The Night People

This is how crazy it can be in Texas. At the moment it is flirting with 80°. When I get up for my writing session tomorrow it will be on the way to the predicted low of 25° and it won’t get above 35° until noon on Friday. Yikes.

Some books stick with me more than others. One that did is The Night People by Jack Finney, author of The Body Snatchers that was turned into a film or two. Though it sounds like it might be about vampires or something of that ilk, it’s actually about neighborhood acquaintances who decide to have some nighttime adventures. It starts with one guy who has the irresistible urge to lie down in the middle of a road that’s busy in the daytime but mostly idle at night. Things progress. The friends have a picnic on the sidewalk at a strip mall. A cop gets onto their case: he is offended by their shenanigans, even though no one or nothing is being harmed. Things accelerate. The stakes are raised. I remember finding it utterly charming at the time. A paean to non-conformity.

This book came to mind as I was reading Sarah Pinborough’s magnificent The Death House last weekend. I’d heard many kudos about the novel, but I knew absolutely nothing about what it was about, by design. I went into it blind, and I loved every second of it. It’s been a long time since a book brought tears to my eyes, and this one did twice. I’m working on a full review for Onyx, but in a nutshell it’s akin to Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, with shades of Lord of the Flies and maybe even a soupçon of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The narrator is a Night Person, roaming the eponymous house while everyone else is drugged asleep. But then he meets a kindred spirit, and the adventures begin. Charming, coming of age adventures under the shadow of a known, bleak future. I haven’t been getting much reading done this year, but I set aside Saturday and read the whole thing from cover to cover. It’s that good. It doesn’t come out in the US until the fall, but it’s available in the UK now.

I got Amazon Prime recently so I could watch Bosch (well worth the cost, by the way), so I’ve been browsing through the other available offerings, and I stumbled upon Oz, about which I’d heard good things. I’ve seen the first four episodes: I see it as a precursor to Orange is the New Black. More serious than OITNB most of the time, with a marvelously over-the-top narrator, the guy who played Michael on Lost. J.K. Simmons is a nasty piece of work as the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood. I can’t believe I’ve never seen a second of this show before.

I received my contributor copies of Dead Reckonings #16 last night. Hank Wagner and I teamed up twice this time, once to talk about two books recommended by King (Christopher Golden’s Snowblind and Nick Cutter’s The Troop), and again to discuss the latest two King novels.

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A life is like a garden

As we get older, death becomes a more familiar companion. Certainly not a welcome one, but familiar all the same.

I didn’t come to Star Trek early in life, mostly because where I grew up we only had one television station and Star Trek wasn’t on it. There was no such thing as VHS back then, so if it wasn’t on the tube, it pretty much didn’t exist.

My first exposure to the show came in 1979 when I went to university. The TV lounge in our dorm had cable, and Star Trek ran every weekday at noon or thereabouts. We had lunch the moment the dining room opened at 11:30 and dashed up to our floor to watch the latest episode. I bought the James Blish novelizations and read them all. I went to see Gene Rodenberry when he came to the Student Union Building (a fact that I had forgotten until I recently stumbled across the ticket stub while sorting through old papers).  I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture on opening night.

Not long after I moved to Texas in the late 1980s, I heard about a Star Trek convention in downtown Houston, some 40 miles away. I considered myself a hardcore fan by that point. Then I stood in the registration line between two guys in costume who held an intense debate about what Spock had been up to between the first two movies. They had evidence. If their conversation had been written down, there would have been footnotes. I felt waaaay out of their league. I enjoyed the convention, though I was a bit miffed when I realized that most of the vendors there had no interest in Star Trek at all. They were just out to make a buck, selling photocopies of photocopies of scripts and badly produced fan fiction. I got to meet Jimmy Doohan and Marina Sirtis, so there’s that!

I was thrilled to see Leonard Nimoy as the villain of the week on Columbo, playing a doctor who killed a rival physician using dissolving stitches. And, all these years later, I’ve been following him on Twitter where, among other things of interest, he talked about his battle with COPD and how stupid it was of him to smoke.

