Four stories: CD Select

I’m happy to announce the publication of my entry in the new Cemetery Dance Select series of eBooks. This mini-collection contains the following stories:

  • A Murder of Vampires
  • Overtoun Bridge
  • Centralia Is Still Burning
  • What David Was Doing When the Lights Went Out

Plus an afterword by the author (that would be me). These ebooks are a great way to sample a new author, and the price is right, at $2.99. Among the other authors in the first wave: Kealan Patrick Burke, John R. Little, Lisa Tuttle, Michael Marshall Smith, Kaaron Warren, Lisa Morton, Terry Dowling, Lee Thomas, Jeff Strand, Peter Atkins.

This morning I finished The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley, currently only available in a fine limited edition of 300 copies from Tartarus Press. If you’ve had your ear to the ground, you might have heard mention of it. It was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I respect, and I’m glad I tracked a copy down. Apparently it’s getting a wider release this year, and it is most deserving. It’s a difficult book to describe, but it has drawn comparisons to Henry James and The Wicker Man. Moody, with a very strong sense of place. Almost claustrophobic. Mesmerizing writing. I’ll be reviewing it at greater length soon, but keep an eye out for this one. It’s an impressive debut novel.

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Fireworks

My new short story “The Bottle of Red Zinfandel” is now available in Sci Phi Journal issue 6. Electronic and paper copies of this periodical are available.

My essay for Stephen King Revisted on Roadwork is now available, as is Rich’s commentary essay: The First Energy Crisis.

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film, edited by my buddy Danel Olson, got a nice mention by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post. I haven’t seen the book yet, but I hear it’s quite spectacular.

The Thriller Awards will be presented at ThrillerFest X in NYC this weekend. My short story “The Honey Trap” is vying with four others in the Best Short Story category. I figure my odds of winning are slim, but it was both an honor and a surprise to be nominated.

The past couple of weeks have been exciting and eventful. As I mentioned last time, my daughter got married in mid-June. However, they elected to have the reception this past weekend instead of immediately after the ceremony, and it was held here in Texas. So we’ve had lots of people visiting for the big event, which was on Friday evening. Music was by a “small big band” and a Frank Sinatra cover singer. We had fireworks at the end of the evening, too, a prelude for the July 4th celebration.

On Saturday, we took our visitors to the nearby park, where we understood the viewing would be favorable. Afternoon showers passed through, but it was clear and dry at the park and we essentially had front row seats to the fireworks. Our community launched them from two different locations, in sync with each other. We could see the second batch cresting the trees on the other side of the lake, but the primary fireworks went off right in front of us. Lasted 20 minutes—quite a spectacle. The dog with the people sitting near us wasn’t quite so impressed, though. It bolted during the grand finale, and I was surprised that its owners were able to recapture it in the darkness.

We watched the World Cup final on Sunday evening, which was thrilling in its own right. No one expected the game to start out the way it did, with four US goals in 16 minutes. The one from mid-field was especially impressive. We were glad Japan got back into the game a little, at least, so it wasn’t a total rout. Apparently it was the most-watched soccer match in the US ever.

Less than two weeks until Necon!

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Point Betsie

My essay about Firestarter for Stephen King Revisited went online a few days ago, along with Rich Chizmar’s reminiscences about the book.

I’d be most curious to hear what Thomas Harris thinks of the Hannibal series. They are doing most interesting things with his stories. It’s a mesmerizing series. Truly hypnotic.

I’m going to give Season 2 of True Detectives a few episodes to see if it picks up, but the first episode wasn’t gripping at all, although it had its moments. I’ve never been a huge fan of either Colin Farrell (too bad he doesn’t speak in his normal accent) or Vince Vaughn.

After we left the airport on Thursday, we passed two consecutive intersections that had Tim Hortons restaurants. My wife tuned in CBC Radio 2. But we weren’t in Canada—we were in Michigan, driving between Detroit and the northwestern part of the Upper Peninsula, a place called Frankfort and its environs. The reason? Our daughter’s wedding, which has been in the planning stage for so long that it seems like it has always been!

It was a small affair. Just the parental units and their attendants. The ceremony took place outside of the famous lighthouse at Point Betsie, which the tour guides say is the second most photographed lighthouse in the US (the first being in Maine).

We kept a wary eye on the weather during the preceding days. Thursday and Friday both showed a 30% chance of rain for the time of the wedding, but luck was with us. It was brisk and a bit breezy, definitely overcast, but not a drop fell. Apparently the conditions were ideal for the photographer because it meant no one was squinting in the sun. The ceremony was followed by a dinner at a nearby restaurant. The reception proper will take place here in Texas in the near future, with a larger contingent present.

