch at times. Some brutal confrontations, and Simm’s character goes full out wacky stalker. I’m not sure I was completely happy with the way it was wrapped up. There seemed to be a slant in favor of the middle class versus the wealthy class. The truth does all come out in the end, and a lot of damage is done in the process, but (despite a terrific performance by Simm), I thought the father got off lightly for what he did. Worth seeking out, though.

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I love it when this happens, sort of

I’ve been working on a short story for a week or so, mostly doing research, although I made a first stab at what I thought was going to be the opening section, and in a sense will be, although somewhat modified.

Then, at about 1:30 this morning, I woke up knowing exactly how I was going to write the story and the voices of the characters involved. Afraid that all this inspiration might be gone come morning, I had to get out of bed and write myself a couple of pages of notes. The handwriting is shaky but legible, but I needn’t have feared: it was all still there this morning. Although, what’s to say that the act of writing it down wasn’t what helped me to remember it when I awoke. Inspiration like that is always nice; however, it would have been nicer if it had happened at 1:30 pm instead.

In any case, I had a very productive writing session this morning. Since I write by hand, I can’t say exactly how much I wrote, but it was nine Moleskine pages, so I’m guessing something around or a little over 2000 words. That’s a lot for me in one sitting (although I have done a lot more on rare occasion). The funny thing is that I’m not writing the story beginning to end—what I wrote this morning was the middle, in three sections, and the sections will probably end up in a different order than I wrote them. Now I have to write one more “middle” section, the beginning and the end. I know them, more or less, I just have to commit them to paper. Then it’ll be time to dictate the story into the computer and edit the crap out of it. That’s a technical writing term, by the way.

Hodder & Stoughton hasn’t yet revealed their cover art for the UK edition of Flight or Fright. They have a web page up for it, though. I received the final missing pieces for the manuscript, so now the book is in the proof-reading phase. All very exciting!

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Now it can be told…

For the past several months—since last August, in fact—I’ve been working with Stephen King, editing an anthology of scary stories involving flying. Cemetery Dance Publications announced the book today, so I can finally talk about it!

The anthology contains sixteen stories and a poem, all reprints except for new stories from King and Joe Hill. Some of the authors and/or stories you may be familiar with (Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Dan Simmons, Richard Matheson), while others will likely be as new to you as they were to me. Oh, and I have a story in it, too, a reprint called “Zombies on a Plane.” We came up with a terrific lineup of stories and I’m very proud of what we’ve done with this book. We think it should be stocked in every airport bookstore on the planet so that airline passengers will have something to help them pass the time as they rocket across the atmosphere, miles up in the air, inside a metal tube held up by physics and thin air.

Cemetery Dance is releasing the hardcover and eBook on September 4, while Simon and Schuster is doing the audiobook. Hodder and Stoughton will be publishing Flight or Fright in the UK.

Here’s how the book came about: I was sitting next to Rich Chizmar in a Bangor restaurant when Steve came up to us with this idea for an anthology of horror stories involving flying. The fact that we were across the street from Bangor International Airport was especially apropos. Steve and I dug deep to come up with this collection of stories—some of them I’d read before but many of them I hadn’t. It was a delight to find tales by some of my favorite authors that fit the loose theme and also to be introduced to several new-to-me writers who had published some chilling tales. Then there’s the new stories by Steve and Joe Hill, both of which are terrific and disturbing contributions to this sub-genre. I spent 24 hours total on two flights to and from Japan while working on this project and I spent a lot of time…a LOT of time…thinking about all the things that might go wrong when I was 35,000 feet up hurtling through space at 500 mph in a torpedo with wings. Is it a little twisted that we hope this anthology makes a lot of other people equally nervous the next time they board a flight?

Hope you’ll check it out. It’s been a fascinating experience. I’ll never look at an airplane the same way again.

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Watch this space

Be sure to visit this page next Monday, when I’ll have some exciting news to announce. You’ll probably hear it somewhere else before you visit, but check in, anyway! It pertains to a project I’ve been working on for the past several months, and it’s really (really) cool.

Also cool: the number of languages in which I’ve been published has expanded by one. My story “Aeliana,” which is in the Shining in the Dark anthology, will be translated into Czech.  That’s the cover you see here, for Osvícení v temnotě. If you’re keeping track, my work has appeared in Russian, Italian, Dutch, French and Bulgarian, and by the end of the year I can add Czech, German and Swedish. Maybe more.

I was interviewed recently by Soraya Murillo Hernandez, and the article is now available (in English) at the Truth in Fiction blog.

