Necon 37: The anthology and the roast

Last weekend was my annual camping vacation, also known as Necon. Probably my twelfth time attending that writing conference, plus or minus. It’s always a great time. There’s a core group of people who almost always attend, together with a healthy injection of newbies to keep things fresh and interesting.

Compared to others, I had a trouble-free journey there and back again. Flew into PVD via Philadelphia and picked up one of the newbies at the airport. Went out to dinner at Jacky’s Galaxie, an annual tradition, with a bunch of friends and another newbie.

On Friday, when many others were out playing Miniature Golf (a Necon Olympics event), I was on a Kaffeeklatsch where five us discussed our recommended books from the past year. That afternoon, I was interviewed by Tony Tremblay and Matt Bechtel for the Taco Society Presents. All of the attending authors who were part of the Necon charity anthology Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep were interviewed briefly about our work and read a short excerpt from our stories. That was fun.

In the evenings, after the organized events, people normally congregate in the quad (on some nights there’s a saugie roast—i.e. hot dogs), chit-chat and drink, staying up to the wee small hours. Lack of sleep is a Necon thing, so much so that I often found myself in need of an afternoon nap.

On Friday night, we had the mass signing event. The Necon anthology was a hot property (all proceeds go to the Jimmy Fund at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) and I signed my story many, many times during the evening. Another annual Necon tradition is the “roast,” where an unsuspecting victim is lampooned, teased and tormented. Last year was the first time I participated in a roast, part of the lightning round. This year, I got bumped up to a full player, and I think my bit went over pretty well. I don’t get many chances to be funny in public, so it was a neat experience.

Before the roast, a bunch of us went to Thames (not pronounced like the river!) on the waterfront for dinner, another semi-regular tradition. We had been evacuated from the hotel in the midst of the last panel session of the day when the kitchen set off the fire alarm. Something to do with roast garlic, I hear. One unexpected benefit of the fire drill is that we took our first group picture. I’m somewhere in the back of this motley crew (photo credit: Tony Tremblay):

For the first time in years, I was able to get a morning flight back to Texas that didn’t require me to leave the venue at 5 am. I actually got to have breakfast! My return journey, via Charlotte, was uneventful and more or less on time, although we did have to divert around a storm as we approached Houston, which got the flight in a few minutes late. Not bad compared to many of my friends, who spent extra hours, even into the following days, trying to get home.

Necon is a wonderful time, always. Great to see people who I interact with throughout the year online, and to make new friends and acquaintances. Even do a little business, although no writing whatsoever. Takes me a couple of days to recover from the excesses in consumption and the shortfall on sleep, but I enjoy every minute of it.

Here is the lineup for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: a fine anthology, edited by PD Cacek (this year’s roast victim) and Laura J. Hickman, with cover art by Cortney Skinner:

  • Foreword by Christopher Golden
  • Mother and Daughter by Jack Ketchum
  • Messages by Errick Nunnally
  • Sleepless by Mark Steensland
  • The Vacant Lot by Thomas Tessier
  • blood, cold like ice by Doungjai Gam (Doungjai Gam Bepko)
  • A Life Unremembered by G. Daniel Gunn (Dan Keohane)
  • Wired by Elizabeth Massie
  • Blue Stars by Tony Tremblay
  • Happy Now Mother? by John Buja
  • Nina by John M. McIlveen
  • Housing the Hollygobs by Marianne Halbert
  • Inertia Creeps by Charles Colyott
  • Leave Here Alive by Bracken MacLeod
  • Sleep Well by Angi Shearstone
  • The Fine Art of Madness by Gary Frank
  • The Beach by Cara M. Colyott (Cara Marie)
  • Angel Tears by Jill Bauman
  • Darkness on the Edge of Town by James A. Moore
  • Would You, Could You, In the Dark? by Craig Wolf
  • Wishing Won’t by Richard Dansky
  • The Phobia Where You’re Afraid of Words by Paul McMahon
  • Nightly Rituals by William Carl
  • White Wings by Mark Morris
  • The Other Side by Paul McNally
  • Truth or Dare? by Bev Vincent
  • Unexpected Attraction by Matthew Costello
  • The Ritual Remains by Jonathan Lees
  • The End of All Stories by Trevor Firetog
  • Duality by Brian Keene
  • The Lake Children by Izzy Lee
  • The Circus Under the Bed by T.J. Wooldridge (Trisha Wooldridge)
  • 1-2-3 Red Light by Gregory Norris
  • The Old Men Know by Charles L. Grant
  • The Oldest Fear (internal art) by Shikar Dixitby

