I stumbled upon a real blast from the past, a TV show that was a favorite when I was eight or nine. It’s called Randall & Hopkirk Deceased. Imagine if Miles Archer came back as a ghost in The Maltese Falcon. Hopkirk is killed in the first episode and returns as a ghost for the rest of the series, assisting his partner and friend Randall in solving crimes. He can walk through walls—he teleports, really—but he can’t touch or move things (mostly). Given that the show is nearly fifty years old, it’s understandably dated, but I was fond of the show back in the day. I know there was a short-lived remake recently, but I never saw any of it.

I finished the second season of Game of Thrones and am about 80% of the way through the third novel. I’m starting to see a few points of departure between the books and the series. I understand these will increase as time goes on.

I went to see Independence Day: Resurgence last night. My low expectations were met. It’s a pretty bad movie, all in all. I mean, if you’re an alien species that needs the molten core of a planet for a power source and you have thousands of planets to pick and choose from, why would you opt for the one where people might not want you to take their molten core? There are so many plot holes and logic problems and so much laughably absurd behavior that the movie could almost be a case study on those topics. Brent Spiner (ST:TNG’s Data) is one bright spot in the film as a sort of mad scientist freshly awakened from a 20-year coma (he has a wonderful relationship with another character). It’s always fun to see Judd Hirsch, even if his character is so stereotyped as to be almost offensive.

The movie ends with an obvious setup for a sequel, but given this one’s dire performance and reviews, I’d be surprised if there’s a third film. In my lifetime, anyway.

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Five armies vs five kings

I finished my first new short story in a while. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks and doing the necessary research, but it took me a while to get around to putting pen to paper. On Friday morning, I wrote the first half of the story longhand. Then, when I was in the shower, I realized that I had begun the story in the wrong place. Usually this means that I’ve started it too soon, but in this case I started it too late. So during breakfast I wrote another several hundred words. I finished the first draft, a very rough draft, that evening.

Since then I’ve been proofing and revising it mercilessly. Generally my stories get shorter upon revision, but this one got longer by about a third. It took me a while to get everything to flow the way I wanted it to. Lots of awkward transitions. But I finally got it to the place where it was time to let it go, so I submitted it this morning.

I have a couple of other short stories I want to write. I have a long flight ahead of me this weekend, so I’ll probably get a little writing done then, as well as a lot of reading. I’m about ⅔ of the way through the third Game of Thrones novel. I just reached the Red Wedding, which I’d heard about when it happened on the TV series. The funny thing is that I expected it to take place during Joffrey’s wedding, not when it actually did, so I was quite taken by surprise. I’ve been studiously avoiding all the spoilers out there, especially this week after the finale. I know that Joffrey will get his due, but I really don’t know much else about what’s going to happen, so I’m enjoying this immensely. I’m a few episodes into the second season of the TV series, too. Now I know how to imagine Brienne of Tarth.

I saw all of the Lord of the Rings movies when they came out in the theater and have the extended cut DVDs of all three. Also went to see the first two Hobbit movies but, for some reason, when the third one came out I didn’t get around to seeing it. A couple of months ago I stumbled across it on HBO and recorded it. I had some free time on the weekend, so I finally decided to watch it. I think Game of Thrones has spoiled me. That TV series looks so grim but real, whereas the world of The Hobbit feels fake to me now. I was acutely aware of the special effects, and the dialog felt stagey and artificial. About 45 minutes into it, I’d had enough, and I deleted it from the DVR. I’d also recorded Mad Max: Fury Road, which I saw in the theater when it came out, so I watched that instead. I liked it very much the first time, and I think I got even more out of it the second time. Good film.

I finished The Path on Hulu. An okay series, but I’m not sure I’ll bother with the second season. I watched the first episode of the new Orange is the New Black and will probably continue with it this week. Saw the two-hour premiere of the second season of Aquarius and the second episode. I think Hodiak (David Duchovny) is one of my new favorite cops. They’ve given him some terrific lines. The first episode of Queen of the South was okay. It reminded me a little of Burn Notice. Based on the previews, it looks like the rest of the season will take place in America, whereas in the novel, Teresa hid out in Europe. The new season of Murder in the First is off to a good start. Imagine having your lover as the prosecutor against you in a vehicular homicide case! And I’ve seen TV shows that rip stories from the headlines before, but never so blatantly as on this week’s Rizzoli and Isles, where the story was based on the Michael Peterson case that was documented so well in The Staircase back in 2004. I wrote about the documentary back in January. Peterson is a novelist whose wife reportedly died after falling down the stairs and a friend of the family died under suspiciously similar circumstances a number of years earlier.

