Hip to be Tragic

Time for a Tragically Hip listening marathon. I wasn’t living in Canada any more when they burst onto the scene, so it’s only been during the past few years that I’ve caught up with their discography, but they’ve become one of my go-to bands to listen to while writing. Sad to hear that Gord Downie succumbed to his illness. It’s a day of national morning north of the 49th parallel.

I sent a manuscript today to my collaborator for a project that I hope will see print next year. It’s breaking new ground for me, and the first few months of 2018 could prove interesting as I flounder around in unfamiliar waters, hoping I don’t mess things up. I can’t really say anything more about the project, but it is really, really cool.

I like Olivia Wilde a lot, and have always admired Sam Rockwell, so we queued up Better Living Through Chemistry this weekend. We quit by mutual consent after about 30 minutes. Michelle Monaghan plays an absolute shrew and Rockwell is milquetoast. Wilde is a trophy wife who seduces Rockwell, probably because she wants him to murder her husband. I’m not quite sure…we didn’t get that far. In retrospect, the abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score should have been a hint or, more to the point, the total box office take of $75,000. No, there’s not decimal place or two missing there. The movie is really, really stupid. Tragically stupid.

I’m still not sure why Jane Fonda was narrating it. We never did discover how she figure into the story. We gave the movie a shot because it appeared as one of those “people who liked this also liked that…” teasers. We’d started with the new Netflix movie Our Souls at Night, which we’d seen an ad for on the back of our AARP magazine (yes, I know, but still…). It stars Fonda as a widow who invites her neighbor (Robert Redford) to sleep with her…but not in that way. Just spend the night in the same bed, because the nights are the loneliest times. It’s a small town, so rumors start spreading, of course. It’s a charming story that features Bruce Dern in a bit role and Judy Greer as Redford’s daughter.

That led us to Peace, Love…and Misunderstanding, which we realized after about 15 minutes we’d seen before, but we finished it off. Fonda is the hippy mom living in Woodstock who is visited by her daughter and two teenage grandkids (including Elizabeth Olsen). Another fun flick. Then I commented that I’d never seen On Golden Pond, so that was a blast from the past. The film was nothing like what I expected: I thought it would be somber and confrontational and dramatic, when it’s actually quite light and funny. It looks a bit like a made-for-TV movie by modern standards, and it features a terribly invasive score, but it’s charming. Hepburn is terrific (and she did all her own stunts, including an impressive dive into the lake). Seeing Jane Fonda 35 years younger was a bit of a shock, and it was the last thing her father did before he died the following year.

I binged through the new Netflix series Mindhunter, based on the book about the formation of the Behavioral Analysis Unit at the FBI. The 10-episode series dramatizes events, and it’s not exactly fast-paced, but it is thrilling and fascinating. The two main characters are vastly different types: one looks like he should be rough and tough, but he’s actually sensitive, cautious and smart, whereas the new kid on the block, who starts out looking sensitive and clever turns out to be ruthless and a little scary. Anna Torv from Fringe comes in at Episode 3 as a university professor who manages to scare up some federal funding for their research, which consists of interviewing serial killers in prison (the term doesn’t even exist at that point, nor do any of the other terms that we who watch crime shows all know by now). The guy who plays Ed Kemper is chilling, just enough degrees away from normal to be disturbing as he casually describes the horrific things he did to his victims. There’s an interesting bit featuring BTK before the creepy credits of most episodes (subliminal flashes are very disturbing!) that helps put the story into temporal context. I’m definitely on board for Season 2.

I also got caught up with the first three episodes of the new season of The Exorcist. It looks like the central story is going to be about this foster father who has a big house on an island in Washington State, where he looks after a bunch of teenagers (mostly) who have various issues (one is blind, one seems mildly autistic, the youngest seems agoraphobic). His wife committed suicide fairly recently (maybe), and there’s something strange happening…but whether it’s external to the house (something in the woods) or internal (one of the kids, or even the visiting social worker) remains to be seen. There’s a parallel story that involves the infiltration of the Catholic church by humans who have been infused with evil spirits (creepy, creepy eyes with extra pupils), and an effort by a couple of people to eradicate them–that’s less interesting to me so far. The Munchausen by proxy episode was particularly good.

Maria Bello joins NCIS. That’s interesting. It’s always good when Gibbs has someone to spar with who can give as good as (s)he gets. I also watched Annihilation, Patton Oswalt’s new comedy show on Netflix. In an hour, he goes from political to personal to one of the funniest movie pitch sessions I’ve ever heard. I don’t watch much stand-up comedy, but this was well worth the hour spent.

