Interpretive Dance

We watched Coming Through the Rye this weekend. It’s about Jamie Schwartz, a teenager at prep school who decides to adapt Catcher in the Rye into a play for his class project. His advisers tell him he needs to get permission from Salinger. So he does a little bit of sleuthing, figures out where the reclusive author probably lives and goes on a road trip with a female companion who’s a little bit in love with him.

Though the locals are protective and obstructive, Jamie eventually finds Salinger (Chris Cooper), who refuses to give him permission. More than that, he tells Jamie that he would be stealing from him if he did it. Jamie returns to school (there’s a lot more to the story than that), and reports his findings, at which point the advisers tell him to go ahead and stage the play anyway. “No one’s going to make any money from it,” they say, uttering the false justification many copyright violators use. “And he’s never going to find out.”

At which point, I could only shake my head. First of all, if they didn’t have any respect for Salinger’s copyright, why did they bother sending the boy on this difficult mission to obtain permission? And then, given that Jamie held Salinger in such high esteem, how could he not refuse his advisers by telling them what Salinger had told him…that to do so would be stealing? The film was generally good, but that element ruined it for me, I’m afraid.

To cleanse our palate, we watched a few Christmas specials. I’ve heard of Pentatonix, but haven’t seen them, so we saw their special. They remind me a lot of The Nylons, the Canadian a capella group that was popular in the eighties. This was followed by  Amy Grant’s special. The next night we watched the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s show, which ended with a retelling of the events surrounding the creation and early performances of Handel’s Messiah. I’d heard some of the details before, but having it interspersed with the performance was nice.

I binge-watched Goliath, the Amazon series starring Billy Bob Thornton that I mentioned last time. It’s quite good. Very Grisham-esque. Some of the characters are overly quirky, a David E. Kelley trope, but Thornton plays it straight and the show wouldn’t be much without him. Funny, though: I thought there were 10 episodes, but mid-way through the eighth it seemed like they were starting to wrap things up, and indeed they were. Caught me a bit by surprise.

The promo trailer for Netflix’s The OA intrigued me, and I was familiar with Brit Marling from the series Babylon where she plays an American hired as a publicist for the London Metropolitan Police. It was an oddball show, half camp-half drama, but I liked it. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who saw it.

The premise of The OA seemed interesting, too. A young woman who has been missing for seven years shows up under mysterious circumstances. When she vanished, she was blind; now she can see, but has strange scars on her back and is somewhat unstable emotionally.

The first indication that something weird was going on with the show (not the story) was when the “opening” credits started crawling at the 50 minute mark of the first episode (out of 70 minutes). It made what came before feel like the longest “cold open” in television history. And, in fact, it was, because at that point the show changes radically, and it turns into (mostly) a narrated flashback of the main character’s life. Wow, did that rob the story of any dramatic impact. It becomes tedious to listen to someone telling you what you’re seeing (in abbreviated fashion) on the screen. Apparently it’s all about the benefits of having near death experiences, but by the mid-point of the second episode I was starting to have a near-death experience of my own, so I bailed. I don’t quit shows easily, but I couldn’t imagine going through several more hours of that. And apparently that’s what the remaining episodes were: more of the same, until an unearned shocking event in the final minutes.

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A Star Wars Story

We were looking at a list of movies we might like to see over the coming weeks when I mentioned that Rogue One was playing right now and I wanted to see it. This was at 7:00 last night and the next screening, we learned, was at 7:05. But the next one after that was at 7:30 and there was another at 8:00.

So we got in the car and zipped over to the multiplex five miles away and by 7:20 were seated in the biggest auditorium. The place was quite full when we got there, but we got decent seats, up high and to the right of the side aisle. Not a place I’d normally pick, but the seats turned out to be not bad at all.

I saw a trailer for Rogue One a long time ago, and read or skimmed a few articles about it in the interim, but it was a movie that I wanted to see without too much advanced knowledge. I didn’t watch any of the subsequent trailers or read any reviews…just a few headlines from reviews to see that they were generally positive.

The movie is a ton-o-fun. A little bit complicated in terms of where all these planets are in relation to each other and who all these people are. There are very few familiar Star Wars lynch pins to anchor you. Everything is shiny and new, except it’s mostly gritty and lived-in. The scene-stealer of the movie is Alan Tudyk’s K2 robot, who is a hoot. Not quite as dismal as Marvin the Paranoid Android but trending in that direction. There’s a character who seems like a direct rip-off of Hundred Eyes from Marco Polo. The battle scenes—in space, but particularly on the ground—are grueling, like something out of Saving Private Ryan or a Vietnam War reel. A couple of familiar faces are created via CGI, to interesting effect. Mixed in with all of the frenetic action are some good character moments and arcs. We enjoyed it, and I’ll probably see it again before long.

