Hollyweed

We watched quite a few movies over the past week or so. First there was Manchester By the Sea, which deserves all of the praise it has been getting. There’s a scene late in the film between Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck that is simply devastating. Essentially the movie is about how there are some things people are unwilling to forgive—in others or in themselves. The big reveal is a major gut punch, when it comes, it makes everything clear. Plus the scenery is gorgeous: reminds me of Eastern Canada, where I grew up, or the drive from PVD to NECON, except in winter.

Then we watched Barry on Netflix, which makes a good companion piece to Southside With You. This movie covers the year when Obama transferred to Columbia University. It’s a time when he’s not sure where he’s from (it’s a complicated story, and you get to see him fine-tune his answer to the question) or where he belongs. He doesn’t feel comfortable with the black community but he faces all the expected bias from the white community. He also has a serious girlfriend, but he wonders why she’s with him—his perception is somewhat skewed by his mother’s (Ashley Judd) relationship with his father.

Then we saw La La Land. Our decision to go came at the last minute, and we ended up in a tiny auditorium that was mostly full, having to sit in the third of those rows at the front where no one ever sits. If there was ever going to be a movie to see from that perspective, this would be the one. It’s larger than life and slightly skewed from reality. I thought it was beautiful—I was swept away by it completely, and I would happily have sat there and watched it all over again straightaway. The story is fairly simple: man and woman meet, eventually connect, but are thwarted by their careers—at first because of a lack of a success and then, later, the opposite. It doesn’t have the expected outcome, except you get that, too, kind of. The fact that people break into song-and-dance routines bothered me not the slightest, and the show-stopper by Emma Stone during her big audition was incredible. I’m also impressed by the fact that Ryan Gosling did all of the keyboard work for real. He’s very good.

We also enjoyed the Doctor Who Christmas special, which was a riff on superheroes. And I watched a British series called Paranoid that opens with a shocking murder and then gets a bit bogged down with some of the most screwed-up coppers to grace a miniseries. Their personal problems got in the way of the investigation time and time again. It stars Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones) and features a rather manic Kevin Doyle (Molsely from Downton Abbey). I liked Danny Huston in this—he was also in American Horror Story (as the Axeman), but on the whole I wasn’t terribly satisfied with the series compared to some of the others that have come out of the UK recently. We haven’t seen the new Sherlock yet, but soon.

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Maybe a record! 2016 Books

I read a lot of books last year.

In large part, the increase over previous years is thanks to my tenure on the jury for the Shirley Jackson Awards. I read a lot of anthologies and collections, plus a whole stack of standalone short stories that don’t appear on this list (I estimate that I read at least a thousand short stories in 2016). Plus a number of novels, novellas, novelettes, novelishes, and other variations on the theme.

I also read the five existing Game of Thrones novels, which was an accomplishment in its own right. Plus I finished my reread of the Travis McGee books.

Without further ado, here is my 2016 reading list. Hyperlinks lead to reviews. I didn’t do as many of those this year. Not enough time. Can’t do everything!