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Surfside Beach

The gulf coast is less than two hours from where we live, but it feels like going to a different country. Every so often—maybe once a year—we rent a place in Surfside to get away from it all. We spent the last four days enjoying the sun and the tide.

This time was a little bit different because it was more than just the two of us. My wife’s family has a regular reunion, and this year it happened at Surfside. We ate some good meals, had a lot of margaritas and beer, and soaked up some rays. This was the view from our balcony in one direction:

and this was the view in the other.

We had the full benefit of the Harvest Moon, which rose before us on Thursday evening, and the balcony faces almost due east, so we were treated to a nice sunrise every morning. We took quite a few walks on the beach, and some in the group played in the water, although the tide was running high and there were rip tides further out, so caution was required.

One night during our walk, we passed a truck that was bogged down in the sand. It was clear to us that alcohol was involved. We were surprised the next morning to see that they had somehow rescued it.

However, the main event took place on Sunday afternoon. We were on the patio of the bar that you can see in the top photo when we noticed a truck in trouble. The truck had backed in with a trailer to extricate a couple of jet skis from the water and it got bogged down. A while later we looked back to find out another truck in a similar situation. So, nosey Parkers that we are, we went down to find out all the details.

Turns out the guy in the dark truck volunteered to help his friends out with their jet skis. They attached the trailer but were having a hard time setting the locking pin. He called out for them to forget about it until he pulled the trailer out of the water, but they either didn’t hear or they ignored him and they continued to fritter around with the pin. The tide was coming in and soon the truck’s rear tires were spinning. Then something snapped, and that was that.

A friend driving a big white truck (NOT the one in the picture above) tried to pull the dark truck free and failed. Another guy (with a smaller truck) decided to have a go. End result:  a few minutes later he was stuck, too. We saw geysers of sandy water shooting up in the air as his tires spun. The water was so high around the dark truck by then that the driver had to climb out the window. If he’d opened the door, it would have flooded the cab. The chassis was resting on the sand, and the tide wouldn’t be at its highest point for another few hours.

A guy with a jeep and a nylon cord on a winch thought he’d try to pull the white truck out, but he didn’t understand the laws of physics and, well, that didn’t work out at all. A Surfside police officer arrived on the scene. At first she seemed fairly dour, but she lightened up after a while and the whole incident ended up being pretty amusing. She left her truck idling and my wife’s uncle heard it making a sound. He recommended a course of action and soon they were attempting to diagnose the problem. Someone in the group wanted to capture the moment, so she took out her camera. “Are you taking my picture?” the cop asked. “Wait a minute,” she said…at which point she pretended to be arresting my wife’s uncle for the photograph!

Vehicles get stuck in the sand at least once a month, she said. “But this is the first time in a long time where the drivers weren’t drunk.” She said Cecil was coming. Who’s Cecil, we asked. He’s a guy who knows what to do…and when to give up, she said. Cecil arrived in a huge, camouflage-painted truck with a massive winch, and he started to work on the problem.

Surprisingly, no one seemed terribly upset. The guy in the dark truck was quite nonchalant, and the driver of the white truck said he was planning on getting a new one anyway. A woman who knew one of the drivers said that someone in their group had gotten stuck last weekend, too. “We’ve been on YouTube two weeks in a row,” she said.

One of the fascinating things about situations like this is how it brings people together of all cultures. Everyone had an idea about how to solve the problem, or at least an opinion about whether the current effort would work or not!

It didn’t look like it was going to end quickly or well, and it was really hot out, so we went back to the rental house for a margarita. About 20 minutes later I went up on the upper deck to see how things were progressing and, to my amazement, both trucks had been pulled clear of the water. Cecil to the rescue, although we have no idea how he did it, and especially how he did it so fast. We should have stuck around a little longer.

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Halloween Carnival

October is here at last, and with it the launch of the Cemetery Dance anthology Halloween Carnival, edited by my long-time pal Brian Freeman. The book is coming out digitally in five installments, with a new volume featuring stories from five different authors appearing each Tuesday in October. Volume One is out today. My new story “The Halloween Tree” appears in Volume Four, which will be out on October 24th, although you can, no doubt, pre-order it now, should you feel so inclined.

My review of the Netflix movie Gerald’s Game went up at News from the Dead Zone online today.

