Bane

I’ve been reading A.O. Scott’s movie reviews in the New York Times for many years. One of my favorite parts is the rating at the end, wherein he explains what gave rise to the R or PG-13 or whatever. They’re usually pithy and funny.

I follow him on Twitter. Today, he posted a link to an article about two celebrities of dubious repute. “I’ve always wondered what the opposite of clickbait was,” he wrote. “Now I know.” So I wondered what one would call the opposite of clickbait and, after a couple of seconds, it dawned on me: clickbane. I was gratified when Mr. Scott approved!

The last two times we went to the local multiplex, first to see Arrival and then again last weekend when we saw The Accountant, the house lights came up about five minutes before the movie ended. Once we could handle, but it seemed to be becoming a trend, and not a good one. It was as distracting as if a bunch of people around us had suddenly turned on their cell phones. So after the second incident, we sought out a manager to report the problem. He apologized, of course, and gave us a couple of passes for free movies, which was nice. That wasn’t what we were looking for, but free is good. We just wanted the problem to stop. I also wrote to the theater chain via their website and received a prompt response. I was glad to hear that the manager had taken our complaint seriously and passed it along to the General Manager, who investigated, found the source of the problem and rectified it. That’s good customer service.

As far as The Accountant—it was okay. My takeaway message was that even if you register somewhere on the autism scale, you, too, can become a deadly and highly efficient assassin. Anna Kendrick was good, and it’s always nice to see J. K. Simmons. The surprise reveal toward the end wasn’t such a big surprise.

I went to see David Morrell at Murder by the Book last week. He was promoting the third and final volume in his Thomas De Quincey series, Ruler of the Night. It was good to visit with him again. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve gotten to spend time with him on a number of occasions over the years, and worked with him as the editor of an anthology containing one of my stories once—and I look forward to reading this latest work.

We finished off the first season of The Crown on Netflix, which was really very well done. We’re also watching a quirky Japanese comedy called Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories. It’s an anthology show set in a diner that’s only open from midnight to seven a.m. Each week, a different meal or food is featured, and there’s a little drama that goes along with it among the patrons of the diner. Apparently it’s based on a long-running manga of the same name. It’s weird, but we’re enjoying it.

Other shows I’m currently watching: The Fall (I’m four episodes into the most recent season): it’s a slow burn this time as they prepare to bring the case against the strangler, who has a most unique potential defense strategy. Gillian Anderson is so much better here than she was in the X-files reboot; Westworld: Only two episodes left in the first season. It has a kind of Lost vibe and it has something to say about storytelling; Game of Thrones: I finally made it to the end of Season 5 and I just received the discs for the most recent season, which goes off the map because they ran out of source material; and The Affair, which just returned for a third season. The medieval French professor looks like she could be an interesting addition to the story.

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On Arrival

I turned in an essay I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks today and had it accepted by the editor. It’s an introduction to a forthcoming reissue that hasn’t quite been announced yet, so I won’t say more, except that I had fun working on the piece.

My review of Hearts in Suspension was posted last week. This is the collection of essays produced by the University of Maine Press to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Stephen King’s arrival at the UMO campus. It’s fascinating to read all of these reminiscences from that long-ago era, especially considering the era on which we are currently embarking.

We received word today that the audiobook edition of The X-files: The Truth is Out There won the Voice Arts Award for best narration in an anthology. The readers were Hilary Huber and Bronson Pinchot. That’s pretty cool. I haven’t yet heard my story in audio, but I think I’ll get a copy.

I also found a new review of The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film where the reviewer got a kick out of my somewhat irreverent essay.

We’ve been enjoying the Netflix series The Crown, which fictionalizes the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. John Lithgow is terrific as Winston Churchill, especially when he’s getting dressed down by the young monarch. I’m still having a hard time adjusting to Matt Smith as Prince Philip, but I’m getting there.

On Saturday, we saw the new film Arrival, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. Adams plays a linguist who is conscripted to help the army attempt to communicate with aliens who have parked a great huge space ship over Montana, one of twelve spread around the world. Renner is a scientist of some ilk, although his character doesn’t contribute a lot to the story. It’s a fascinating look at how communication works, our relationship with time, and the decisions a person might make given significant information about what is to come. It’s based on a Nebula-award winning story by Ted Chiang, and we really enjoyed it. For an alien invasion movie, it wasn’t all science-y and shoot-y.