A friend recommended a series I hadn’t heard of. It’s called Goliath, and it’s streaming on Amazon. Stars Billy Bob Thornton as a lawyer who co-founded a firm that has grown to mammoth size, but he’s no long associated with it, for reasons I don’t yet know, but his name is still on the masthead. His ex-wife (Maria Bello) still works there, though, and William Hurt, the other partner, rules the place like a tyrant. In the first episode, Thornton is hired to pursue a civil case against a private military contractor that is represented by his old firm. Thornton doesn’t have a drinking problem (“I drink just the right amount”), lives in a seedy hotel, has a part-time prostitute working as his legal aide, and in general looks to be a ghost of his former self. He also has a 17-year-old daughter with whom he has a good, albeit strained, relationship. The show itself has the visual appeal of Bosch. It’s set in Los Angeles (Venice Beach) and mostly seen in the daylight instead of at night, and it looks mighty fine. The other side doesn’t play by the rules (Thronton finds his car, a Mustang convertible covered in fish guts at one point), so he is David rather than Goliath. Looking forward to seeing where it goes.

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Hoot-n-holler

Spring is here. Winter is over. So say we all.

We had our days of near-freezing temperatures. Now it’s 66. Tomorrow 72. That’s okay by us.

I had to sign my name 265 or so times yesterday. The project hasn’t been announced yet, so I can’t say exactly why.

We watched The Hollars on the weekend, enticed by the presence of Margo Martindale (from Justified and The Americans). It’s a family drama about a man (whose girlfriend, Anna Kendrick, is profoundly pregnant) who returns to home after his mother (Martindale) falls and is found to be very ill. His brother is living at home again and his father’s plumbing business is failing. It’s a nice movie with a good heart. There’s always one character in these things, though, who destroys any semblance of reality by being over-the-top outrageous, and in this case it’s the brother, who takes comic relief and turns it into some cringe-worthy moments. Josh Groban has a small part, and the father is played by Richard Jenkins, who was the father in Six Feet Under, which makes the scene where he has to lie down in the back of a hearse all that much funnier.

I finished watching the first season of Spotless on Netflix, although it apparently originated with Esquire TV, which I didn’t even know was a thing. It’s a French/British production about two brothers who did something terrible when they were boys growing up in France. One brother moved to London and has a family there (wife, 13-year-old daughter, 10-ish-year-old son). His business is crime scene cleaning, hence the series’ title. He knows how to remove every last spot left from a murder scene or a house where someone died and wasn’t found for a while. The other brother shows up from France in possession of some stolen property that leads to trouble upon trouble upon trouble for both. The series has a strong Breaking Bad vibe as this previously honest guy gets pulled into doing work for a crime boss, played by Brendan Coyle of Downton Abbey, who is even more dapper than Gus Fring, a gentleman crook with sharp fangs. As with Breaking Bad, everything keeps going from bad to worse. A lot is resolved by the end of episode 10, but far from everything, and Season 2 is scheduled for next year, although when it will make its way to Netflix I don’t know. Well worth checking out if you like crime shows.

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Not nearly enough wine

Our first significant cold front arrived yesterday. Overnight temperatures dipped down to within a few degrees of freezing, and we’ll see the same thing again tonight. Today’s high temperature was only 47° (about 8° C). Of course, this being Texas, we’ll be back up into the seventies on Sunday and nearly up to 80 on Monday.

Amongst everything else I’ve been working on lately (mostly short stories), I’ve been revisiting a couple of novels I wrote a number of years ago. The first was one that I spent quite a bit of time with my agent getting it up to speed, but it didn’t go anywhere. However, I met an editor this summer who was interested in my work, so that manuscript is now sitting on her desk (or, more likely, in a stack on the floor somewhere, always supposing it’s been printed, which may not be the case). The other is one that I finished in first draft, but my agent had some fairly significant notes that I couldn’t quite figure out how to address while maintaining the story I wanted to tell, so it languished, too. I decided to pick it back up again and see if it was as satisfying as I remembered. Happily, I still like it a lot, so I gave it three good passes to update it, fix some logic holes and whip it into shape and submitted it to the Minotaur/MWA first crime novel contest. It’s a long shot, of course—probably a very long shot—but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Reading these two manuscripts has renewed my faith in my novel-writing abilities, so in 2017 I’m going to put as much of the other diversionary projects aside as I possibly can and concentrate on writing another one.

We watched the Ab-Fab movie last weekend. We had finished dinner, during which we’d shared a bottle of wine, which seemed like the best way to approach the film. We had another glass each during the movie. That wasn’t enough to make it enjoyable, alas. I’ve had a complicated relationship to Ab-Fab, which I first discovered not long after I moved to Texas. Some of it I think is hilarious and some of it is total crap, in about equal portions. One of our biggest issues with this movie is the number of cameos by people we were probably supposed to recognize but didn’t. The closing credits were chock full of “as herself” and “as himself” listings, but they weren’t people we were familiar with, so some of the stuff probably went over our head. I knew who Kate Moss was, and Emma Bunton and Lulu, but that was about it. The film had its moments, but on the whole I wouldn’t recommend it.

We’re all caught up with This is Us, which continues to be enjoyable. Jimmi Simpson (Hap & Leonard, Westworld) has a small but memorable part in the winter finale. He impresses me every time I see him in something. Speaking of Westworld, I was very happy with how the first season finished. It’s a fascinating show, a little reminiscent of Lost except the perspective is from “the Others” rather than from the “castaways trying to escape” for the most part. Thandie Newton was amazing, and I got a huge kick out of the way Armistice reacted to her new high-powered toy in the finale. Anthony Hopkins added a necessary layer of gravitas to the proceedings. Alas, now we have to wait until 2018 for new episodes. That’s a long, long time. Who knows what the world will look like then?

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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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