It was a terrific weekend. We got to meet our new son-in-law’s parents for the first time, and take in a part of the country neither of us had ever seen before. In fact, we’re both quite sure neither of us has been to Michigan in the past except when making connections through the Detroit airport. We envision return trips in the future. There are a lot of wineries in the area. Apparently it’s at the same latitude as the wine regions of France and California.

On Friday, after the rehearsal dinner, a local told us to watch out for deer as we returned to our hotel. We left the restaurant on Saturday evening at about 9:45, which was still twilight that far north. As we skirted the western coast of Crystal Lake, I remembered that advice, but then I told myself that deer probably wouldn’t cross the road here because there was nowhere for them to go on the other side. Just the lake. Not a mile later, I saw out of the corner of my eye something moving fast toward us. A young deer bolted across the road in front of us. I’m not sure we were in danger of hitting it, but I slammed on the brakes all the same, and it zigged and zagged and dashed off into the darkness.

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Bill, with the long tail

Bill came calling, but we had plenty of advanced warning. He turned into a tropical storm the other evening. People went crazy, emptying the shelves in the grocery stores, concentrating on water and bread, apparently. I guess they were expecting some sort of apocalyptic event instead of just what we around here affectionately call “showers.” Granted, it rained a fair amount, but I think the storm we had on Memorial Day was worse, and that one didn’t even merit a name. Some wag on Twitter suggested there were going to be a lot of homemade croutons next week as people tried to figure out what to do with the excess bread.

Even though the center of the storm, now a Tropical Depression instead of a Tropical Storm, has moved well past us, Bill has a long tail, as you can see from the accompanying satellite image. That means the storm is still pulling moisture from the Gulf and occasionally dumping it on us. So there could still be some local street flooding but, for the most part, T.S. Bill was a bit of a fizzle. Not that anyone’s complaining. Except the people who bought all that bread.

My short story “The Bottle of Red Zinfandel” will be in issue 6 of SciPhi Journal, due out soon. Their illustrator, Cat Leonard, did spot illustrations for each story. Here’s what she conjured up for mine.

The journal features science fiction stories with a philosophical context and mine contemplates the repercussions of teleportation.

We’re into the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica, after the stunning reveal at the end of the third season: the identities of four of the sleeper cylons. That means there’s just one remaining to be revealed. My money is on the cigarette-smoking doctor! I have to say that this is a more sophisticated and complex series that tackles some interesting issues and develops strong character relationships than anything Star Trek ever managed to do. I still can’t believe I overlooked it for so many years.

In learning some basic guitar chords, I have discovered that the lower-E string, the thickest, is more trouble than it’s worth much of the time. How many of the major chords require you to skip it? The F, B and D chords sound light-weight to my ear without that lower component, compared to the other chords.

I’m reading Last Words by Michael Koryta, who I met at Necon last year. Our hero has just been placed unconscious deep inside a cave. When he comes to, he’s wearing only his underwear and it’s completely dark. Totally. He has no idea where he is (he figures out it’s a cave fairly soon) or how to get out. This is very creepy stuff.

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Zero Hour: 5 p.m.

I haven’t owned a suit since I was in high school. I have a tux that I’ve worn a couple of times in recent years, but for other occasions, I’ve relied upon the blazer/dress pants ensemble. Patches on the elbows and everything. However, that won’t do for a wedding, so last night we went out and bought me a suit. Two, in fact, since it was buy-one-get-one-free week at the haberdasher (there’s a word that’s fallen into disuse!). We made a romp of it. Got a lot of laughs from the salesman. At one point, a mustachioed tailor who reminded me of Gepetto sneaked up behind me and took a few rapid measurements with a tape and a piece of chalk.

On a whim, I decided to pick up the guitar and try to learn to play it. After a week, I can now find A, D, E and G without too much trouble and my fingertips are tender. I can also manage C, as well as Emin, Dmin and Amin, although my current favorite is Cadd9. I’m playing around with “Dreamboat Annie” by Heart, but the F chord is a challenge and Fmin even worse. I’ve strummed the guitar many times over the years—I even taught my daughter to pluck the opening to “Dust in the Wind” once—but it’s never stuck with me. Maybe this time will be different.