We saw Black Panther recently and really enjoyed it. As with most people, the standout character for us was Shuri, the younger sister and technical genius. At times she reminded me a little of Q from James Bond. I really appreciated the fact that you can enjoy this movie without knowing anything at all about the greater Marvel universe. The only part that left us scratching our heads and firing up Google was the second post-credit scene. I’m still not sure I get the significance of it, but it doesn’t really matter. The movie was sweeping in scope and yet intimate in concept. A lot of hand-to-hand combat, but plenty of characterization and a “villain” whose motives and issues were completely relatable. He wasn’t the usual supervillain megalomaniac out to conquer the world to boost his ego.

I also watched the Netflix series Everything Sucks!, which I’m describing as The Wonder Years for the 1990s. It’s light and whimsical, but there are some relevant issues handled with care. Some terrific performances by the two young leads.

On the reading front, I’m well into I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. The author is Patton Oswalt’s late wife, a lifelong true crime aficionado. The book is as much about the nature of obsession as it is about her pursuit of this horrifying criminal who committed dozens and dozens of rapes and murders without ever being identified or caught. The nature of his crimes are guaranteed to creep you out, and you may have a few sleepless nights after you read this one.

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Discovery

So, I’m back from a week in Japan, except my mind still thinks I’m on the other side of the planet, refusing to let me sleep at the usual time. I was over there just long enough to almost get adapted to their time zone, only to turn around and come right back.

The outbound flight was roughly 14 hours. I left in the late morning on Saturday and got into Narita on Sunday afternoon. During the flight I read the first 450 pages or so of The Outsider, King’s forthcoming novel. Slept a little, but not a lot. Took the Narita Express in to Shinjuku, where I spent the night in a little hotel that was apparently on the edge of one of Tokyo’s red light districts. It’s hard to tell. There’s no shortage of sex parlors in that city. Monday was a national holiday, so I spent the day wandering around until it was time to head out to the western side of the city, where I spent the next three days in meetings.

It was cold over there. Below freezing at night and barely above in the day time. I saw the remnants of their recent snowfall on some streets. We were entertained by our hosts one evening at a Korean Shabu-Shabu restaurant. You get a pan with two different kinds of boiling liquid (one mostly flavorless, the other sesame) and racks of very thinly sliced meats (we got marbled beef and pork, thankfully none of the tongue that seems to be popular at these places) that you cook in the boiling liquid. Vegetables, too, so that ultimately you end up making a kind of brothy soup.

I knew from my daughter that Star Trek Discovery, the new series set before the original Star Trek, which is only available in the US if you pay to subscribe to CBS’s online service, is free on Netflix, so I binged through the entire season, often at 3 am when I was wide awake due to the time change. The final episode of the season dropped a few days before I left, so I was able to see the whole thing.

It’s an interesting show. Much, much harder on its main characters than any of the other series. There’s a lot of duplicity. You never know who to trust, nor who is going to survive. Main characters get killed. Main characters commit treason. Main characters cause galactic wars. My biggest problem with the show was in wrapping my head around the technology. Because film has progressed so much since the original series, everything looks much more modern than it did, but some tech was used in ways that Captain Kirk and his team never did. There was a fair amount of teleporting within the ship, for example, and I don’t remember ever seeing that on TOS or TNG. The computer and one character have a debate about the ethics of her instructions, which seemed more advanced than the older shows. In some ways, the show felt more like Doctor Who than Star Trek. But I liked it and look forward to seeing where it goes in season 2. I just hope I don’t have to go all the way to Japan to see it.

At the end of meetings on the third day, I relocated to the hotel airport, and what a pleasant surprise that was. I got upgraded to a junior suite for free (huge, massive, compared to most Japanese hotels), got free drink and meal discount coupons, and they let me check out late, which was good because my flight was late in the afternoon. On the eleven hour flight back (gotta love those shorter return journeys), I watched videos rather than read, and slept a fair amount. I watched War for the Planet of the Apes, which I’ve been trying to get to for a while. I’ve been enjoying these reimagined films, and like seeing all the places where they call back to the original films, in this case mostly Battle for the Planet of the Apes. All the little echoes from that earlier film. Then I watched most of Season 1 of Veep, which I’ve never seen before. Obviously satire, but it demonstrates how impotent the role of the Vice President can be…until it isn’t.

Which segues into the movie we saw last weekend after I got home: LBJ, starring Woody Harrelson as Lyndon Johnson, directed by Rob Reiner. Who would ever have imagined casting Woody as Johnson, but it was a good choice and it was probably Harrelson’s best performance ever. He disappears into the part, mostly. I confess I didn’t know that much about LBJ’s presidency, not even what his legacy was, so I found the film interesting from that perspective. They only skimmed over some of his more colorful aspects (his habit of consulting with his staff while sitting on the toilet with the door open) and didn’t get into the Vietnam war issues. It focuses mostly on the JFK assassination and Johnson’s decision to embrace Kennedy’s initiatives and see them through. Decent film.