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Election Day 2016

I became an American citizen four years ago. The reasons I did so were many and varied, but one of them was because I wanted to vote in the federal election in 2012. I wanted to vote for President Obama. I hadn’t been able to in 2008. My wife and I are the same age as he is, and we felt that he was someone who truly represented us. I really liked the guy—and the more I’ve seen him over the years in various contexts, the more I like him. I don’t think we’ll see another president like him in our lifetime. Some of you may think that’s a good thing—that’s okay. That’s your right.

This year, I started out with a little less certitude. I liked a lot of things I heard Bernie Sanders say, and I was willing to give him a fair hearing. I had doubts about his electability, and I found him increasingly strident over the course of the campaign. Ultimately, I supported Hillary Clinton in the primary, and I do so now in the election. I gave money to her campaign. I happily cast my vote for her about two weeks ago, at the onset of early voting in Texas.

A number of people are commenting on the preponderance of campaign signs for the Republican candidate. Often this is in areas where that guy has strong support, so it isn’t surprising. However, I think there may be another explanation in some places.

Four years ago, I affixed a magnetic Obama/Biden campaign sticker to the back of my car. An elderly woman accosted me in the parking lot of a local Walmart. She swore at me and she cussed out the president. She vanished before I had a chance to respond—even though I’d formulated a response that would have satisfied me, if not her. I would have said: I became a citizen so I could express my opinion, have a say in the political process. But she was gone, and she probably wouldn’t have listened to me, anyway.

Sometime thereafter, someone removed the magnetic sticker from the back of my car. I probably got off easy.

I have stickers and other campaign material that I could use to show my support for the Democratic candidate. However, I didn’t dare put them anywhere public. In this environment, I thought it would be like waving a red flag. I figured at a minimum, it would get my car keyed or otherwise defaced. So if you don’t see a Clinton/Kaine sign on our front lawn, it’s because I don’t want someone to vandalize our house, not because we don’t support her.

At least it’s not as bad here as in some places, where if you don’t have a sign supporting the Republican candidate you get nasty-grams from the extremists.

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Shining in the Dark

We had a most enjoyable Hallowe’en. It was quite mild, so we put a couple of folding chairs in the driveway and sat outside with glasses of wine and a bowl of candy, waiting for the little ones to come to us. I liked that a lot better than sitting inside and having to respond to the door every time the bell rang, as we’ve done in the past. I think it encouraged more people to stop by, too. We got to meet some new neighbors and had fun with the little costumed tykes. We didn’t get many older kids. Virtually no teenagers, but a good run of toddlers. More Iron Man costumes than anything else, although we had our fair share of princesses.

Between visits, my wife played one of her favorite 70s-era disco compilation CDs and we danced in the driveway. We shut down a little after 8 pm when it seemed like we weren’t going to be getting any more visitors.

Lilja and CD announced yesterday the publication of the new anthology Shining in the Dark, which celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the Lilja’s Library website. In addition to stories from Stephen King (“The Blue Air Compressor), Poe, Jack Ketchum & PD Cacek, Brian Keene, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Stewart O’Nan, Brian Freeman, Rich Chizmar and Kevin Quigley, there’s a new story from me called “Aeliana.”

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Gonna buy five copies

I received a copy of the new double issue (#74/75) of Cemetery Dance magazine the other night, and it is a beauty to behold. I thought I’d contributed “only” four items to this issue, but it turns out I have a fifth, surprise essay in it:

  1. News from the Dead Zone column
  2. Interview with Joe Hill
  3. The Fireman featured review
  4. End of Watch featured review
  5. A Man’s Heart is Stonier (Stephen King Revisited)

As it happens, I also have an update to the online version of News from the Dead Zone. Check it out!

I also posted a new book review: The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly.

Early voting started in Texas on Monday morning at 8:00 am. We decided we wanted to be done with this election, so we showed up at 7:45 after spending a couple of hours on the weekend researching the down-ballot candidates. The railroad commissioner does what, exactly? There were about 50 people in line ahead of us when we got there, and many more arrived while we waited. The doors opened on time and we were in and out in about twenty minutes. No hiccups or delays. Glad to have that behind us. This was my second time voting in a presidential election. It’s always a thrill.