It’s slow going for TV during these summer months, but there are a few interesting shows all the same. I raced through Aquarius, but was frustrated by its multiple cliff-hangers. Sure hope it gets renewed. Wayward Pines is intriguing, though strongly reminiscent of The Prisoner. Melissa Leo looks like she’s having a great time in it. They’ve already chewed through a couple of big-name actors. I was recommended The Whispers, so I watched the first two episodes of that. The only thing it’s missing is that creepy girl from Intruders. It’s inspired by a Ray Bradbury short story called “Zero Hour” from The Illustrated Man that’s about six pages long. Murder in the First returned last night with a bang, an episode that features a Columbine-style duo on a school bus. And Hannibal is back, that lush, artistic, confounding series that is at least as much style as substance.

On the reading front, I seem to have acquired electronic galleys to a lot of short story collections lately. First I read The Last Drive and Other Stories by Rex Stout, early stories by the creator of Nero Wolfe, many of them involving golf. Then it was The Complete Crime Stories by James M. Cain (author of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity), though in truth a good many of them aren’t crime stories at all. Now it’s Charlie Martz and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard, a short collection of mostly unpublished Leonard stories in which he breaks some of his “10 rules.” For good measure, I’m also reading Pale Grey for Guilt, the ninth Travis McGee novel. I’m slowly working my way through the McGee books in order at the pace of one or two a year.

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Pet Sounds

I’m thrilled that, over a decade after its release, The Road to the Dark Tower is still delivering semi-annual royalty checks. The latest, through the end of December 2014, was actually nearly twice as much as the one for the previous six-month period.

I’m told by the publisher, Centipede Press, that The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film will ship out starting next Monday, June 15.

I’m not sure that John Cusack would have sprung to mind to play Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, but that’s who’s the older version of the wunderkind in Love & Mercy, the new biopic that also stars Paul Dano as the pre- and mid-collapse Wilson. Elizabeth Banks is the woman who recognizes the unhealthy control Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) exerts over him. It’s an interesting telling of the story, with lots of music. We were particularly fascinated by the bits in the studio where Wilson used the professional studio musicians known as “the Wrecking Crew” to lay down the tracks for Pet Sounds according to the things he was hearing in his head. (We saw a documentary about the Wrecking Crew several weeks ago.) The vocals were all added later, a process that absolutely baffles me. The film has a few spacey moments, especially in the 1960s section, but Cusack and Banks hold it together even when things are spiraling out of control for Wilson.  Dano resembles Wilson more than Cusack does, and Cusack only occasionally attempts some of Wilson’s more notable quirks and tics to remind us who he’s supposed to be.

I read a bit about Landy after we saw the movie yesterday afternoon, and it’s an interesting story. He pretty much saved Wilson’s life. Got him off drugs and back to a normal weight, eating healthy, but at some point he took his work to an extreme, monitored Wilson 24/7, took control of his life, his finances, everything, all apparently because he had unfulfilled musical aspirations of his own. Finally a court intervened, stripped him of his medical license in California and banned him from seeing Wilson ever again. However, that wasn’t the end of his medical practice. Apparently he moved first to New Mexico and then to Hawaii, where he continued to be a psychotherapist. This was before the age of Google, of course. Giamatti chews up the scenery in a terrible mop-top wig. His Landy seems maniacal.

My wife got me a Doctor Who-themed Monopoly game for my birthday, so we played with our daughter and her fiance on Saturday evening. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever played Monopoly through to completion. Usually someone gets bored and we mutually decide to tally up our assets and quit. This time we had three bankruptcies and my wife was victorious, all in under two hours.

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Videodrome

I contributed to the King for a Year blogging site today with my thoughts about Finders Keepers, which is out tomorrow. I also posted the review that will appear in the next issue of Cemetery Dance magazine at News from the Dead Zone online.

My wife was away at a conference last weekend, so I watched some things that she wouldn’t typically enjoy. On Friday night, I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road, and I think my synapses are still firing. I decided against the 3D version, but even so it is visually stunning and appealing. I read that one thing they did to keep everything coherent was to put the major action always at the exact center of the screen so that when there’s a jump cut the viewer doesn’t have to search around. It’s an amazingly coherent movie, given how outlandish and chaotic the action is. It’s an interesting choice to pull Mad Max into the story against his own volition. He’s there more by mischance than design, and he doesn’t really have a dog in the race other than to get free and survive. It’s definitely one that you’d want to see on the big screen. It’s fairly relentless once the action starts, which is about 22 seconds into the film.