I’m off to see the new Independence Day movie with my buddy Danel Olson tonight. I have modest expectations of the film.

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I received my contributor copy of the signed/limited edition of The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film the other day. Impressive, big book!  Signed by Danel Olson, Stanley Kubrick assistant Leon Vitali, Academy-Award winning director Lee Unkrich, “woman in the tub” model Lia Beldam, second unit cinematographer Greg MacGillivray, and 13 other contributors, including me. There were only 100 copies available, and it is now sold out, according to the Centipede Press website.

I probably didn’t have the full Comicpalooza experience. That’s the thing when you live close to the convention and only pop in when needed rather than staying at the con and spending all three days there. I went in on Friday morning to spend some time wandering the dealer’s room and exhibit hall. Then, at 2:30 I had my panel on Horror Literature, moderated by Doug Goodman and featuring Les Klinger, Nate Southard and Lee Thomas. Then I headed back down to the exhibit hall for my 3:30 signing at the Barnes & Noble booth, which was much better attended than I expected. I had people waiting for me to arrive! I signed their stock of The Road to the Dark Tower, The Dark Tower Companion and The Stephen King Illustrated Companion when I was done, too.

That Republican candidate whose name I don’t want to mention on this blog was in my town that evening so my wife met me downtown for dinner to avoid the circus. I didn’t have anything on the schedule for Saturday so I didn’t go in that day. I went in again on Sunday afternoon, but I didn’t factor in the fact that there was an Astros game nearby, so parking was a nightmare. The place I’d parked on Friday was full, the next lot I tried wanted ⅓ more than I’d paid on Friday. I went down one street and found places near the ball park charging $40! Then it started to rain. Hard. I found a lot where they were only charging $10 but they directed me to go in through the exit of the parking garage across the street after I paid. It seemed a little fishy, but everyone was doing it so I thought…why not. Worked out okay, so I guess it was legit.

The panel on Thrillers was also moderated by Doug Goodman, and we were joined by Quincy J. Allen, Tony Burnett and George Wright Padgett. At first we heavily outnumbered the audience, but more people came along during the discussion, so it wasn’t that bad. I didn’t buy anything at all at the exhibit hall, and I wandered through the autograph and photograph area without parting with any money there, too. I saw David Prowse and Peter Mayhew (Vader and Chewbacca) and many of the other celebrities in attendance, but only from a distance.

I have some extra time on my hands this week and next, so I’ve been catching up on some saved-up TV shows. I binged through the latest and penultimate season of Orphan Black earlier this week. It has never again quite hit the lofty heights that it did in the first season, and the conspiracies are getting really hard to follow, but it’s still a decent show elevated by Tatiana Maslany’s performances. I’m also nearly through the first season of Game of Thrones, which so far is sticking pretty close to the book. I’m about ⅓ of the way through the third novel in the series. I plan to finish off The Path, which I’ve been ignoring for the past couple of weeks and plow through the new Orange is the New Black season. Not sure what else I’ll get up to. Maybe I’ll watch Cell, although I haven’t heard much good about it and I was never that fond of the book, either.

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Comicpalooza 2016

This weekend, Comicpalooza comes to Houston. I’ve attended the past couple of years, but this is the first time I was invited to be part of the literary track. I have a panel on Friday at 2:30 (Horror Explorations in Literature) followed by a signing at the Barnes & Noble booth from 3:30 – 4:30. My second panel is on Sunday afternoon, also at 2:30, on Writing in the Thriller Genre.


I finished watching the final season of Banshee. If you’ve never seen it, I recommend it. It’s over-the-top, bigger than life, but full of terrific characters. It’s about Lucas Hood, an ex-con who comes to a small town in Pennsylvania looking for his old flame and the spoils of their lasts job. Through the most unlikely of circumstances, he ends up becoming the town’s sheriff, all the while pulling off heists and fielding off a variety of antagonists. His small gang consists of Sugar, the ex-boxer he met on his first day in town, Job, the flamboyant computer hacker and Carrie, the ex-lover, now married to the D.A. with two kids.

At the end of Season 3, Job had been taken prisoner by unknowns. Season 4 starts nearly two years later, with Hood living off the radar while he tries to figure out how to punish himself for some of his mistakes. The season also starts with a Who Killed Laura Palmer? -esque mystery featuring a prominent character from the previous three seasons. For a small town, Banshee attracts a lot of bad characters, including a former Amish man who runs most of the crime in town (and is now its mayor), along with his psychotic killing machine of a manservent, white supremacists, and the like. Plus, this season, satanists, cartel and a serial killer. The series is best known for its ultra-violent (and highly stylized) fight scenes and for its vivid sex scenes. This season continues in that regard, and it wouldn’t be a season of Banshee without at least one RPG or bazooka blast. Plus good use of a flame thrower. This season also introduced Eliza Dushku (who, as it happens, will be at Comicpalooza) as a crack-smoking FBI agent.