We watched the second season of The Ranch, starring Sam Elliott, Aston Kutcher, Danny Masterson, Elisha Cuthbert and Debra Winger. It’s an okay series. It certainly tries hard, sometimes a little too hard. I’ve been watching another series called Spotless, a joint French-British production about a guy who runs a crime scene cleanup company in London. He and his brother are from France originally, and his brother arrives with a dead body stuffed with drugs, which is simultaneously the solution to a lot of problems and the source of many others. The series also features Brendan Coyle, who was Mr. Bates on Downton Abbey, as a sort of gentleman anarchist crime lord. Enjoying it so far. Also looking forward to the return of The Fall on Netflix this weekend. Trying to keep up with Westworld, but there aren’t enough hours in the day…

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Turkey Pot Roast?

Had a nice three-day weekend. On Sunday, we decided on the spur of the moment to spend the day in Huntsville State Park, about 45 miles north of us. It’s a place where we’ve spent time over the years, but not so much recently. We made a light lunch, packed only our folding chairs, and spent the afternoon sitting on the edge of the lake under some trees. There was a light breeze, no flies to speak of, and the sounds of families having a good time all around us. I liked watching the cranes stilt-walking through the lake, occasionally dipping their heads in to claim some food. I also wrote the first three pages of a new short story.

Then we went home and watched the debate, which was not very relaxing at all.

I had yesterday off. Our company has always given us Columbus Day, which is also Canadian Thanksgiving. In the morning I finished the first draft of the short story I’d begun the day before and in the afternoon I did some yard work. I also finished the last two episodes of the second season of Happy Valley, which is a decent crime series with the most ironic title ever. A friend commented that one of the things he likes most about the series is how the characters look so real—not at all glamorous. Warts and all. And accents thick enough to cut with a knife. The revelation of the identity of the serial killer wasn’t a huge surprise, but the way that turned out, as well as the fate of the copycat were surprises.

We don’t cook a turkey for Thanksgiving, there being only the two of us, but our grocery’s deli usually has a nice cooked turkey breast at the heating station where the roasted chickens are. When I went yesterday, the station was almost empty, but there was something they called a turkey pot roast. I had no idea what that could be, but I took it anyway. It looked like a roast, sort of oblong and roundish. I figured it would be some kind of processed turkey when I cut into it but, much to our surprise and delight, it was delicious. It was the leg/thigh portion of the turkey, all dark meat (which I don’t normally like). Very moist and falling off the bone cooked to perfection. I’d definitely try that again.

I also watched the new Netflix documentary about the Amanda Knox story. They interview Knox, prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, co-defendant Raffaele Sollecito, a defense lawyer and a journalist named Nick Pisa, as well as the occasional other interview with DNA specialists, etc. It’s only 90 minutes and a little superficial, but I was surprised to be reminded that Knox and Sollecito had only known each other for five days before the murder took place. Also, to hear Magnini, in his own words, explain the arbitrary, random things that made him suspect Knox in the first place. None of it was based on evidence; it was about the way she acted around him. I think he read more Freud than Sherlock Holmes, although he professed a fondness for the latter.

The person who came off the worst was Nick Pisa, the British “journalist” with the Daily Mail who stumbled upon a story that suddenly got him a lot of attention. Front page stories with tawdry headlines. Everything the police fed to him, he published without any filter whatsoever. No confirmation. He comes right out and says, “It’s not as if I can say, ‘Right, hold on a minute. I just wanna double-check that myself in some other way,'” because to do so would mean that he might miss his scoop.

I think Occam’s Razor applies to this case, and the simple explanation is that Rudy Guede, a known burglar, whose DNA was found all over the victim’s room, including in her body, was the sole perpetrator. He admitted to being there but tried to say that someone else broke in while he was there and killed the young woman while he was in the bathroom. His story holds no water, and he stated that Knox wasn’t present and then changed his story when it suited his purposes. No DNA evidence placed Amanda Knox in that bedroom, even though she lived in the same apartment.

Ultimately, the perceived interference in the “sovereign nation’s” judicial system by American interests (the current Republican presidential candidate suggested boycotting Italy at the time) made the prosecutor double down and cling to his belief. The lawyer who defended Guede was equally dismissive of American intervention in the case. He points to a building from 1308, the first faculty of law in Europe, at which time, he says, people in America were in caves painting buffalo. Fortunately, cooler and more logical heads prevailed, though it took many years for the case to be dismissed once and for all and the acquittals upheld.