I’ve submitted quite a few stories for publication in the past week or so. Here’s hoping some of they stick! A couple of them are brand new stories, and a few are ones that I’ve had in the “waiting to find an appropriate market” queue for a while. One of them was written five years ago and was originally accepted for an anthology, but the book collapsed and I’ve had a hard time finding somewhere else to send it until now, when I found the perfect home for it. Fingers crossed.

I’m also working on a super-secret project that is very exciting, but I can’t say a single word about it, so…well…I won’t! But it is cool. Trust me on that.

We’re into season six of Call the Midwife on Netflix. Last weekend we watched The Big Sick, which was based on a real-life experience by writer and star Kumail Nanjiani and also stars Elia Kazan’s granddaughter, Zoe. He’s a Pakistani stand-up comic who starts dating a white girl while his parents continually try to arrange a traditional marriage for him. When she figures out there’s not much of a chance of a future for them, she breaks up with him but then gets terribly sick and he stays by her side throughout, while trying to navigate a complicated relationship with her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano). The movie has astronomic scores on Rotten Tomatoes, but I thought it was just okay. The culture dynamics were interesting, but there were a lot of awkward pauses and scenes of people trying to be funny without it paying off. I would give it a B.

Then we watched the documentary Score, about the people who write scores for motion pictures. Among those featured: Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Bernard Hermann, Danny Elfman (geez, I had no idea he used to be part of Oingo Boingo!), Howard Shore, Quincy Jones, and many others. It starts with the use of the Wurlitzer organ for silent movies and runs up through people like Trent Reznor scoring Social Network. It does a very good job of showing how much the score contributes to our understanding and, indeed, our memory of movies, and gives us a peek at the creative side of the process. It’s amazing that in many cases, the people in the orchestra never see the music before the moment they start to play together the first time. No rehearsals, just dive right in; they’re real professionals. I liked this a lot, and I would have watched another hour or two of material if it were available.

Terribly sad to hear about Tom Petty. Damn the Torpedoes came out a month after I left home for university and experienced and explosion in the kind of music I was exposed to. Though I had an impressive record collection at that point, my range was fairly narrow. I had every Elton John album, but not a single Beatles album, and I’d never even heard of a lot of the musicians who are my current mainstays, even though they’d been active for years in 1979. “Refugee” was everywhere that first year, and Tom Petty has been a regular go-to guy over the ensuing years. I have all of his albums except the earliest, I think, as well as both Traveling Wilburys albums (some wag said you know a band is hard looking when Tom Petty is the “cute one”). I saw him once in concert, and I’ve also seen Runnin’ Down a Dream, the 4-hour Petty documentary directed by Peter Bogdanovich. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and I think it’s time to take it out for a second spin.

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You’re not Sirius?

Alan Parsons has released a remixed version of his classic instrumental “Sirius” (the lead-in to “Eye in the Sky”). I’ve used the original as my phone’s ringtone for as long as customizing ringtones has been a thing. The new one is called Sirius 2017 (Disco Demolition Remix).

On the subject of Sirius, the XM radio service (see what I did there?), Robin Furth and I are featured on “Behind the Scenes” with Anthony Brenzican from Entertainment Weekly. The show debuted yesterday on Sirius XM 105 and probably runs a few more times this week. I don’t know anything about Sirius, so I can’t be any more helpful than that, I’m afraid, other than to provide this link to their schedule.

We were only supposed to be featured on part of an episode, but things went along so well that Anthony decided to extend the interview and use us for an entire episode. It was a neat experience that spanned many time zones: Anthony is in California, I’m in Texas and Robin is in the UK. Anthony uses an online audio recording utility that allows him to send each person’s chatter to an isolated track, so he can post-process if there’s cross-talk, etc. Near the end of our almost hour-long discussion, my computer hiccuped momentarily and, for a long, dreadful few minutes, we thought my track might have gotten lost. Talk about a sinking feeling, thinking that we might have to do the whole thing over again. Fortunately, technology prevailed and my words were saved. I haven’t heard the episode yet to see how it turned out, but it was definitely a lot of fun.