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In Absentia

I finished the first few drafts of my new short story. It took two days to write the first draft (longhand), which ended up being 4900 words. It’s funny how many of my stories end up being close to 5k. This was probably one of the easiest stories I’ve written in a long time. All the beats came right where I thought they needed to, and I felt like I was taking dictation as I scrawled on the pages of my notebook.

I dictated the story into Word on Saturday and spent the rest of the weekend’s writing sessions cleaning up the transcription errors and researching a few points that I’d annotated in my holographic manuscript. Two or three passes through and I have a solid draft that I’ll let sit for a couple of weeks before I take another pass at it and then turn it in to its prospective home. I think it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever written.

We saw Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri on Saturday. I missed it during its initial release, but it came back to theaters after it was nominated for a bunch of awards, so we got to see it on the big screen. It’s a remarkable film for a number of reasons. The performances are top notch. The story is compelling, and the choices they make in telling the story aren’t the obvious ones. It’s easy to feel compassion for Frances McDormand’s character, because who wouldn’t feel compassion for a mother whose daughter was murdered? But she’s a challenging individual in a lot of other ways. Was she a good mother? She said some terrible things to her kids before the tragedy, things that come back to haunt her. She speaks her mind, even when it’s not necessarily in her best interests to do so. Then there’s the racist deputy played by Sam Rockwell. One of several characters who are as dumb as bags of rocks. I know there has been some push-back against the movie because of the transition his character makes, which some people feel was undeserved and unearned. And Woody Harrelson is charming as the cussing sheriff.

The movie never goes where you think it will. It looks like it is headed for a tidy ending in which everything gets neatly resolved, but then you get to the end and it looks like the movie is designed for a Thelma & Louise style sequel. There are a lot of things you have to swallow—there is an exaggerated set of incidents where, in the “real world,” one hopes the consequences would be more severe for the perpetrators. But even with all that, it is a helluva film. Highly recommended.

I wish Absentia on Amazon Prime were better than it is. I had high hopes. I’m a big fan of Stana Katic from Castle, who is always interesting to watch because you always feel like she’s present in scenes. Re-acting as much as acting. Her character, an FBI agent, vanished six years ago and was presumed dead. Her husband remarried. Her little boy is now a bigger boy. But she returns with a splash, upsetting all manner of apple carts, and there’s growing evidence that perhaps her disappearance wasn’t what it seemed and that she might be involved in shady things. Or not. The script probably looked good to Katic, but the execution is weak. It was filmed in Bulgaria, but it’s supposed to be Boston, but they didn’t go to many lengths to Americanize the staging and things feel off. Many of the secondary cast members speak accented English, and it ain’t Bah-ston English. It feels like a run-of-the-mill TV series compared to some of the stellar streaming series we’ve been treated to lately. I’ll stick through to the end, but it’s not as good as I’d hoped.

I’m not a huge football fan. We went out to dinner when the Superbowl was on (the restaurant wasn’t completely empty, but almost), returning home mid-way through the third quarter. Decided to watch the rest, and that was pretty exciting. It occurred to me that football is basically a sport in which two different teams play two other teams. There’s the quarterback and the offensive line against the other team’s defense, and vice versa. The two quarterbacks never play against each other. When one of these team leaders is in command, the other guy is on the sidelines, looking on helplessly. It’s a strange configuration, and not the head-to-head challenge its often portrayed as. Still, exciting finale. I think a lot of people expected Brady to pull off a miracle as if it was par for the course (to mix sports metaphors). He tried.

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Credits

I started a new short story today, my first of 2018. I’ve been busy working on The Project That Cannot Be Named lately, and that has been consuming most of my writing time. But I’ve been cogitating over this new story for a while and I have most of it mapped out in my head, so I went to the bagel cafe this morning for breakfast and hand-wrote over nine pages in my Moleskine journal, which amounts to about 2000-2500 words, I guess. Over half the story, although I’m not quite sure how it’s going to end yet. I have a pretty good idea, but there are some logistics I need to research first.

I also sold my first new short story of 2018, a tale called “Ray and the Martian.” I’ll announce more once the publisher gives the go-ahead. Swedish and British editions of Shining in the Dark have been announced as well. My story “Aeliana” is going to be well published this year!