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Chaba the Hutt

It was an interesting weekend because we were following the track of the hurricane. Not Matthew, thought I’m aware that one is threatening the coast, but Chaba, on the other side of the world. It was of interest to us because, for a while, it had Okinawa directly in its sights, and that’s where our daughter and her family live.

The interesting thing about typhoons, unlike tornadoes, is that you have quite a bit of advanced notice, so we were able to communicate our concern and relay our advice. We’ve been through this a couple of times ourselves, here in southeast Texas, so we knew what things might be important. We had a Skype call with them on Sunday night/Monday morning, several hours before the storm was supposed to hit. Fortunately, it drifted farther west than early predictions indicated and it mostly missed Okinawa proper. It turned into a non-event for them, fortunately. Another interesting adventure living in Japan. That’s not to dismiss the storm: it caused a lot of damage and several deaths in Korea, and it is still supposed to strike “mainland” Japan, though much diminished.

I received an email from USA Network advising that they had the entire season of Motive available for binge-watching last weekend. So I did. It’s not a very well known show, but I’ve always enjoyed it. It is produced by CTV and filmed in Vancouver, though they down-played the Canadian setting in the early seasons. ABC picked up the first couple of seasons in the US, which is where I discovered it. I’m not sure if I saw Season 3 at all, because it vanished for a long time. Then USA got the fourth season, which apparently did fairly well for them. They even decided to request a fifth season, but by then production had already shut down, since CTV decided Season 4 would be the last. The final season really does bring the series to a satisfactory conclusion.

The conceit of the show is that, during the cold open, the audience is introduced to the killer and the victim, absent any context. We don’t know how their paths will cross or why one wants to kill the other. Then the murder investigation starts and the able detectives of the homicide squad pull it all together. Kristin Lehman (The Killing) and  Louis Ferreira (Declan on Breaking Bad) are the detectives, though his character, Vega, is promoted to sergeant in the final season. Lauren Holly is the ME. Tommy Flanagan (Chib from Sons of Anarchy) appears as an Interpol agent for several episodes. Lehman is really good in this role. She has a natural style of acting that makes her seem genuine and honest. I bet they had a great time on the set. They had some strong guest stars as victims and killers in the final season, including Joanna Cassidy, Max Martini (The Unit), Alicia Witt (Justified), plus actors you’d probably recognize if you were a Canadian.

I also watched the first episode of Westworld on HBO, the series remake of the Michael Crichton movie that starred Yul Brynner. It’s a lavish series with an interesting cast that includes Anthony Hopkins (who made me think of Malcolm McDowell the first time I saw him), Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden,  Sidse Babett Knudsen (from the Danish series Borgen) and Ed Harris as the mysterious man in black. It’s a fascinating premise, exploring the notion of when does an android stop being an object and start being an entity deserving of respect and basic human consideration. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

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The Search for Spock

My wife had to call AAA yesterday when her car wouldn’t start. They told her someone would be there in 30 minutes and gave her a hyperlink so she could monitor the responder’s location. The guy got there not in 30 minutes, but in five. And he had just the right battery among his gear to replace hers. Quite impressed with the service.

I posted my review of The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith, who is best known for his Arkady Renko books set in Russia (including Gorky Park). This is a standalone set in northern Italy in the closing weeks of World War II.

I finally (finally!) finished the fifth Game of Thrones novel, having put it aside several times to read other things. We’re about halfway through the fourth season of the TV series. We’ll probably pause there to watch the new season of Longmire on Netflix. I also have just one episode of the second season of Narcos left to watch.

We watched the documentary For the Love of Spock on VOD this weekend. It was directed by Adam Nimoy, son of Leonard. It started out as an exploration of the fictional character, but then Leonard Nimoy died in the midst of this project, so Adam decided to expand it to include some of his father’s life as well. It’s quite—as Spock would say—fascinating. Nimoy cast a wide net when it came to interview subjects, including Nimoy’s brother and daughter, many original cast members as well as the cast of the recent reboot, JJ Abrams, and a few random people like Jason Alexander. We were impressed by the massive block of credits. I only just realized that these were the people who had responded to the crowd-funding campaign to raise over $600,000 to cover the cost of licensing the photographs and video clips included in the documentary. Over 9000 people contributed, some as much as $10k, for which they got an associate producer credit.