I posted a new review today: Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak. It’s a little different from what I normally read, an interesting change of pace. Now I’m onto The Seventh Decimate, part 1 of The Great God’s War series by Stephen R. Donaldson. It takes place in a realm that has been at war with its rival for generations, a rivalry that started over two brothers in love with the same woman. Every so many years, once they’ve recovered from the most recent conflict, the two have a new  battle that is supported by magicians who have a limited arsenal of tools. One side has developed firearms, which helps to level the playing field because they’re outnumbered, but after the most recent battle, something happens that robs them of all magic, which sends the realm into ruination because they don’t know how to do a lot of basic, important things without magic. So a small group is dispatched to try to find a library that has books of magic to see if they might figure out what happened and how to fix it. It’s a relatively brief book, but I’m enjoying the story so far, although I’m constantly having to de-Game-of-Thrones-ify it in my mind.

My wife’s been in Okinawa for the past couple of weeks (she gets back tonight–yay! She was supposed to get home last night but backed-up traffic on the motorway to the airport because of a five-car pileup delayed her arrival by three hours and she missed her flight), so I’ve been binging through shows I know she wouldn’t care much for. I saw the third and penultimate series of Bron (The Bridge), which features a Swedish detective who is, as they say, on the spectrum. The crimes in this show always involve Denmark, too. The bridge in the show’s title is a span that joins Malmo to Copenhagen. Then I watched The Five, a British adaptation of a Harlan Coben book. Though it’s an interesting story, about a boy who vanished twenty years ago whose DNA is discovered at a couple of contemporary crime scenes, I thought the filmmakers didn’t put much trust in viewers. Every time something came up that hearkened back to an earlier scene or episode, there was an insert that showed that. See? Remember this? The French did much better with Une Chance de Trop (No Second Chance), which is an all-out thriller about a woman who is shot and nearly killed. When she comes out of her coma, she learns that her husband was shot and killed and her baby is missing. Lots of twists and turns, some great characters, and the added benefit of a beautiful Parisian setting. The denouement is a bit muddled, but on the whole a thoroughly satisfying six-part adaptation, which features an extended cameo by the author and Dana Delany speaking stilted French.

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The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight

Some seven or eight years ago, I wrote a story called “The Bank Job” about a gang of friends who’d all had run-ins with the law. Not a very bright bunch, but harmless on the whole. One of them was in deep trouble with a loan shark and his friends banded together to help him. The story won the 2010 Al Blanchard Award, much to my delight.

When I saw the submission guidelines for the annual anthology from Level Best Books (they always publish the Al Blanchard Award winners), I decided it was time for the gang to ride again, so I wrote a story called “Sticky Business.” During the height of Hurricane Harvey, I received word that it had been selected for Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories. The anthology will be published in November at Crime Bake.

I finished the first draft of another crime story this weekend, a 5000-word noir called “The Patience of Kane.” I wrote it longhand over the course of the week and then dictated it into the computer on Saturday. Got most of the transcription errors fixed and made my first editing pass through it. I have a bunch of deadlines this month, so now I’ll put it aside for a few weeks and look at it again in early October before sending it out to its intended destination. I like the way it turned out. One of those rare occasions where I knew the ending before I started writing.

I watched an odd Japanese series on Netflix this weekend. It’s called Million Yen Women, and it’s about a struggling writer (his first novel won an award, but his books don’t sell). One day, these five women show up, claiming that they’ve been invited to live in his house. They’ll pay him a million yen each a month (about $10,000). There are a few rules: he can’t ask them questions about their pasts. He can’t go into their rooms. They have to eat dinner together. He’s a diffident guy, and he can’t figure out a way to get them to go away, so he ends up living with them as he continues to write, longhand. The kicker is that his father is a murderer, on death row for killing his mother, her lover and the first cop on the scene. His fax machine spits out a steady stream of anonymous hate messages.

The women range in age from 17 to 30. The oldest likes to eat dinner naked (although there’s no overt nudity in the show: the camera angles are chosen judiciously). Over the course of the first half dozen thirty-minute episodes, we learn more about who they are. And then the show takes a very dark turn, and the mystery of who invited these women and why becomes important. It’s weird and wacky and an interesting look at contemporary Japanese culture. The main character drifts through the series like has no control over anything, but his female roommates are a fascinating lot.

Then I watched Deep Water, a four-part Australian series starring Yael Stone, who plays Morello, the inmate who drives the van on Orange is the New Black. Who knew she was actually Australian, with that Joisey accent she uses on the show? A brutal murder bears striking similarities to a batch of hate crimes from twenty-five years ago in the Bondi Beach region of Sydney. It was a decent crime story.