Available as a trade paperback exclusively from Amazon, and soon to be available in eBook format as well. Great stories for a very good cause.

 

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The Doctor Is In

I’m off to Necon in a couple of days. I have a Kaffeeklatsch on Friday at 10 am, where William Carl, Frank Michaels Errington, Tony Tremblay, Frank Raymond Michaels and I discuss the best books we read since this time last year.

Later that afternoon I’ll be interviewed for the Taco Society Presents as part of the launch of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, the anthology containing my short story “Truth or Dare?”, which debuts at Necon. The antho can be pre-ordered on Amazon right now! 100% of all proceeds will be donated to The Jimmy Fund. Many of the contributors will be at Necon, so we’ll be signing the anthology during the mass signing on Friday evening.

We watched an odd movie last weekend: Certain Women. It consists of three (very) loosely linked stories set in Montana. It stars Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and Kristen Stewart, and the odd thing about the film is that these aren’t exactly stories. They start out with interesting premises, but ultimately they don’t go anywhere. It has a vaguely Lynchian feel, mostly because of the long, awkward pauses in dialog (especially at the very end of the third vignette, which is pretty much ALL pause.

Speaking of odd, I watched Bordertown on Netflix, a Finnish crime series (11 parts that comprise five stories) set in a small city on the border with Russia, near St. Petersburg. The main character, Kari, is one of those intuitive detectives who can put all the pieces together like Sherlock Holmes does. Kari’s trick is a memory mansion, in which he lays out a grid with tape on the basement floor and moves around from segment to segment while he envisions evidence. He also has a repertoire of odd hand gestures (he tends to grip his head). Physically, he reminds me more than a bit of Graham Joyce. Some of the stories get wrapped up a little too quickly for my liking, but it’s an interesting series. One of the other main characters is a former FSB agent who ends up in Finland because of the first case and stays on.

I was very pleased to find out who would be playing Doctor Who next. Jodie Whittaker was excellent in Broadchurch, and I’m sure she’ll bring something fascinating to the show. Alas, we have to wait nearly half a year to see her in action.

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Every weekend should have four days

I like this four-days-off / three-days-on thing. I could  get used to it.

Saw Baby Driver this weekend at a 4 pm showing, and the theater was packed to the brim. As an added bonus, I got to see the trailers for both It and The Dark Tower beforehand, the first time for both on the big screen. Of the two, I would say The Dark Tower generated more buzz among the audience, for whatever that’s worth.

Baby Driver is a heist/chase movie set to a soundtrack. The main character has tinnitus, so he listens to music on iPods (he has many) most of the time to drown out the constant noise. He’s gotten himself in debt to Kevin Spacey and is working it off by driving the getaway car from audacious heists—and he’s a very good driver. Everything that happens happens to the beat of whatever he’s listening to at the time. Every tire squeal, every gunshot, every door slam, everything. The movie is high-energy, non-stop action, as Baby goes from one scheme to the next and manages to fall in love in the middle of it all while looking after his deaf foster father to boot. Highly enjoyable, although the bit with John Hamm at the end was a touch too horror-movie generic. Thoroughly enjoyed it, though. Jamie Foxx is terrific as the self-professed crazy Bats.