As series finales go, Banshee had a pretty good one. The serial killer plot was mostly wrapped up at the end of episode 7 (of 8), except not quite. There were several confrontations, both big and small, with guns and bombs and car crashes and ass-whoopings. Hood had an excellent near-death moment where he remembered just about every other time he’d almost been killed. Most things were wrapped up in nice little bows, most people got to say their goodbyes in one way or another. It’s nice when a show gets to plan its exit like that. Satisfying.

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A smashing success

I’d like to tell you all about my lithotripsy procedure. I’d like to, but I can’t. Because I don’t remember a moment of it. They stuck an IV in my arm and hooked me up to some of the same stuff that killed Michael Jackson and I was out like a boxer through the entire process. I came to some time later, wondering when they were going to get started. Apparently it all went off without a hitch. I didn’t even suffer any of the bruising or aches that was a possible side effect of having my kidney zapped with sonic blasts. At least, that’s what I assume they did. for all I know it was like the picture.

One amusing anecdote. After I had the IV in, the doctor came by and asked me if I’d passed the stone since I last saw him. “I have to ask the obvious question,” he said, because he’d had one case where the guy did pass the stone but showed up for his surgery and let them start an IV before proudly holding up the stone in a little vial.

We watched a couple of movies this weekend. First, it was Hail, Caesar!, the Coen brothers’ tribute to the golden age of cinema. It stars Josh Brolin as a studio fixer. The guy who gets actors and directors out of trouble when they fall off the wagon or get pregnant out of wedlock, stuff like that. He’s very good at his job. When mega-star Baird Whitlock (an amiably dim-witted George Clooney) is kidnapped, he goes about getting him back in a calm, professional manner. The movie has lots of little set pieces rather than an overall plot. There are a couple of song-and-dance routines, one featuring Scarlett Johansson and another with Channing Tatum straight out of Fred Astaire, sort of. There’s a cowboy star who’s thrust into a parlor picture directed by Ralph Fiennes that leads to a Pygmalion-esque scene where the director tries to get rid of the oater’s drawl. Tilda Swinton plays twin rival gossip columnists, sort like Ann Landers and Dear Abby. It’s all very amusing and has probably more inside jokes than we could catch. I was surprised at how well it reviewed…this is one of those films that the reviewers liked significantly better than the general public.

Then we watched Blackway (previously titled Go With Me) a straight-up thriller starring Anthony Hopkins, Julia Stiles and Ray Liotta. Stiles has come back to the small Pacific northwest town where she grew up after her mother died. She crosses paths with Liotta, a by-the-numbers bad dude, and he decides to stalk her. Kill her cat, all that kind of stuff. So she turns to the cops…no help there. She’s referred to a logging camp group (Hal Holbrook seems to be the head honcho) and Hopkins agrees to help her get Liotta off her back. I didn’t find that the film had a great deal of suspense, and very little by way of character dimension. I have no idea why Liotta was behaving like he did, or why Stiles’ character was so determined to stay in town, or even why Hopkins was willing to confront this bad dude, though I suspect it was supposed to be something to do with his daughter. I kept thinking of Stiles as Lumen from Dexter and wondering when she was going to run into the serial killer, because we all know where he ended up.

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Bring me my sonic screwdriver

I finished the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, A Game of Thrones, and now I’m ready to move on to A Clash of Kings. Good stuff. I haven’t read any fantasy in a long time, although this is almost more Arthurian historical than fantasy. There are a few supernatural characters, but it’s mostly about the House of This versus the House of That, Kings and would-be Kings, etc. I have the first season on DVD to watch in a couple of weeks when I have some free time to binge watch. I’ll also be catching up on the current season of Orphan Black, then.

So, lithotripsy, a word which basically means “smash stones.” I have to have this non-invasive procedure on Friday because Petra, my pet rock, refuses to budge. It’s supposed to be fairly routine, with minimal discomfort, but there’s anesthesia involved, so no driving for 24 hours afterword. The procedure uses sound waves to turn the rock into sand, which will then pass more readily. Some possible discomfort from that process, but then it will be all done, I hope. They’ll need to analyze the fragments to see what they’re made from to see if I can modify my diet to prevent this from happening again. I’m all for that.