  1. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan
  2. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin
  3. The Dreadful Lemon Sky – John D. MacDonald
  4. The Fireman – Joe Hill
  5. The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine – Alexander McCall Smith
  6. The Empty Copper Sea – John D. MacDonald
  7. What We Become – Arturo Perez-Reverte
  8. Hap and Leonard by Joe R. Lansdale
  9. The Green Ripper – John D. MacDonald
  10. The City of Mirrors – Justin Cronin
  11. Isaac’s Storm – Erik Larson
  12. Free Fall in Crimson – John D. MacDonald
  13. Cinnamon Skin – John D. MacDonald
  14. End of Watch – Stephen King
  15. The Road to Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson
  16. The Lonely Silver Rain – John D. MacDonald
  17. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
  18. The Glittering World – Robert Levy
  19. Song of Kali – Dan Simmons
  20. When We Were Animals – Joshua Gaylord
  21. Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh
  22. Lord Byron’s Prophecy – Sean Eads
  23. Dollar Deal: The Stephen King Dollar Baby Filmmakers –  Shawn S.Lealos
  24. Experimental Film – Gemma Files
  25. In the Lovecraft Museum – Steve Tem
  26. Wylding Hall – Elizabeth Hand
  27. The End of the End of Everything – Dale Bailey
  28. Get in Trouble – Kelly Link
  29. Gutshot – Amelia Gray
  30. The Nameless Dark – T.E. Grau
  31. You Have Never Been Here – Mary Rickert
  32. Nightscript I: An Anthology of Strange & Darksome Tales – C.M Muller, ed
  33. She Walks in Shadows – Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, eds
  34. Ain’t Superstitious – Juliana Rew, ed
  35. Blurring the Line – Marty Young, ed
  36. Midian Unmade – Del Howison & Joe Nassise, eds
  37. Insert Title Here – Tehani Wessely, ed
  38. Licence Expired – Madeline Ashby & David Nickle, eds
  39. Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond – Scott A. Jones, eds
  40. Whispers from the Abyss – Kat Rocha, ed
  41. The Doll Collection – Ellen Datlow, ed
  42. Exigencies – Richard Thomas, ed
  43. Cassilda’s Song – Joe Pulver, ed
  44. Dreams from the Witch House – Lynne Jameck, ed
  45. Ghost in the Cogs – Scott Gable, Scott & C. Dombrowski, eds
  46. Hanzai Japan – Nick Mamatas & Masumi Washington, eds
  47. Seize the Night – Christopher Golden, ed
  48. Aickman’s Heirs – Simon Strantzas, ed
  49. 18 Wheels of Horror – Eric Miller, ed
  50. Penumbrae – Richard Gavin, Patricia Cram, and Daniel A. Schulke, eds
  51. The Bestiary – Ann VanderMeer, ed
  52. Black Wings IV – S.T. Joshi, ed
  53. Innsmouth Nightmares – Lois H. Gresh, ed
  54. That is Not Dead – Darrell Schweitzer, ed
  55. Kill for a Copy – Rob McEwan, ed
  56. Giallo Fantastique – Ross E. Lockhart, ed
  57. Cthulhu Fhtagn! – Ross E. Lockhart, ed
  58. nEvermore! – Nancy Kilpatrick & Caro Soles, eds
  59. Hides the Dark Tower – Kelly A. Harmon and Vonnie Winslow Crist, eds
  60. The Burning Maiden – Greg Kishbaugh, ed
  61. Breakout – Nick Gevers, ed
  62. The Box Jumper – Lisa Mannetti
  63. Unusual Concentrations – S.J. Spurrier
  64. Nightjack by Tom Piccirilli
  65. In a Sunburned Country – Bill Bryson
  66. Vinyl Cafe Turns the Page – Stuart McLean
  67. Shadow Season – Tom Piccirilli
  68. Arson Plus and Other Stories – Dashiell Hammett
  69. Modern Lovers – Emma Straub
  70. Stop the Presses – Robert Goldsborough
  71. A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin
  72. A Clash of Kings – George R. R. Martin
  73. A Storm of Swords – George R. R. Martin
  74. A Feast for Crows – George R. R. Martin
  75. A Dance with Dragons – George R.R. Martin
  76. The Highwayman – Craig Johnson
  77. Disappearance at Devil’s Rock – Paul Tremblay
  78. Rise the Dark – Michael Koryta
  79. You Will Know Me – Megan Abbott
  80. Revolver – Duane Swierczynski
  81. I Am Providence – Nick Mamatas
  82. Top Suspense: 13 Classic Stories by 12 Masters of the Genre
  83. The End of Everything – Megan Abbott
  84. Six Scary Stories selected and introduced by Stephen King
  85. Burial – Neil Cross
  86. Alex – Pierre Lemaitre
  87. Irene – Pierre Lemaitre
  88. The Girl from Venice – Martin Cruz Smith
  89. The Wrong Side of Goodbye – Michael Connelly
  90. Camille – Pierre Lemaitre
  91. An Obvious Fact – Craig Johnson
  92. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – George R.R. Martin
  93. In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper – Lawrence Block, ed.
  94. Witness to a Trial – John Grisham
  95. The Trespasser – Tana French
  96. The Princess and the Queen, or, the Blacks and the Greens – George R.R. Martin
  97. Last Wish and The Gulf – Poppy Z. Brite
  98. The Whistler – John Grisham
  99. The Godsend – Bernard Taylor
  100. Hearts in Suspension – Jim Bishop, ed.
  101. Blink – Malcolm Gladwell
  102. Ararat – Christopher Golden
  103. Precious and Grace – Alexander McCall Smith
  104. The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life – John le Carré
  105. Rather Be The Devil – Ian Rankin
  106. Blood and Lemonade – Joe R. Lansdale
  107. Quicksand: What it Means to Be a Human Being – Henning Mankell
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The third day of Christmas