We collected the last several episodes of Doctor Who to watch over a couple of evenings. I was able to avoid most spoilers (and forgot any that I couldn’t), so it was a good way to watch Capaldi’s final run. Mostly very good stories, and it was great to see the “round-faced” Master again and the interplay with Missy. The appearance of the pilot was more than a tad on the deus ex machina side (the first episode of the season feels like a long time ago, so it was a stretch expecting us to remember everything about that character), an overly simple way to solve a complicated problem, but all in all we liked how things worked out. Although we mourn the loss of Capaldi, who started out as a cold, unfeeling Doctor and ended up one of the most sensitive of them all. (I’m fairly certain he is the first Doctor who I’d seen in other things before I saw him in Doctor Who.)

I won two tickets to see Steve Earle and the Dukes at the House of Blues on Monday night. I’ve been a fan of his ever since he was on Treme, especially his album The Revolution Starts Now. The opening act was The Mastersons, a husband-wife duo who are also part of Earle’s band “the Dukes.” They got half an hour to show us their “solo” chops before the band started rocking at 9:00. It was a great show. The band is highly talented and Earle’s gravelly voice is still in fine form. He did several songs from his new album, the Waylon Jennings inspired So You Want to Be an Outlaw. He chatted a little between songs, but half of what he said was unintelligible to us (in part because of the chit-chat going on around us, and in part because he tends to mumble). This was their first gig of the tour, and it went off pretty well, with a minimum of glitches.

We don’t always go out into the crowds to see the fireworks. Our community has a number of venues where they can be observed, and some are easier to get to (and away from) than others, but this year we decided to dive in. Five parks had live performances, and we chose the one at the waterway (our faux Riverwalk) that is next to our favorite pizza joint. We went early to get parking, had dinner and then took our portable chairs to the park and settled in for the evening. It was pretty hot, but we found a shady patch and there was a breeze every now and then, so it  wasn’t too bad.

Music was supplied by Level One Band from Kingwood (except for one park where the musical offering was country, most of the options were R&B/Motown acts). They were good, interactive, talented, and it was fun to watch the small kids playing around and hopping and dancing to the beat. The fireworks went off at 9:30, and we had a ring-side seat for them. I have to echo a sentiment tweeted by my writing buddy Michael Marshall Smith, though. He wrote: “If I’m honest the ideal fireworks show would last two minutes and be perfectly visible from wherever I already was.” I’d be just as happy if the whole shebang went off at once rather than drawn out over a 15-20 minute stretch.

The local online radio station did a simulcast to synchronize all the locations where the fireworks were being launched. Either someone simply googled songs containing the word America without scrutinizing the lyrics too carefully, or there was some top-notch trolling going on. The first song was “Fortunate Son,” followed by “Pink Houses” and “Born in the U.S.A.”

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Juror #56

Apparently we’re getting our first tropical storm of the season tomorrow. It doesn’t look like a major storm—it doesn’t even have a name yet, and the path is uncertain. We might get some rain out of it, which wouldn’t be bad. At least it’s not 120° like they’re reporting in Phoenix. So hot that it exceeds the flight tolerances of many commercial aircraft. When we were descending from the higher altitudes into Phoenix at the end of our recent vacation, it was over 100° in Phoenix, and this was around 6 pm. Can’t imagine adding another 20° on top of that.

Yesterday was the first time I’ve ever been called to jury duty when I got as far as voir dire. I was called once many years ago, but at the time I wasn’t a U.S. citizen, so I wasn’t eligible. Then I was called again last year, but the day I showed up we were met outside the courtroom and sent home. “Everyone’s been good this week,” we were told. “No trials today.”

I got my summons in the mail last week and went online to register. Although the summons was for the first week of July, I was given several weeks to choose from. I picked the closest date. In retrospect, given that it was Thursday and the next date was the following Monday, I probably virtually guaranteed I wouldn’t get picked. I ended up with #56 out of perhaps a pool of 60. Even with no-shows and people excused for cause, together with the strikes exercised by the lawyers, they didn’t need to go beyond about #32 to impanel the jury.

It was a civil case, someone claiming a pre-existing back injury had been exacerbated in a car accident, and gross negligence was on the table. Might have been interesting. Perhaps next time I’ll make it farther in the process. Sitting in the back row, I barely got to open my mouth during jury selection.