I finished Oz, the HBO series that might be considered the precursor to Orange is the New Black. Just about every male actor over 40 who’s been in a TV series in the past decade was probably in this series at some point. It takes place in a Maximum Security prison. One thing it made me think is that it’s a mistake to put prisoners who have committed deliberate acts of violence in with people who have committed “accidental” crimes or non-violent crimes. The through-line character, Beecher, was there because he killed a girl in a DWI accident. During his years of incarceration he is subjected to acts of terrible violence, but is also put in the position of perpetrating them himself.

On Saturday, I binged through the first seven episodes of the third season of Orphan Black. I really liked the first season, but was so-so on the second season. The third one is better than the second so far, I think. Then I watched the two-hour premiere of Aquarius, the NBC series about a cop on the trail of Charles Manson. David Duchovny plays the cop. His face seems to have broadened in recent years, and it’s mottled, which might be a make-up job to indicate his alcoholic past. My first thought was that a cop who can’t find his car keys probably isn’t the best guy to go to when your daughter disappears, but the dynamic between him and his partner is good. It’s all very 60s flower power hippy dippy summer of love, and not quite as strong a series as I’d hoped, but I see all 12 episodes are available on NBC.com so I’ll probably binge through it.

On a recommendation, I also tried out Wayward Pines, which is this summer’s BIG MYSTERY series. It’s about a Secret Service agent looking for a couple of missing agents who ends up in the eponymous little town after having a car accident. Except it’s a strange, strange town that you can’t escape from. The series opens like Lost, with the eyeball shot pulling back to show the protagonist on his back in a remote location, but it quickly switches to full-on McGoohan’s The Prisoner mode. There’s a strong cast (Toby Jones from The Mist, Melissa Leo, Terrence Howard, etc.) and a wacky, off-kilter sense of mystery, so I’ll probably keep up with it.

My wife and I are in the third season of Battlestar Galactica. I can’t believe I was totally oblivious to this series until now. There were cast members at Comicpalooza last summer, and a full-scale viper, and I walked right past them without even a hint of interest. It’s a well done series that tackles a lot of contemporary subjects (war, invading forces, elections where those in the know realize that the populace has made the wrong choice) and has a full slate of fascinating characters.

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Glug, glug, glug

It’s been raining pretty regularly for the past two weeks around here, but nothing compared with the storm that blew through here on Monday evening. We went out for TCBY at 6:30 and half an hour after we got home, the storm arrived. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten so many calls from the Emergency Weather Service in one evening. It rained solidly until at least 11 pm, and off and on throughout the night. There was probably some hail mixed in, the thunder was loud enough to shake the house, and the lightening was almost constant.

Still, the place where we live is just a tad higher than the surroundings, so while we probably got 4 or 5″ of rain, the ditches handled most of it. The yard got soggy, but that happens during most downpours. We heard about flooding a few miles from us, closer to the interstate, where surface streets were impassable, but our streets were clear.

Still, nothing compared to what happened downtown, which was reminiscent of what happened with Tropical Storm Allison a dozen or more years ago. The ground was already saturated, so the bayous filled up and overflowed fast. People attending the Houston Rockets game at the Toyota Center were advised to stay put after the game ended, and many complied, including one of the Rockets players. Some people were still trying to get home at 7 am.

When we got up this morning, we started checking the media to find out about the situation. The first traffic maps we looked at showed a couple of accidents, but nothing serious. They lied! As we dug in deeper, we found out that many of the major roads were way underwater. I saw a picture that looked like a nice, sedate river well within its banks, only to read the caption and see that it was Highway 288, a major Houston artery that runs past the med center down to the gulf coast. There were abandoned cars all over the place, transports stranded in feet of water. Another picture showed water lapping at the undersides of an overpass under which there was normally 13 feet of clearance. Finally we found an accurate map that showed which roads were flooded. Darned near all of them downtown. Fortunately, neither of us had to go into town, so we can go about our business up here, where it’s relatively high and dry.

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The post has no title, just words and a tune

No drought issues in eastern Texas this year. I’ve been riding my bike to work lately—it’s a little over 2 miles each way, mostly on bike trails—but not this week. Every day on the 10-day forecast except for one has a 30-70% chance of rain, some of it heavy. We’ve been spared the brutal winds and tornadoes experienced by the northern part of the state, but I’m not biking in this weather. I rolled the dice and won on Friday: when I left the house in the morning it was sprinkling a little and I almost turned back, but I ploughed ahead and managed to not get wet. Ditto on my return trip. I figure anything more than that would be pressing my luck.