He was taken to hospital last week after collapsing at home. His final tweet from a few days ago read, “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”

Today, his grandson posted the following on his Twitter feed:

Hi all, as you all know, my Grandpa passed away this morning at 8:40 from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was an extraordinary man, husband, grandfather, brother, actor, author-the list goes on- and friend. Thank you for the warm condolences. May you all LLAP. – Dani

P.s. I will be putting special shirts up on our site, , where all of the proceeds will go to the COPD Foundation. I hope to hear from you all.

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You get a rejection letter where you were thisclose to cracking the table of contents. You have to withdraw another story from a longstanding project because it was starting to circle the drain. These things are part of a writer’s life.

And then there’s the spontaneous email from a first reader who tells you he was tempted to call in sick to work that day because he wanted to stay home to finish reading your work. Or the random post that you stumble upon from a total stranger who says very nice things about a short story you published many moons ago. These things, too, are part of a writer’s life. A couple of the latter is worth far more than a barrel of the former.

Odd coincidences: Several days ago, I finished a work in which mysterious tunnels play a major role. Then I look at my favorite news site (CBC news, if you’re curious) and see a blazing headline about a mysterious tunnel of unknown origin and purpose. Cool, you think. But my tunnel is more mysterious.

I’m getting close to the end of Bosch, the 10-episode Amazon Prime series based on the novels of Michael Connelly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Los Angeles look so good on film. It almost looks like a nice place to live. Titus Welliver is good, although I have to keep reminding myself he’s Harry Bosch. I can’t articulate how I pictured Bosch over the years, but it wasn’t like him. The season is based mostly on the novels Echo Park and City of Bones, though some liberties are taken. Bosch’s ex-wife and FBI profiler Rachel Walling are blended together into a single character, for example. I’m enjoying it, but I wish there was an easy way to cast it to my TV. Watching on the iPad is okay, but just okay.

The second season of Broadchurch has wrapped up. Apparently it’s been renewed for a third. Nothing is neat and tidy in life, as the season demonstrates. I wish I hadn’t watched Gracepoint, because that canceled series polluted my memory of Broadchurch’s first season a bit and it took me a while to sort out who was who and what was what again. The season comingles two cases and involves the characters from season 1 along with some new additions. I enjoyed it.

Very close to the mid-point of Justified’s final season. The addition of Jeff Fahey to the cast is welcome. His Zachariah is a crusty old miner and Fahey throws everything into portraying him. He’s the only actor I’m aware of who can laugh “heh heh heh” and make it sound like a real thing. A couple of good lines. Ava saying, “Anyone but me just plain tired of the bullshit burdens of southern hospitality?” The prostitute saying, “You’d be amazed how many guys think that if they talk fast enough no one will realize they’ve got nothin to say,” which could be applied to a couple of the show’s characters. And Raylan telling Tim, “Wonderful things can happen when you sow seeds of distrust in a garden of assholes.”

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Dissonant Harmonies

Seven or eight years ago, Brian Keene and I first bandied about the idea of collaborating on a project. Our motivation was a shared habit of listening to music while we write and writing about listening to music while we write. I once wrote an entire novel (unpublished) listening only to Supertramp albums.

Brian and I observed that, though our tastes were quite different in many ways, there was also an overlap region that includes groups like the Alan Parsons Project, Supertramp, Pink Floyd, Styx, Kansas, ELO, etc. We wondered what it would be like to write something to the other person’s music. At first we considered a short story collection, but ultimately the project converged into a pair of novellas, each in the 30-40,000 word range, that would be published together. Cemetery Dance liked the idea, so that’s where this thing will end up eventually.

But it took us a long time to get to this point. We’d raise the subject every now and then. I even made a subtle dig about it in a very short story I wrote a number of years ago. Finally, we got to the point where we established our ground rules about the playlists. I delivered a CD to Brian at NECON last year and he sent me a Spotify playlist shortly there after. Even so, it took us another six months to get to the point where we were ready to write. And we did. As of yesterday, we’re both done our first drafts. Still plenty of work ahead, so the book isn’t on anyone’s publication schedule, but we’re getting there.

To commemorate the event, Brian posted our combined playlist on his website in the form of a Spotify plugin. He had to take a few liberties, because not all of the songs I chose were available on Spotify, but it will give you an idea of what each of us listened to while these stories came together.

Brian says his story is “about soul-mates, unrequited love, and how sometimes doing the right thing means doing the wrong, all seen through the prism of the Labyrinth’s multiple realities and alternate universes).” Mine is about the brother who left and the one who stayed behind, a series of mysterious disappearances, and the mother of all blizzards that heralds the arrival of something most definitely wicked.