Today’s the day the issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine containing my story “Pain-Man” goes on sale. I haven’t received my contributor copies yet, but I hear it has been seen in the wild.

Issue 21 of Dead Reckonings magazine features a conversation between me and Hank Wagner about the Netflix series Stranger Things.

We watched an odd movie the other night, Beatriz at Dinner, starring Selma Hayek and John Lithgow, along with Connie Britton and Chloe Sevigny. Hayek plays a masseuse and holistic healer who ends up stranded at the mansion owned  by a wealthy couple hosting a dinner for a billionaire real-estate mogul named Doug Strutt (Lithgow). The wife graciously invites Beatriz to stay the night and join them for dinner, which turns into an awkward affair when Strutt starts gloating over his hunting exploits and various business deals that are amoral and destructive. Beatriz can’t remain quiet, speaks her mind, and causes a stir. It’s tempting to interpret Strutt as a certain buffoon who elevated himself to the highest office by screwing people over, but the movie was in production before or during the campaign. The film’s bottom line is that there are a lot of people of his ilk. What do you do about it? Strike or retreat? In a sense, the movie has it both ways. A choose-your-own-ending adventure. It’s a challenging movie. There is palpable discomfort during some of the scenes. But it’s definitely thought-provoking.

I’ve been enjoying the Netflix series Shetland, a crime drama set in the islands of northern Scotland. The first two seasons are based on the novels of Anne Cleeves. Season 1 is one book adapted in two one-hour episodes. Season 2 is three novels, six episodes. Season 3 is also six episodes, but it tells a single original story, not based on Cleeves’ work. The scenery is spectacular (especially the story set on Fair Isle), the accents are thick (especially among some of the older folk), and the stories are intriguing. The third season reminds a lot of the work of Ian Rankin. I hear they’re filming a fourth season.

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Waiting for Gadot

We watched a very strange movie called Wakefield on Friday, based on a story by E. L. Doctorow. It stars Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner as a couple with issues. Cranston is a  Manhattan lawyer who is delayed getting home after work one day, chases a raccoon into the detached garage facing their house, and ends up deciding to spend the night in the attic, from which he can surveil his family, which also includes teenage twins who don’t have much use for dear old dad any more.

When morning comes, he realizes how difficult it will be to explain his decision to camp out in the garage, so he decides to stay there longer. And longer, and longer. Days stretch into weeks stretch into months, as his situation becomes more and more untenable in terms of explaining his behavior. He becomes in effect homeless, looking somewhat like Tom Hanks from Cast Away and behaving like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. He eats food he finds in the trash, battles with Russians over the choicer bits of things people throw away, befriends a couple of special needs children who live across the fence from them, and basically checks out from society. Is it a nervous breakdown? I guess you could make that argument. The more we learn about Wakefield, the less we like him. We learn how unfair he was to his best friend and how duplicitous and controlling he was toward the woman who would become his wife. Only Cranston can make us go along for the ride, because this is another version of Walter White. I envisioned him claiming a fugue state and showing up naked in a convenience store to work his way out of his dilemma. How do you resolve such a situation? Will your family rejoice at his return after so long or will they hate him for what he put them through? An interesting question, isn’t it. The answer, alas…

On Saturday night, we listened to the Blue Grooves playing a free concert at the waterway park and then saw Wonder Woman, which is every bit as good as everyone is saying. There is the origin story part of the movie, featuring Robin Penn Wright as a fearsome Amazon general, and then there’s the part of the film where Gal Gadot’s character truly becomes Wonder Woman, and then there’s the final conflict. All well handled, though I might like fewer Matrix-y conflict scenes in favor of more natural (as natural as superheroes and demigods can be) battles. A good turn for David Thewlis, currently chewing up the scenery in Fargo. The movie works well for us in part because it has zero reliance on any other part of the D.C. universe. Even if you didn’t know who Bruce Wayne was, it works. And the fact that it’s set against the backdrop of a conflict everyone knows and more-or-less understands is so much the better.