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All about It

I do some of my best thinking in the shower. Yesterday morning, while I was washing my hair, I came up with about four good concepts for the story I’m working on, things that will add depth and breadth to the tale. I’d already written the first 1500 words or so, and I knew where the story was headed, but all of a sudden I had the big picture, which was even bigger than I had in mind when I started out. Love it when that happens. I scrawled about two pages of notes on the left-hand pages of the notebook I’m using to write the story as soon as I got out of the shower. I didn’t want to forget any of it.

Wednesday was my first trip into Houston since Harvey. I was supposed to go on Tuesday evening to a press screening for It, but that got moved to Wednesday morning. Probably something to do with the curfew. I had heard traffic was bad in the city, and I was going in during morning rush hour, so I allowed two hours to get there, for a trip that normally would have taken 45 minutes, tops. I passed one neighborhood near the airport where the yards across from the houses contained piles of household belongings waiting to be picked up by the city. It looks like they lost just about everything, on the ground floor, at least.

I didn’t run into any major backups until I got to the 610 loop (the innermost loop around the city). I only had to go about 10 miles on that loop, but it took the better part of half an hour. Once I got off on I-10, it was clear sailing, and the trip only took about an hour and a quarter total. Some of the other reviewers who were coming from different parts of town had a much worse time of it than I did. One guy set out at 7 am and was late arriving for the 10 am showtime.

This was the first time I ever attended a press screening. Many of the people there seemed to recognize each other. They weren’t a chatty bunch, really. I figured we’d ask who we were reviewing for or something, but that conversation never got started. There were maybe 25 of us in total. The multiplex wasn’t yet open for business, so we had the place all to ourselves. The concessions weren’t open, though, so no popcorn! The projectionist popped into the theater and joked: For $50 I’ll project it on the IMAX screen. I would have taken him up on that!

It was a digital print being shown from a computer. The title card on the screen said, “You’ll float, too.” One of the reviewers near me joked, “That’s better than the alternative, really, given recent events.” Before the movie started, there was a brief video message from Stephen King, which ended on one of his menacing notes that scared the reviewer next to me as much as anything in the film! The movie kicked off (you can find my review here), and once it was over we all filed out past the Sony media rep, who asked us for our impressions, but she didn’t seem to want to much detail. Just whether or not we liked it. She handed out a couple of promo items: a red balloon-shaped inflatable beach ball and a cute little balloon pin. The drive back north was comparatively quick, and I didn’t encounter any of the backups that plague people in other parts of the city. Guess I was lucky.

When Tobe Hooper died, I realized I’d never seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I don’t know how I missed it: it would certainly have been something we would have rented during my first few years in college after VHS tapes made movies generally available. So I decided to queue it up last night from iTunes. I guess you’d have to have seen it in context. It was massively controversial at the time, banned in a lot of places, given an X rating before a few cuts, but it’s relatively mild by modern standards. I’ve seen worse on cable TV programs lately. There was hardly any gore or blood, and most of the murders were one-and-done episodes. Blink and you’d miss them.

I really enjoyed season 3 of Narcos on Netflix. The season moves on beyond Pablo Escobar to the Cali Cartel, and it ditches the main character from the previous two seasons. Can’t say I missed him at all: Javier Pena was by far the more interesting of the two, and bringing him to the forefront elevated the series. There were some great characters among the bad guys: Chepe was a hoot and Pacho was someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. Jorge Salcedo was the most fascinating: someone who still considered himself a good guy despite the fact that he was up to his eyeballs with the cartel and he put his familiy in terrible danger. He ended up in witsec (but apparently he still gives interviews!), but I feared for his life for most of the episodes.

And what is there to say about Twin Peaks but, wow. What was that? I’ve been reading think pieces about the series and the two-part finale over the past several days, and I think I get it. There is a lot to process, though, and I wish I had an eighteen-hour chunk of time where I could binge through the whole thing beginning to end now that I know how it’s going to turn out. I think there would be a lot from the early episodes that would make much more sense now. It was certainly an experience, and I hope more people get to see it once it’s out on DVD.

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Sayonara Harvey

The rains have finally come to an end and we had our first glimpse of the sun as it was going down last night. I haven’t seen a reliable total accumulation value for our area, but we seem to be in the approximately 20-25″ band.