We had a brief cold spell last week where the temperatures dropped to below freezing. So, when it suddenly went back up to the eighties again, the flora and fauna in the area became understandably confused. The azalea bush in front of our house produced a single flower over the past couple of days. Presumably it thinks spring is here. Who knows—maybe it is? The unseasonably warm temperatures show no signs of abating any time soon. We sat on the patio of a nearby restaurant for a mid-afternoon dinner on Christmas Eve and again last night at our local pizzeria. I had to switch the climate control back from heating to cooling. I guess it’s better than snow.

We saw Passengers last week, the space odyssey starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, with Michael Sheen and Lawrence Fishburn. It was pretty good. I certainly understand the controversy surrounding the movie, but I’m having a hard time condemning it in as strong words as some have done. There’s an assumption in movies that if someone does something bad or wrong or ill-considered that he must pay for it at some point, but the real world doesn’t operate that way, so I don’t always expect that divine justice will be meted out for all cinematic transgressions. I know that the hand-waving explanations (“yes, but later in the movie he…”) won’t satisfy everyone, but they did me. And my wife, as well, who hadn’t read about the complaints about the film. On an unrelated note, every time I saw Michael Sheen, I thought of Lloyd the bartender from The Shining. We were standing at the food counter when I realized that the millennial working the ticket booth had given me the senior discount. It must have been the bad light outside the multiplex that led her to believe I looked over 62, right?

On Christmas Eve we went to the local church to watch the pageant and sing carols, something that always takes me back to my childhood, when I was involved in such productions. Then we watched Love, Actually, which was on a round-the-clock loop up against A Christmas Story. However, we soon discovered that the movie had been edited (most notably during Nighy’s early colorful rant), so I pulled it up on Amazon Prime and we watched it uncensored. We’d seen it on VHS, probably, when it first came out, so I remembered some but not all of it. I tend to agree that the movie doesn’t get falling in love right in most of the stories, where the prime ingredient seems to be physical attraction (other than the Martin Freeman storyline where the characters actually fall in love while talking to each other). The Liam Neeson storyline is just a ton of fun, especially in the way that this step-dad relates to the boy, very direct, honest and coarse. I didn’t care for the way the Laura Linney story petered out, either. It’s easy to watch, but the movie doesn’t really stand up to close scrutiny.

On Christmas Day, I put an iPod loaded with every Christmas song we own (about 400 of them, with a total running time of nearly 24 hours) on random shuffle and we listened to the music while we read and relaxed. I don’t normally like shuffle—I’m an album kinda guy—but it was fun to hear Sarah McLaughlin one minute and Trans Siberian Orchestra the next and Twisted Sister the next. We also watched Southside With You, the movie about Barack Obama’s first date with Michelle Robinson, who was his supervisor at a Chicago law firm and very reluctant to get involved with him. Parker Sawyers looks a lot like Obama from certain angles, and he certainly mastered his rhythms and styles. I had a harder time seeing Michelle Obama in Tika Sumpter, but it’s a nice story, mostly based on fact, although the meeting they attend might not have happened on their first date.

Last night we saw Lion, starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman. It’s based on the true story of a little boy (4-5 years old), who lives in rural India in abject poverty. Through a series of misadventures, he ends up trapped on an out-of-service train that takes him over a thousand kilometers from home, to Calcutta. Not only can he not convey the name of the village where he comes from, he can’t speak Bengali, the local language, only Hindi. After some Oliver Twist-esque experiences, he ends up being adopted by a family in Tasmania, where he grows up to be Dev Patel. It’s about 2008 and he’s introduced to Google Earth, which sends him on a years-long quest to try to figure out where he came from based on only his geographic memories. It’s a feel-good movie, probably Patel’s best work. We liked it a lot. Interestingly, you don’t find out why the movie has that title until the text updates just before the closing credits. It’s a funny reveal.

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Interpretive Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Star Wars Story

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

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

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

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

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

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Hoot-n-holler

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

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

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

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

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

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Not nearly enough wine

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

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

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

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

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

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Bane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On Arrival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Election Day 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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