Alas, I have fewer kind words to say about Season 3 of Bloodline (Netflix original). This is a Florida family drama that hinges on an incident from the childhood of the Rayburn children in which they were coerced into lying to the police (and everyone else) about how brother Danny was injured on the day their sister drowned. That lie, which they have to continue to live, is poison to the family, and it culminates in a Biblical reckoning at the end of Season 1. The truth is that the Rayburns are not nice people, external appearances notwithstanding. Danny took a dark path, Kevin is a lazy screw-up, and John is so tightly wound that he has never been able to enjoy any of the good things in his life. Sister Meg has gotten away from the toxic environment on occasion, but she keeps getting sucked back in.

So it’s not the easiest of shows to watch, as the Rayburns continue to do self-destructive and damaging things and then have to pile lie upon lie to cover up. The murder that ended season 2 propels Season 3 up to a point, but then, nine episodes in out of ten, they decide to pretend the show is Twin Peaks. A solid hour of baffling storytelling. They make poor use of some of the supporting cast (John’s wife, for example). Not to mention the fact that there’s this character played by John Leguizamo who wanders around like the purveyor of doom, making gloomy predictions and dire threats, only to have the character expunged from the story without anything coming of it. Mystifying. I would have been happy if the final season had ended with the rather jarring incident at the end of episode 8, although it would have been a shame to miss Sissy Spacek’s show-stopping rant in the final episode. And then there’s that ending. Hmmmm. Shame, really. Good actors doing good work, poorly served by the story.

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A week above 5000 feet

Last week, my wife and I took a vacation in Arizona (mostly), New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. We flew into Phoenix, picked up a rental car (a Mustang GT, not the convertible we had reserved—thanks, Hertz) and drove up the Oak Creek Canyon scenic route to Sedona, where we spent our first night in an outwardly plain but well-appointed and centrally located motel. We had a late dinner at the Sound Bites Grill, overlooking the mountains while we listened to the music of Estaban and his ensemble. We were, at that point, at about 4000 feet above sea level, and we’d stay at least at that height for the rest of the week, though we were often above 5000 feet and, at one point, as high as 8800 feet.

The next morning, we completed the drive up Oak Creek Canyon and turned east. Our first stop was in Winslow, Arizona, a little town made famous by “Take it Easy,” the first hit single by The Eagles. The town itself looks terribly depressed, and I’m not sure it would still exist if not for the song. According to the legend, Jackson Browne came up with the line “I’m standing on a corner in Winsolow Arizona, such a fine sight to see…” but got stuck until Glenn Frey convinced him to lend a hand, coming up with the line about the girl and the flatbed Ford. There’s a statue on a corner that is supposed to represent Browne and a more recent one added to depict Frey, and a permanently parked flatbed Ford with a painting on the nearby wall that looks like a window reflection showing the girl. It’s a place rooted in nostalgia, as evidenced by the average age of the people hanging around the corner that Sunday afternoon.

From there, we continued west, driving through the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. We stayed overnight in Gallup, New Mexico and headed north the next day toward Cortez, Colorado. From there, we went east to Mesa Verde National Park, which is famous for it pueblos. We spent most of the mid-day hours there, viewing the types of accommodations the natives used hundreds of years ago. Also saw a very large snake outside one of the Anasazi pit houses. From there we drove west, passing through Cortez again on our way to Four Corners. My wife had been here decades ago, when it was just a disk in the middle of nowhere, but it’s fairly built up now, with souvenir stands, and a lengthy queue to take a picture standing at the junction of the four states. We decided to skip the line and take a few stealth photos nearby.

From there we continued west in Utah, driving through some of the most spectacular landscape this country has to offer, namely Monument Valley, which has served as the setting for many classic Westerns and other movies. Breathtaking at every turn. We ended up in Kayenta, Arizona for the night. The next day we moved on to Page, where we took a cruise on the Colorado river into Antelope Canyon, joined a tour of a slot canyon where the colored walls and lighting from above made for some spectacular views, and ended the day at Horseshoe Bend, a scenic overlook that is, again, breathtaking.