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Netflix for short stories

This is my 27th anniversary at the day job. Technically, it’s tomorrow, but I won’t be at work on that day, so I’m calling today the anniversary. This time next year, I will have worked for the same company for exactly half my life (although the company has undergone a couple of name and ownership changes over the years). In this era, that’s a pretty good record, but I still have a couple of decades to go to achieve the longevity my father did with his company.

I finished writing another new short story by hand the night before last and dictated it into Word yesterday morning, which has become my new way of doing things lately. The story is a little over 4000 words and it didn’t change much during my first editing pass, other than to correct grammar and transcription errors. My favorite dictation error converted “Ghostbusters” to “Ghost bus tours,” although I also liked the change for “Ghost Riders in the Sky” to “Ghostwriters in the Sky.” This is my third new story in a few weeks. I have at least one more to write and a couple more markets to find submissions for. Then it’s back to novel land.

I don’t think I mentioned this review of the audio version of The X-files: The Truth is Out There. It says, in part:  “’Phase Shift’ was easily the highlight of the anthology for me, and centers around a house and its inhabitants confronted by a strange anomaly. This is a really good story with a strong, and strongly executed, premise, the ending of which highlights the particular darkness one may confront in such an odd situation. Sorry for being vague, but this is a good one to go into blindly.” I approve of this message!

A couple of weeks ago, Nick Mamatas contacted me about a new project called Great Jones Street, named after a New York/SoHo street that was also the title of a Don DeLillo novel. Their plan is to become the Spotify or Netflix of short fiction. Nick was curating the mystery section of the project and solicited a couple of reprints from me. So far, they’ve been great to work with: the contract came almost immediately and payment within a week after that. My stories aren’t available yet, so I won’t name them here. Stay tuned: there’s an app for everything these days!

The cover and table of contents for the double issue (#74/75) of Cemetery Dance magazine is now available at their website. I have four pieces in this trade-magazine-formatted issue: an interview with Joe Hill (to be fair, most of the content in that piece is his, not mine), two featured reviews and one essay. But do I get my name on the cover? 😉

I finished Marcella on Netflix last week, and am now looking forward to the next season. It’s a British crime series in which the main character, a female Detective Sargent, has violent fugues when put under great stress, so she has gaps in her memory. Sort of like the alcoholic fugues featured in The Girl on the Train. Now I’m onto season 2 of Narcos and enjoying it. It’s very violent, but it’s a fascinating look at a turbulent time and place. My wife and I are nearing the end of the third season of Game of Thrones. Looks like it’s time for a…Red Wedding (to be heard in Billy Idol’s voice).

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Pate de foie gras

I finished a new short story this weekend and got it off to its potential market. I have a few more of these that I’d like to tackle in the next four to six weeks. Then it’s back to novel land, a territory I haven’t visited in a while.

We saw Sully this weekend, the Clint Eastwood biopic about Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s successful landing of an Airbus 320 in the Hudson River after losing both engines when the aircraft encountered a flock of Canada geese. Tom Hanks is very good in portraying Sully as a man who was sure of his decision but who wasn’t terribly comfortable with the spotlight of publicity.

Because the movie needed an antagonist, the NTSB investigation is depicted as confrontational. They argue that Sully made the wrong decision, that he could have made it back to La Guardia or over to Teterboro, NJ, according to all the computer simulations. The panel included Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) and Jamie Sheridan (The Stand). Laura Linney was Mrs. Sully, relegated to the wings (at home) while the drama unfolded.

The crash itself is depicted in a very straightforward manner. In fact, the entire picture is solid filmmaking without any unnecessary flash or pizzazz. There are a couple of scenes where Sully imagines what might have happened if he’d made different decisions that will probably be disturbing to New Yorkers, especially given the weekend the movie debuted. The only odd thing about the movie was the way it ended. It just stopped, after a joke made by the copilot during the NTSB hearing. Fade to black and then end credits. It felt abrupt.

At the end, the audience that saw the movie with us applauded. It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced that. It is a feel-good film, with a few patriotic tugs, but I wonder at clapping for a motion picture, where there’s no one present to receive the adulation. It was a spontaneous reaction. I was reminiscing with my wife afterward about how, in the very early days of air travel (in my lifetime), people used to applaud whenever a plane landed. Every time. I wonder when that stopped. Probably at around the same time that people stopped dressing up to go on a flight. (My father always wore a suit and a hat when he flew.)

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