I discovered that I am one of those offered Special Thanks at the end of an extra feature video on the Blu-Ray of It, which is pretty cool. There I am, crammed between the Thomas Hill Standpipe and Canadian actor Finn Wolfhard, who was also in Stranger Things.

I hear that Cemetery Dance #76 is showing up in mailboxes. I haven’t received my copy yet, but I’m looking forward to it. I have four pieces in that issue.

When I heard the news about Dallas Mayr (aka Jack Ketchum), I gasped. For real. I was self-aware enough to hear myself making that sound. I don’t know Dallas well, really, but I’ve known him for a long time and we’ve had some good times together. I know him from various Necons, of course, but my wife and I also sat with him at the Jekyll & Hyde Club in New York as part of a dinner organized by Stephen King’s office before the Harry, Carrie and Garp event. Rich Chizmar and I met up with him before the National Book Award banquet at which King cited Dallas as someone people should be reading more. And at the World Horror Convention in Austin, where I served as Guest of Honor Liaison, I had the pleasure of driving Dallas around in search of a liquor store so he could stock up on scotch. That was a fun outing. I always enjoyed talking with him. He took a lot of crap from people at Necon, all with good humor. I will miss seeing him. Maybe some day the book of essays about his work for which I have contributed a piece will see the light of day. That would be nice.

I just finished watching a French series called La Mante (The Mantis) on Netflix. It’s about a series of copycat murders many years after a crime spree committed by a young woman who killed reprehensible men. There’s an element of Silence of the Lambs to it, in that the investigators go back to the original killer for advice in trying to catch the new murderer, but the big twist is that she’s the mother of the guy in charge of the team, although only a couple of people know that. For the sake of the family’s privacy, the perpetrator’s name was changed and news reports declared that his mother had been killed in a plane crash, without connecting the two to each other. There are a few implausible moments and far too many people connected to the family show up as persons of interest, but it’s not bad, and at six hours, quite binge-able. The creators have obviously seen a lot of movies based on Stephen King books. There are a couple of really overt homages, including the use of a particular camera angle that rips off Kubrick. The actress who plays the Mantis reminds me a lot of Charlotte Rampling. She is an ice queen…until she isn’t.

I also enjoyed The End of the F***ing World on Netflix. It’s a British dark comedy about a teenage boy who thinks he’s sort of a young Dexter Morgan who tortures animals and doesn’t feel anything. The next logical move is to kill a person, and he picks a quirky girl. However, she’s the exact opposite of him: she feels everything, and he soon discovers he’s way out of his depth with her. They run away from home and make a series of increasingly bad decisions that puts them at greater and greater jeopardy. Each episode is only 22 minutes, which is just about right. Along with The Good Place, this is the only “comedy” I’ve enjoyed in recent years, and in this case there aren’t many laughs. It’s dark.

I binged through The Deuce recently, too. That’s the HBO series that takes place around Times Square in the 1970s, created by David Simon (The Wire, Treme) and George Pelecanos, with Megan Abbott on the writing team. If you’ve been missing The Wire, this is the show for you. Not only does it have that feel, it has a number of actors from that series. James Franco plays twin brothers, one moderately responsible, one not so much. The story involves pimps and prostitutes who walk the streets, the cops who police the streets and the gangsters who have interests in just about everything. It explores violence toward women, but also the change in the sex trade during that period, with pornography attempting to go mainstream (Deep Throat) and the migration of prostitutes into brothels and the creation of personal video booths at porn shops. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a prostitute who transitions into the porn movie making business. It’s also dark, although it has some pretty funny moments, too.

We also took a deep dive into the seventies by watching Battle of the Sexes and The Post. We followed this with The Final Year, a documentary about Obama’s last year in the White House. It’s a fascinating look behind the curtain, not only at Obama but at some of his most trusted team members. Finally, last weekend we saw I’m Not Your Negro, the documentary based on James Baldwin’s outline of a project he wanted to do about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers. It’s eye-opening, to say the least. For me, one of the most profound lines came when Baldwin said that black people knew white people far better than any white person knew black people because black people have had to watch and be acutely aware of white people all their lives.

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OK. Enough with the snow.

It’s been a winter for the record books. We had significant snowfall in early December, recordable snow a few weeks later and then we got winter. We knew it was coming: the forecasters were predicting a hard freeze with sleet and freezing rain, but we didn’t really know how bad it would be. Southeast Texas was essentially closed for business yesterday when the roads became impassable. Overpasses and bridges were too hazardous for most drivers and there was ice on the roadways across the metro area. I worked from my home office.