We’re in the midst of a rare patch of dry weather (my Facebook “blast from the past” notification yesterday reminded me that five years ago we were in the midst of a major drought) these days. The yard is almost completely dry for the first time in a couple of weeks. More rain in the forecast starting over the weekend, but nothing like what we’ve been through, I think.

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As Gandalf sez…

My review of End of Watch by Stephen King appears at Cemetery Dance Online today.

My kidney stone and I are remaining close pals. I’ve named her Petra. I wish she’d leave. For the most part, she is a cooperative visitor but every now and then (like for about eight hours yesterday), she raises an unholy ruckus. In the meantime, I’m drinking water like it’s going out of style.

We watched a few movies this weekend. First, we saw Rising Sun with Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes. I’ve seen it a couple of times before, but I always enjoy it, even if it is somewhat West-centric and a little dated. The tech is very dated, but so are the hairstyles.

Then we saw Tokyo Fiance, the tagline for which could be Amelie in Japan. In fact, the main character’s name is Amelie. She’s a Belgian woman who was born in Japan and lived there until she was five. Now she’s twenty and returning to Japan as a French teacher. One of her students (her only student, it seems) is a Japanese man of her age who is fou pour francais. As they explore Tokyo and its environs, she teaches him French and they fall in love. The ending was a little bit rushed, I thought, but it was a charming little film, good for an outsider’s view of modern Japan.

Then we watched Ali, starring Will Smith. It covers about a decade of the boxer’s life, from the early sixties until the Rumble in the Jungle, the boxing match with George Forman in Zaire that returned him to heavyweight champion after several years lost due to his political convictions and legal issues. I didn’t find the movie terribly coherent. It skipped along the surface of most events, and if you didn’t know the history, you might not be able to orient yourself to what was happening. It spends a lot of time with Malcolm X, but there is only a brief and confusing moment showing Martin Luther King’s assassination through the eyes of a secondary character. And while the other actors immersed themselves in their roles, I could never shake the notion that I was watching Will Smith. I tried to see Ali. I tried hard. Just couldn’t make it happen.

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I got a rock

I didn’t ask for a kidney stone for my birthday, but that’s what I got!

About a month ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with a sharp pain in my abdomen. It tormented me for a while, then went away. I thought it was, perhaps, some sort of temporary obstruction or gas. It didn’t bother me again…

Until the day before yesterday. I was standing at my desk at work when the pain hit me again. Exactly the same, only worse. I figured, it passed before, it’ll pass again. So I walked around my office, and lay on the floor and sat. The pain came in waves. Never quite going away, but sometimes increasing in intensity. So, eventually, I called my wife to drive me to the ER.

The PA who triaged me said she would put in an order for pain medication. That was around 2 pm. It was nearly 5 pm by the time I got into a room and no one seemed particularly rushed to give me anything. All that time, the pain hadn’t relented. Worst I’ve ever experienced. They (even the female nurses) say that it is comparable to giving birth. I’ll never know for sure, but…ow.

Eventually I got a shot of morphine and all was well with the world again. I had a CT scan with iodine contrast and the doctor reported a moderate-sized kidney stone. I got prescriptions for medication to dilate the tubes and some pain medication and that was that. An 80% chance it would pass.

So far, it hasn’t. I’ve only had to use the pain meds once, thankfully, after a brief spell yesterday afternoon. I’ve been working at home these past two days and will probably do so again tomorrow. We’re getting more heavy rain, so it’s just as well not to be out on the streets when there’s no place for the runoff to go. I’m hoping this thing will decide to come out on its own, although I’m not exactly looking forward to the moment when it does. My father had several bouts of stones when I was a kid and I remember it as not being a happy time at all. Of course, the pain meds are probably a little better now.

We watched Our Brand is Crisis last night. It stars Sandra Bullock as a political consultant who has been off the grid for half a dozen years after some erratic and questionable behavior. Ann Dowd enlists her for the presidential campaign in Bolivia, where their candidate (who looks a LOT like Geoffrey Rush) is 28% behind in the polls. Billy Bob Thornton is working for one of the opposition candidates, the frontrunner. He and Bullock have history.

Through a series of savvy and shady maneuvers, Bullock turns the campaign into a tight race. It’s based on the real campaign that was managed by James Carville’s firm back in 2002, one that had a less than stellar outcome. Bullock is terrific in this film, and her badinage with Thorton is a lot of fun to watch. While it’s appropriate to the material, I can’t help but think the film’s title was something of a deterrent. It has lousy review scores and only made back about 1/4 of its costs during its theatrical run, so I guess it gets branded a flop, but we enjoyed it.