We drove up to Kanab, Utah the next day and had a fairly relaxing afternoon in the low-key town. We took a drive up the Johnson Canyon trail, where one of the attractions is the dilapidated remains of a set used to film Gunsmoke, and had a fantastic meal at Sego. We also learned the importance of keen attention to detail at an artisanal deli where we both misread “roast beet sandwich” as “roast beef.” It was like those old Wendy’s commercials: where’s the beef? Much amusement.

The next day, we drove down to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is much less frequently visited than the South Rim. This part is at least a thousand feet higher than the other side, and it’s closed in the winter. A deer dashed across the road in front of us while we were driving up the mountainside, which gave us a fright. Then a few minutes later there was a sign on the side of the road warning of bison, which was worrying, although we didn’t see any that day. I tried to keep a mental list of all the things we were warned might be crossing the road during our journey: deer, antelope and elk (they each had their own unique picture), bison, mountain lions, children, old people, ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles, trucks, and boulders. I’m probably forgetting some. (We did see some snow on this side, tucked in at the edges of the treelines, and on the tops of some distant peaks, but I didn’t think there was much chance of snowmobiles.)

The north rim visit was really nice. There are a number of hiking trails that take you along the edge of the canyon overlooking some spectacular vistas. The crowds were relatively small (compared to what we’d see the next day), and it was all very low-key and laid back. However, a thunder-and-lightning storm rolled in (and we were at 8800 feet at that point!) so we hid out in the general store for a while and purchased a couple of $1 ponchos that kept us dry and warmer on the long walk back to where we’d parked. By then, the worst of the rain was over and we had a pleasant drive to our penultimate destination, Tuba City, which is east of the Grand Canyon on Navajo/Hopi land.

On Friday, we drove to the Grand Canyon again, approaching from the east to get to the South Rim. It was my birthday, so we splurged on a 1-hour helicopter tour that took us over the entire canyon from about a mile up, at about 130 mph. Truly spectacular. There was a controlled burn in one part of the mesa that we flew right through, and a section where we saw some bison from above. The pilot told us that the herd was a few hundred in number and that they had moved 100 of them to another part of the region a few years ago, but within a week they had returned to their original location.

We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking along the rim and taking in the vistas one last time before the three-hour drive down to Phoenix, where we caught our return flight on Saturday morning. We drove 1600 miles from start to finish. I posted some of our many photos on Facebook, but I’ll put together a slideshow here in the coming days, too. It was a fantastic vacation. We had mapped out the stopping points in advance and reserved all of our motels/hotels, which took most of the stress out of the trip. We always knew where we were staying, so we could just enjoy ourselves and take in the scenery.

Since Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time, but the Navajo reservations do, we had fun pinpointing exactly what time it was during most of the trip. We switched back and forth an hour at least once a day, it seemed, and sometimes more often than that.

I picked a Tony Hillerman novel (The Blessing Way) as our night time reading on the trip, and we were thrilled to find many of the places we visited mentioned by name: Gallup, Window Rock, Teec Nos Pos, Four Corners, Monument Valley, Mexican Water, etc. We could visualize the locales as they came up in the story.

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With an ‘E’

There’s been a fair amount of controversy and negative reviews accompanying the new CBC / Netflix version of Anne of Green Gables, called Anne with an ‘E,’  but we really liked it. It diverges from the novel’s storyline at a number of points, and it certainly presents a darker version of the story, but it feels honest and realistic. Anne’s past in the orphanage was traumatic, and she has the occasional issue dealing with it. Her transition into school life in her new environment isn’t smooth, and she is faced with a number of issues that confront teenagers during any era. The acting is top-notch, and it comes with a jaunty set of opening credits set to “Ahead by a Century” by The Tragically Hip. Fine cinematography and scenery. We are eagerly awaiting the second season.