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I don’t know what to dream any more

I finished the first draft of my novella last weekend. It came in at just over 38,000 words. I also dictated the remaining section into Word, so now it’s all digitized. I made one quick pass through to fix up the artifacts from voice-to-speech. Now it’s time for a good hard edit before I pass it off to someone else to read while I catch up on other things that have been pushed to the side while I concentrated on this work. I’m quite happy with how it turned out, but now it’s up to other people to let me know if it’s any good. Fingers crossed.

One strange after-effect of finishing, though. Throughout the four weeks it took me to get from beginning to end, I thought about the story all the time, especially when I was going to sleep at night. I would work out the next day’s storyline as my mind drifted off. It was pretty amazing. But now that I’m done, I don’t know what to concentrate on when I’m going to sleep. I did manage to identify one plot hole the other night, but beside that, I’m sort of stymied. Guess I’ll have to figure out what I’m going to write next and set my subconscious mind to work on that.

I’ve been enjoying Better Call Saul, but my wife bailed after the second episode. She’s not a big fan of stories with despicable protagonists. I like all the little, subtle nods to Breaking Bad, and glad to see Mike getting something more to do than send Jimmy back to get his parking validated.

I also enjoyed a six-part series called Babylon that aired on Sundance. It was about a young American female media wonk who is hired by the commissioner of the London police force to handle public relations. It’s an odd show, part satire, part straight drama, but it has an interesting arc. No word yet whether there’ll be a second series. I don’t think it set the world on fire over here.

I’ve been limping along with The Walking Dead, but last week’s preachy, let’s pump the metaphors episode wasn’t encouraging. Tonight is the two-hour series finale of The Mentalist. Looks like there might be a wedding. Enjoying this final season of Justified, too, although this week’s entry was a little weaker, though a weak Justified is still a ton better than just about anything else. I’ve been trying to find time to watch the ten episodes of Bosch on Amazon Prime (Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch, based on the Michael Connelly novels), but not yet. I watched the re-cut first episode and part of the second but then I got sidelined. That novella really did consume me for a month, but I liked how much I got written in that short period of time. All of it by hand.

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And he shall be called Frank

I’ve reached the 2/3 point of the novella and something odd happened. One of the two main characters, whose name was Jessie, suddenly insisted that his name was Frank. I have no idea how or why this happened. Now, I know that Jessie isn’t the traditional male spelling, but there are enough examples to support its use. However, half the time when I put the pen-tip to paper to have him do or say something, my first inclination was to write Frank. I can’t explain it. So, from this point forward, Frank it is. I’ve also finally come up with a name for my fictional town. Until now it was ____port, which, when I was dictating the text into Word became blank-port. I can now fill in the blank.

I have most of the rest of the story mapped out in my head, in broad strokes. I find it interesting that I had a target of 40,000 words and that seems to be exactly where I’m heading, more or less. The first round of editing is going to be a bitch, though—first comparing the text to the handwritten version to fix up all the incorrect speech-to-text translation, and then making sure it all holds together continuity-wise.

Justified is cooking with gas this season. There have been some shocking events, but it’s hard to top the one that happened last night. They’re bringing out all the old familiar faces, too. This week we had Dickie and Loretta, next week it will be Limehouse and Deputy Bob. The clamps are tightening on Ava each week, and Boyd seems oblivious to it all. Looks like she’s going walkabout next week. Gary Busey’s son was a guest star this week, and he left an impression. Or a divot.

Banshee is also blowing up the screen this season. Another regular bought the farm in dramatic fashion last weekend. You’d almost think it was the final season of that show, too, the way they’re cleaning house. I think it’s time for a new police station, though. Maybe one with thicker walls.

I’m enjoying the PBS series A Path Appears, which is based on the book by NYT reporter Nick Kristof’s book, co-written with his wife. The title comes from a Chinese proverb about how, if enough people decide to take a certain route through a field, eventually a path will appear there even if there was none before. The series focuses on some of the most oppressed people, both in the US and around the world, and how local initiatives are attempting to put things right. There are usually two or three stories in each 90-minute episode, and Kristof takes a celebrity activist along with him. Some of these have been very impressive. This week it was Mia Farrow going with him to Kenya. Jennifer Garner was very impressive with her interest in domestic violence issues in West Virginia, and Ashley Judd in Nashville regarding sex trafficking. It’s simultaneously depressing because of the subject matter and uplifting when you hear about local people digging deep to do something about an issue in their own town. The guy from Kenya this week was simply awesome. Completely self-educated but smart well beyond his years and resourceful, as well as determined and visionary.