The first precipitation was probably sleet, but there was enough of it to make a white coat over everything. Unlike our December snowfall, it was cold enough outside for the precip to stay…and it kept getting colder. We were in the teens most of the day, with wind chill temps in the single digits. More freezing rain and sleet in the afternoon, followed by some big fluffy snowflakes. A hard freeze overnight and for the first time since we moved into our house 22+ years ago, the water pipes froze.

It was a bad moment when I was getting ready for work this morning and turned on the shower faucet…and nothing happened. I discovered that some varmint had chewed away a chunk of insulation on the pipe going into the house and I speculated that the freeze happened there. My father would probably have gotten out the butane torch and hit the thing with a direct flame, but I opted instead for the hair drier method. But, boy, was it ever cold out, and after fifteen minutes with no obvious progress, I went in search of another option. My wife suggested the heating pad she uses when she has back pain. I wrapped the pipe with the heating pad and we wrapped that in turn with a big towel and let it run. An hour later, the water started flowing. No burst pipes, fortunately, and I plan to re-wrap the pipes tonight to keep that from happening again. We are barely above freezing now, and it’s going back down to the low 20s again tonight, with another hard freeze warning.

Schools remained closed today. This weekend it will be high 60s and low 70s. Can’t wait. But this must be the longest we’ve had snow on the ground in this region in a long time: over twenty-four hours.

When my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter were home for the holidays, we had family photos taken. It was a chilly morning (not as chilly as this morning) but they turned out quite well. I don’t normally post pictures of my granddaughter to social media, but her back is to the camera in this one and I got special dispensation to use it! My daughter says it’s adorable, the elbow-patch pals. I think so, too!

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2018 — the New Year

We’ve been having fun entertaining our daughter, son-in-law and 18-month-old granddaughter for the past couple of weeks. We see them every other week on Skype, but this is the first time they’ve been here in person for many months. The last time I saw our granddaughter in person, she was barely crawling and now she’s toddling and babbling and very, very active. We now know everything about our house that isn’t childproofed.

Now that the visit is over, we set about putting everything back in place from where it was hidden to keep the little girl safe.

The temperature has been all over the map. We had another flirtation with flurries a couple of weeks ago. Snow was recorded at the airport, but nothing like what we saw in early December. The temps have been down to the 30s, up to the 70s (earlier today) and back down to the 30s (tonight).

Over at News from the Dead Zone, I posted a year-end summary and a look forward to the year in Stephen King news. I signed my first short story contract of 2018 (the project hasn’t been announced yet, so I’ll hold off on more details until it is) and am getting very close to signing another contract for something that will be out toward the end of the year. I’m awaiting the editor’s feedback on the second draft of an essay I worked on late last year, so I’ll have that to play with next week, more than likely. I also have a new short story I’m contemplating before launching fully into novel-writing mode for 2018.

I finally got to see The Last Jedi last weekend, and I managed to avoid all spoilers before doing so. It wasn’t that hard–I just looked away from any articles or posts that mentioned Star Wars. I was amused by the way the gung-ho pilot who always breaks the rules was relegated to the role of dinosaur in this film and the level-headed women were the voices of reason, even when it seemed like they weren’t. The female characters in general ran the show in this film, and I’m completely okay with that. I found it interesting that a significant part of the movie dealt with a side-mission that not only didn’t accomplish what it set out to do, it ended up making things significantly worse. If those characters had done nothing at all, things would have been better for the “good guys.” I thought the porgs were cute, and I laughed at the scene where Chewie is trying to have his dinner of roast porg while the others give him big sad puppy eyes. They were good comic relief inside the Millennium Falcon, too. I patted myself on the back for figuring out the clue about the red earth under the salt during the big battle at the end. I had no issues whatsoever with the resolution of Luke’s story. I thought it was a good, solid addition to the Star Wars saga. Not OMG good, but good.

I’ve been watching the series Travelers on Netflix. It’s about time-travelers who come from the future to try to correct things that have gone terribly wrong. They enter the bodies of people at the moment of their deaths and take over their lives moving forward. The focus is on a team led by FBI agent Grant MacLaren (Eric McCormack). His colleagues include a young woman who traveled into the body of a mentally handicapped individual, an old man who inhabits the body of a teenager, another guy who has the misfortune of being hosted by a heroin addict, and “MacLaren’s” partner in the future, who is now a single mother with an abusive police officer ex. So they have to try to save the future while blending into these complicated lives in a world that they only know about in theory from far in the future. It’s an interesting premise, and their personal problems are as interesting as their missions. I finished the first season and will move on to Season 2 shortly. It’s produced in Canada and a lot of familiar Canadian actors appear in it, including McCormack, who was born and raised in Ontario.

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