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Winter Isn’t Coming

The day after I was stranded in downtown Houston because of flooding rains, we got walloped by a second rainstorm of equal intensity on Friday afternoon. All the secondary roads leading south (toward Houston) from our community were under water by the end of the afternoon, as well as many feeder roads and exits off the interstate. (Click here to see some impressive drone video of these major roads.)

The picture to the right shows the Brazos River in Fort Bend Country (southeast of where I live and work). That area might not have received much rain, but it’s downstream from the places that did, so the water ran into the rivers and eventually crested and ran over the banks. A number of communities west of Houston were evacuated. People who didn’t leave are now trapped in their homes for the time being.

And it’s supposed to rain again for the next few days after today. With the ground so soggy already, there’s no place for the water to go. Fortunately, the community where I live has excellent drainage. When I went home on Friday, the ditches were raging torrents. Our front lawn was covered in water and the yard decorations were floating in the back yard, but by the next day the water was all gone and none of it got anywhere it shouldn’t.

I posted my review of Modern Lovers by Emma Straub at Onyx Reviews today. Now I am embarking on a journey to Westeros. Until now, the only thing I’ve read of the Game of Thrones material was the “The Hedge Knight” novella from Legends, and I’ve still seen none of the TV series. My plan is to read a novel and then watch the corresponding season. I assume that will work, right? I do know what most of the actors who play the parts look like from the frequent discussions of the series over the years, so that helps, in a way.

I thought it would be heavy going, but I read more than a third of the first book yesterday. There are a lot of characters to keep track of but, man, what an imagination. This is an amazingly developed world with an intricate history. Looking forward to seeing what all the fuss is about.

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The Tide Is High

My latest entry in Stephen King Revisited is now available. Titled The Two Princes, it deals with the publication history of The Eyes of the Dragon. While some may think we jumped ahead in our chronological sequence, the book was published in limited edition a few years before the more familiar trade edition, so that’s why it appears where it does.

Yesterday was interesting. Two bookstores and a bar within shouting distance of each other sponsored a block party to celebrate the publication of The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin, the final book in his Passage trilogy. (Cronin lives in Houston and a lot of the action takes place in Texas, so these books have been a big deal ’round here. My review can be found here.) Cronin appeared first at Brazos Bookstore, where he read for about fifteen minutes and then did a fifteen minute Q&A before migrating up the street like the Pied Piper, luring fans along with promise of a steamier passage at his second reading at Murder By the Book. Following the second reading and Q&A, everyone gathered across the street at Under the Volcano for the signing event.

I don’t go into Houston very often, and when I do, it’s almost always for a book signing. Early yesterday afternoon, the weather alerts started. Bryan/College Station got walloped by a tornado. The storm was migrating south towards us, so I got an early start and could see the dark clouds in my rearview mirror most of the way into town. In the city itself, the weather was fine. The skies were dark and ominous, but there was little more than the odd sprinkle of rain. I had an umbrella, but I never had to use it.

North of I-10, though, the situation was much different. Brenham, about 60 miles from where I live, received 14-16″ of rain in a very short span of time (their previous one-day record for rain was 6″). The community where I live got 6-8″ and there were reports of inundated roads (mostly feeder roads and intersections at the interstate). The local Emergency Management System admonished people to stay off the roads, especially after dark when it would be impossible to judge how deep the water might be in some places.

So, after getting my book signed (Cronin always makes fun of how much I appear in his Twitter feed), I consulted with my wife, who was at home. It wasn’t raining cats and dogs—it was raining horses and cows. So I decided to hole up in a motel for the night rather than risk the 50 mile drive into uncertain terrain. If it hadn’t been dark, I might have been more adventurous, but I didn’t want to get stranded somewhere unfamiliar. It’s funny—in this world of information technology, I had a lot of info, but not the specific information I needed, which was whether I could make it home or not. Complicating matters slightly was the fact that I didn’t have a phone charger with me and I was already on the low side of 50%. So I found a place and checked in.

It wasn’t a restful night, what with phone calls from the Emergency Warning System every couple of hours throughout the night and the fact that the room above me was occupied by Godzilla, who stormed around like a lumbering elephant. I was up before 5 a.m., which is my normal waking time during the week, and I checked out the situation on the various news channels. Another wave of rain was passing through, this one involving Houston proper, and it was still dark, so I waited until that storm exited my path and it started to get light before setting out for home. It was an uneventful drive. No high water anywhere. But there are threats of more storms later today, so I figured I’d better get while the gettin’ was good, as we used to say.

But I got my book signed!

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