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Put a tiger in your tank

I usually try to watch the Grammy Awards, if for no other reason than to catch up on new artists I’m not familiar with, but also to see some of the Great Old Ones show that they still have it. AC/DC got things off to a rip-roaring start. It’s always great to see Jeff Lynne and his current incarnation of ELO, and Ed Sheeran teamed up with him well. Annie Lennox showed everyone how it’s done. That Hozier dude was pretty good, too; I’d never even heard of him before. My wife says he sounds like Elton John, and I can see that. Miranda Lambert’s performance was kind of bland, but Pharrell Williams was lively and entertaining.

We watched Fury with Brad Pitt on Saturday night. When I was a kid, I was mad for tanks. I made models and drew them time and time again. The movie is about one tank squad in WWII, led by Pitt, who’ve been together since North Africa. They’ve been through France and Belgium. Now they’re in Germany in the war’s final weeks, helping to make sure that the Germans don’t escape from the net that’s enclosing them. As the movie opens, they’ve just endured the loss of a team member and have been saddled with a newbie who’s probably never fired a rifle before. They’re sent on a few demanding missions that test their mettle and force the greenhorn to face up to the realities of war. It’s gritty and brutal, unflinching and devastating. Memorable, in the final analysis. It closes with a crane shot that tells a story in a way that none of the men in the tank ever could have.

I’ve almost given up on The Walking Dead a number of times, but this week’s episode was pretty good. It was directed by Greg Nicotero, the special effects guru who I got to spend some time with in his creature workshop while he was working on The Mist. It was a stylistically interesting episode, with both intriguing camera angles/shots and an artistic narrative structure. Some of the character-based episodes have been trite or boring, but I liked this one a lot. Plus, the episode left open a bunch of questions about that compound that may or may not ever be answered. What happened to all those houses? They looked like they’d been on the wrong end of a Sherman tank. And who severed some zombies and de-limbed others? I’d be fine with not ever knowing, because there are things you encounter in the apocalypse that defy explanation.

I hit the 25,000-word mark on my novella this weekend. I still know what comes next; each night my mind seems to come up with the next thousand words or so without too much conscious effort on my part. This morning, though, I spent my normal writing time dictating in another chunk of text from the written draft. I still have quite a bit more to read to my iPad before I’m caught up, and there will be a few days of reckoning somewhere down the line when I have to fix up all the mistakes the dictation software is making (and they are legion and, by times, hilarious). But it’s all part of the process.

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There’s something liberating about working on a longer piece by hand. I’m writing this novella, which should hit around 40,000 words when I’m done. I picked up a nice leatherette journal that’s been kicking around the house for a while and started my story in it, never fully intending to write the entire thing longhand. And yet, here I am, three weeks later, halfway through the story and, as luck would have it, halfway through the pages of the journal.

Yesterday, at the midpoint of the novella, my pen ran out. It was brand new when I started, a Tul gel pen, and I’ve used it for nothing else, so now I can say with confidence that it was good for 20,000 words, more or less. I’m still a bit sketchy on the actual word count, since I don’t have that handy, dandy counter in the corner of the screen to confirm it, but it’s in the ballpark.

One thing I really like about working this way is that I can write at different times and places than per usual. If I go to the bagel shop for breakfast, I can write there. I write during my lunch break at work. I write at the kitchen table when I get home from work while awaiting my wife. My productivity has been impressive—a solid average of 1000 words per day. At this pace, assuming no loss of inspiration, I should have the first pass done by the end of February.

I do feel a little vulnerable, though. There’s no backup at the moment. If I lose the journal, a lot of work will be gone. I did dictate the first 10,000 words, so they’re safe and sound, although in bad need of proofing and tidying up, but the more recent work exists only in streaks of ink pulled across sheets of paper. Makes me nervous enough that I may dictate the next 10,000 words this weekend. That’s an interesting process, too. At first, I read like I was reading to entertain. But then I realized that the software had no interest in my inflection or my pacing. I got the same results if I spoke in a typographic monotone. If I do this too much, my next public reading could be painful.