I’m glad I watched the original Twin Peaks and Fire Walk with Me recently before tackling the new season of Twin Peaks. I would have been mightily lost otherwise. Blue Rose? The ring. The talking tree (okay, that one was just messed up, and there’s apparently a real-world story behind why “the arm,” also known as the little dancing man, is now represented this way), etc. But it all makes perfect sense now. Well, as much sense as one might expect. Lynch has managed to recapture the feeling of the show and prequel movie very well, and add some new viewing experiences as well.

Speaking of the talking tree: as with everything else in the Black Lodge, its dialog is captioned. I swear when it said “2-5-7” the captions read “2-5-3.” I wonder if that means something.

I was intrigued by the fact that the opening credits started with the casting director and that the actors themselves weren’t named until the closing credits, but I guess that was to keep the identity of some of the new (and returning) cast members a secret. I liked the way the subtle image of Laura Palmer is hidden in the mist at the very opening of the credits. Blink and you’d miss it.

There is a lot of strange shit going on here, and not much of it is taking place in Twin Peaks itself so far. After four episodes, the weirdest thing happening there is Doctor Jacobi spray-painting a bunch of shovels (gold? I can’t tell—my poor color perception defeats me in situations like that). I wonder who the billionaire is behind the mysterious viewing chamber in New York. It’s a little sad to see some of the returning cast members, a couple of whom have passed away since filming, but it was good to see David Duchovny again.

Kyle Maclachlan looks like he’s having a blast playing several different versions of Cooper, including one who is reminiscent of rain main. His reaction to peeing for the first time was hilarious. The show occasionally tests your patience—the cameo by Michael Cera was only a few minutes, but it seemed interminable—but I’m along for the ride to see where they plan to take us. I’m also enjoying the musical performances at the end of each episode: the Chromatics and Au Revoir Simone. Trippy stuff.

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Truth or Dare?

Acceptance and rejection letters come in many forms. For the latter, there are form letters and postcards with checkboxes. Sometimes these come with a handwritten scribbled note at the bottom. Sometimes the rejections are personalized and constructive. I once received a rejection that was a strip of paper about ¾” wide cut from a sheet of printer paper. It had a couple of lines of type, and was tossed into a legal-sized envelope, where it rattled around as the letter made its way through the postal system. How frugal, I remember thinking at the time. They could get nearly a dozen of those rejection missives from a single sheet.

Acceptance letters are generally unique, and the one I received for my short story “Truth or Dare?” this week easily qualifies as the cutest ever. It opened with a colorful green monster with a polka-dotted body, Viking horns and a facial expression—including extended tongue—that would rival the happiest of dogs. This was Manny the Monster, I learned, and the editors said that if they hadn’t accepted my story, Manny would have eaten their toes.

The story will appear in Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, an anthology from Necon E-Books that will launch at Necon 37 in July. There will be both a print and an electronic version, and many of the authors will be present to sign at the convention. The coolest part is that all proceeds will go to the Jimmy Fund from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“Truth or Dare?” has a long history. I originally wrote it in 2007, or thereabouts, and I think I submitted it to a few places and had it accepted to a pro-paying market. Signed a contract and everything. However, ultimately the terms of the contract lapsed after a few years; therefore, I took the story back because I had no faith the market was ever going to appear. So it was available when this call came out and, happily, it found a receptive audience.

We’ve been working our way through Bill Nye Saves the World on Netflix. It’s a more grown-up version of his popular science show. It’s frenetic and fun and informative, with a clear political and social slant. It doesn’t always hit on all cylinders (I thought the Rachel Bloom segment fell flat), but we’re enjoying it. Nye also does a good job of bringing diversity to the table in his panel discussions.

Small quibble about NCIS: I know it would have taken screen time to explain who these strangers were, but I found it strikingly odd that every one of McGee’s co-workers was able to attend the very special event this week and not a single one of Delilah’s co-workers was there. They hand-waved away family members, but not that.

We watched and enjoyed the Tim Burton movie Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children on the weekend. I’ve never read the book it’s based on, and I didn’t really know all that much about the story going into it, but it was cleverly done, with a terrific cast and the expected spectacular special effects. Liked Chris O’Dowd as the boy’s father, although poor Kim Dickens got relegated to a single scene as his mother. Samuel L. Jackson chewed up all the scenery.