We went to see Woman in Gold on the weekend. The film stars Helen Mirren as a woman who escaped from Austria as WWII was about to begin, leaving behind her parents. The family’s apartment was plundered of all of its artwork, most prominent among which was a Klimt painting of her aunt that is adorned in gold foil (hence the title). In the late 1990s, she hires the son (Ryan Reynolds) of a friend to attempt restitution, even though everyone tells her the painting is Austria’s Mona Lisa and they’ll never get it back. Based on a true story. Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black plays the younger German-speaking version of Mirren’s character. An interesting exploration of Austria’s attitude toward the war. Jonathan Pryce has a bit part as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which is where the case ends up at one point. Beautiful Viennese scenery as an added bonus. I visited the city twice in the 1980s.

Last night I read Perdido, the novel fragment by Peter Straub published by Subterranean Press. I hope someday he finds the time to go back to this story. It has his trademarked unreliable narrator aspect, as well as a mysterious setting (and, only alluded to, two even more mysterious settings beyond). I’d love to see how the performance piece Murder Among Friends evolves.

This morning I started Tin Men by Christopher Golden. It’s a near-future military thriller with a fascinating premise. The US is now policing the world with soldiers who are tucked up safe and sound in pods in a bunker while wired up to virtually indestructible robots assigned to foreign lands. Unlike many military thrillers I’ve read (for example, Tom Clancy, who I eventually gave up in disgust), this isn’t a jingoistic story. The US isn’t pursuing world peace for altruistic reasons, but rather to further its own agenda. Any border crisis that threatens the US’s interests is immediately put down, even if the conflict might have shaken out naturally in the long run. It’s a fascinating and refreshing approach to the world stage.

We watched the first two episodes of Grace and Frankie last night. It’s a Netflix original starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin about two couples broken up by divorce when the husbands finally come out of the closet and announce their lifelong love for each other (Martin Sheen and Law & Order’s Sam Waterston). Alas, I think the series’ best moment was probably the last part of the first episode, where Tomlin’s character is on a vision quest and Fonda’s accidentally ingests some of her peyote beverage (worst-tasting iced-tea ever) and they stumble around on the beach while the visions play out. Hilarious and almost impossible to top. “Stop yelling,” Tomlin’s character says. “You’re upsetting the sand.” Otherwise it’s a bit tedious and boring. Not sure we’ll return to it.

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What’s “up”?

For the last four days, I’ve been proofing “Dead of Winter,” the novella that I’ll be publishing with a Brian Keene novella in a book to be called Dissonant Harmonies. I haven’t looked at the manuscript for several weeks, so I was able to approach it with fresh eyes, and I was quite pleased. I only found one real typo (a missing “the”), but I made quite a few minor changes and expanded a section that was unclear to my first reader. I also noticed one verbal tic: In a 40,000 word manuscript, there were 175 instances of the word “up.” Some of them are legitimate orientational and directional usages, but a lot of things “ended up” or “wound up.” A quick skim through the MS searching for ” up ” allowed me to remove at least twenty of them.

How did I end up here? It’s the sort of phrase Osvald Knop (pronounced with a hard K), the senior of my two doctoral advisors, would probably have stopped and scrutinized after he uttered it. What does “up” signify in this context? He was a polyglot born in what is now the Czech Republic who once worked in Linus Pauling’s lab. He was around sixty when I first encountered him in a third year undergraduate inorganic chemistry course. He had a strange halting and stammering manner of speaking, the result of a rumored lab incident many years before, that rendered him difficult to understand for many, but I was fascinated by what he had to say, so I listened. He was amazingly au courant about contemporary things, and was one of my few professors who confessed to watching prime time TV shows. When we learned symmetery, he used the letter R as the object that was rotated and inverted and mirrored because it lacks internal symmetery, but has a mirror image in the Russian alphabet: я, pronounced “ya.” For the longest time, I thought he was just pronouncing “r” backwards.

I was intrigued by an assignment we did where we had to solve the unit cell dimensions based on a printout of diffraction angles. That was my introduction to crystallography, in 1983. (When I talk to young people who are distraught by not knowing what they want to be when they grow up, I tell them that I didn’t even know the field of science that I ended up specializing in existed until I was 22.) When it came time to choose an Honours Project for my fourth year, I chose Knop because I liked him and remembered that assignment. That project led to my interest in the real world of X-ray crystallography, and I went on to do my PhD with him and another faculty member. I found out today that Ossie Knop died last week at the age of 93. I hadn’t seen or heard from him in many, many years, but choosing to work with him set me on a course that defined just about everything in my life that came after. I wouldn’t be in Texas if I hadn’t liked his class. Wouldn’t have met my wife of twenty years. Life’s funny that way.

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