Rich Chizmar mentioned on Twitter and Facebook yesterday that he is starting to work on his part of a round-robin story for the Cemetery Dance Collectors Club. I’ve done this a couple of times in the past, and it’s always an interesting process. This time, Ray Garton got the ball rolling. He passed his opening to me, and I handed it off to Kealan Patrick Burke. Rich is batting clean-up, given the task of bringing it all home. I’ll be interested to see where the story went after I wrote my part.

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Haters gonna hate

All in all (owl in owl), it was a mighty fine game. I didn’t really have “a team,” but I was mildly favoring the Patriots. Wouldn’t have been terribly bent out of shape if Seattle had won. It was an exciting game. Tied at the half and then all that stuff that happened in the final few minutes. Thrilling. Even my wife, who never watches football ever, stuck with the game to the end.

I also didn’t mind the half-time show. Not Katy Perry’s biggest fan, but she put on a show that pleased the masses. Not enough Lenny Kravitz. Was he really just there to put a male spin on “Kissed a Girl” to placate the homophobes, as some suggest? I’m also not a terribly big fan of rap, but Missy Elliott put on a decent performance. The dancing sharks and beach balls were funny. “Hey, look Ma, I’m on TV!” you can almost hear them saying.

The commercials were all over the map. A few made me chuckle. I liked the Liam Neeson one, and the Brady Bunch one, which I’d already seen. How can a free app game afford to advertise during the Super Bowl? Those in-app purchases must be adding up.

I’m nearing the halfway point of the WIP. Approximately 18,000 words as of this morning. Haven’t hit a wall yet. I hope I don’t end up writing myself into a corner…

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Winter isn’t coming

I have a nostalgic recollection of what it’s like to be in the midst of a blizzard. As a kid, I used to love to go outside and play in the snow. There’s a particular kind of quiet in a snowfield. Sound is dulled and amplified at the same time. I love the sound snow makes when you step into it or ski across it. However, I don’t envy people having to deal with the 12-36″ of the stuff that’s due to come down over the next couple of days, or the complications it will cause with travel, both local and long-range.

As for what it’s like here—I sat outside on the back deck while I was writing yesterday afternoon so, quite nice thank you very much.

The novella I’m working on is set in a New England winter, so maybe this storm will provide fodder and inspiration. It’s coming along very well. I crossed the 10,000 word mark this weekend, which isn’t bad for a week’s work. It’s the most I’ve written in such a short period in ages. As I mentioned before, I’m doing this longhand, also something I haven’t done in ages. I wasn’t looking forward to transcribing it when I was finished, though. However, my wife mentioned some free dictation software for the iPad (Dragon Dictation). Between yesterday afternoon and this morning, I dictated all of the work to present and got it converted into Word. It didn’t take long to fall into a rhythm, saying things like “new line,” “begin quote,”  “dash,” “new paragraph” as I was reading along. There are a lot of mistakes and misunderstandings to be corrected, but it’s a big step forward without having to do all that typing. I also validated my estimated word count. I was a touch high, assuming 250 words per page when after 44 pages the real average is 236. I’m hoping to be done with the first draft by the end of February, if not sooner. Every morning I wake up knowing what comes next, which is always good.

I finished the second season of The Fall last weekend. This is the British crime drama starring Gillian Anderson as an English police superintendent in Belfast to perform a review on a murder case that has had little traction in a month. She soon discovers they’re dealing with a serial offender (Jamie Dornan), who is one sick puppy. The two seasons are really one long season with an interminable break between them. Season 1 ends on a cliffhanger and the story picks up straight away in Season 2 in the same place. It’s a slow, deliberately paced series that doesn’t gloss over the processing of crime scenes or the minutia of interrogations. Anderson’s character is quite interesting, strong, forceful, unflappable, and Dornan’s is twisted, controlling, and ingratiating. Though Anderson and Dornan are almost never together in scenes, the show is mostly a cat-and-mouse chess match between them, with some other good characters thrown in, including a saucy fifteen-year-old babysitter who is emotionally seduced by Dornan’s character. I hope there’s a third season.

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