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Social activism

I’ve gone on two protest marches so far this year. I’ve contacted my congressman. I joined the ACLU.

And I’ve written to complain to a cereal company!

I’ve always been a big consumer of cereal. Growing up, I ate it for breakfast most days. I had a number of favorites, and Alpha-Bits was always near the top of the list. At first, it might have had something to do with the fact that they were letter-shaped, but I enjoy the flavor and consistency.

A number of years ago, for reasons I don’t quite understand, the cereal was pulled from grocery stores. However, it didn’t vanish completely. It was still available at places like Target and Wal-Mart. So I’d stock up on a couple of boxes any time I went to those stores.

I didn’t notice the “New & Improved” banner on the top of the most recent two boxes I bought. But I did notice something wrong when I poured the first bowl. The cereal was bigger and puffier, and it didn’t taste the same. And not in a good way. Quelle dommage! I did a search of social media and found out I wasn’t the only person who felt that way.

So, I decided to write the company, Post. I told them it reminded me of the New Coke debacle. I asked them to bring back Alpha-Bits Classic! I had a response from them saying they would pass my complaint on to their Product Development Department.

I don’t expect to go on a March for Cereal, but I’m not going to take this lying down!

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March for Science

Signs for ScienceOn Saturday, I took part in the Houston satellite March for Science. The organizers expected 10,000 people to show up, but the semi-official estimates suggest that 15,000 people showed up. There were a lot of scientists from academia and industry, students, etc., but also a lot of non-scientists who are simply upset at the way science is being dismissed.

There were some very creative signs, some of them quite witty, science-based, punny and nerdy. One woman turned to me and, with a straight face, said that she was surprised to find out that scientists had a sense of humor! The march was supposed to start at 11:00, but we ended up standing around until 11:30, leading us to theorize that, as far as scientists are concerned, protesting isn’t an exact science. The delay was probably on account of the crowd size. The original plan was for us to stick to sidewalks but the numbers meant the police had to barricade some streets for us.

The most common chant during the march went like this:

What do we want?
Evidence-based science!
When do we want it?
After peer review!

When we reached City Hall, there were speeches by physicians from the Medical Center, scientists from Rice, NASA and industry, and some award-winning high school and university students. There were hundreds of other satellite protests around the world, including Antarctica. Bill Nye was at the DC march, and Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who) showed up in London.

I’ve had Deadpool on the DVR for months and finally got around to watching it this weekend. I had no idea what to expect beyond the general rumblings I’d heard about it. I don’t know the character, and only know a little bit about the mutant universe. I have no idea who the big metal guy was, but I did chuckle at some of the inside jokes: Deadpool expressing his confusion over whether it was Stewart of McAvoy. The visit to the manor where no other mutants could be seen because of the low budget. The breaking of the fourth wall inside of the fourth wall, so that was sixteen walls being broken. However, the real surprise to me was Morena Baccarin (Firefly, Homeland), as I’ve never seen her before. My favorite moment was when she said “ruh roh” when her boyfriend hit the high-scoring slot at the carnival.

I also binged my way through all ten episodes of Season 3 of Bosch. The story picks up where it left off at the end of Season 2. The trial arising from the discoveries in that season is still in development, and some of Bosch’s off-the-books actions endanger the prosecution. There are new murders to solve, too, using storylines and elements clever extracted from the novels The Black Echo and A Darkness More Than Night. Titus Welliver has become Harry Bosch for me, and I don’t think I’ll be able to read a new Connelly novel without seeing him in my head. The story takes Bosch down some dark roads and leaves him in a morally conflicted position. I also got a kick out of how many people roll their eyes when they are in his presence. His teenage daughter has that reaction perfected, but his partners, colleagues, boss, even the chief can be seen rolling their eyes. When I commented about this on Twitter, I got back a pitch-perfect response from whoever is in charge of social media for the show: a tweet containing a short video snippet with Bosch’s boss rolling her eyes at him!

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