The rains started through the night on Friday, mostly after midnight so technically Saturday, and those were probably the worst. When I got up, the water in the ditch out front (behind the mailbox in the picture) was nearly level with the edge of our lawn and flowing like a raging torrent. However, there were some gaps between the regular squalls, and every time the rain stopped for more then half an hour or so, the ditch drained considerably, and I never saw it that high again. Our biggest worry were the tornado warnings. During the first day or so, pop-up tornadoes did a lot of damage in very specific locations, but as the days went on, most warnings passed without any actual tornadoes occurring.

Still, the imagination plays strange tricks. We received another batch of heavy rains overnight on Saturday/Sunday, and there was a new flash flood or tornado alert every hour or so. I couldn’t help dreaming that I’d wake up, put my foot down on the floor and find water there. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Didn’t even come close. The yard got soggy (see photo), the back yard even moreso, but the water stayed out. Not even a drop spilled over the lip into our garage, which is the point where I figured water might get in if it did anywhere. If ever the time comes to sell this house, we have a great pitch: it’s been through TS Allison, Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Harvey without flooding.

For the most part, we had the television on to various weather channels. We watched The Weather Channel on Friday, but it got repetitive. We watched KHOU until their station flooded and they had to evacuate. One valiant reporter in the field stayed on the air for a while and managed to facilitate the rescue of a transport driver whose truck was filling with water. We eventually settled in on KPRC, where we were very impressed with the coverage provided by Chief Meteorologist Frank Billingsley, who did an excellent job of explaining what was happening and why. (Aside: Billingsley has a book coming out in August, Swabbed & Found: An Adopted Man’s DNA Journey to Discover his Family Tree, about his journey to track down his birth parents which sounds fascinating, too.)

Often, though, we found the news overwhelming, so we either switched off the sound and left closed-captioning on or watched a few episodes of Call the Midwife, which we’ve been enjoying. I also went to work every day this week: the office is only a couple of miles away and the roads were clear. We had a skeleton crew, and at times I was the only person on the second floor.

We had stocked up on supplies before the storm, and we never lost power or internet service, so there were no hardships involved. It was interesting to see what was gone from the grocery store: bread and milk were among the first to go. That and bottled water. And potatoes, for some reason. When I strolled through the store yesterday, just out of curiosity, there was very little by way of produce left, no fresh meat or dairy. The beer aisle had been plundered, although some of the higher-end beers were still available. The potato chip aisle was picked clean (although an early photo on social media showed a store where all the chips were gone except for the “Chicken and Waffles” flavor, which were still available in abundance).

On the social media side of things, Eric Berger provided some of the most solid weather reporting in the region. He’s a former weather reporter with the Houston Chronicle who became the senior space editor at Ars Technica but established the Space City Weather blog as a hobby—a passion, really. Every day, sometimes several times a day, he updated the status and what was coming, even if it was dire news. He wrote this essay for Ars Technica to sum up the experience: it’s well worth reading. This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same.  I am grateful for his straightforward reportage.

It’s hard to predict when the city will be back to normal. We haven’t had mail delivery since Saturday. Both airports are closed. (My wife was suppose to be on a flight on Monday night—rescheduled to later this weekend, but even that isn’t guaranteed at this point.) There are places in the heart of Houston where the homes may be under water for a month. The major roads are starting to clear up, but there’ll be debris and potential structural damage. What we experienced in our northern suburb was but a minor inconvenience compared to what many will have to deal with for weeks, months, maybe even longer.

I was touched, though, by the number of people who reached out to us during the past several days to see how we were doing. Not just friends and relatives, but people I only know as icons and screen names and twitter handles. Your concern was greatly appreciated and truly touching.

The Houston region has been through an ordeal, and will continue to suffer, but it has demonstrated in the past several days a resolve and a spirit that makes me glad that it has been my home for half my life. We like to make fun of “Mattress Mack,” the skinny, aging furniture salesman who for decades has been making campy commercials in which he brandishes handfuls of money while yelling, “Gallery Furniture will…save…you…money!!” but he’s the kind of guy who steps up in a crisis, opening his huge stores as shelters for regular people and first responders.

And it wasn’t just greater Houston: many other communities and municipalities were hard-hit, too. The storm impacted a vast region in a way never before seen. Hopefully we’ll never see the likes of it again.

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Harvey

As of mid-September, I will have lived in Texas for 28 years, during which time I’ve seen one hurricane (Ike, 2008) and a couple of very damaging tropical storms (Allison, 2001 being the worst). Now we have Harvey headed vaguely towards us. Ish. He’ll either be a tropical storm or a Category 3 Hurricane, depending upon who you believe. Landfall will occur hundreds of miles away from us, far down the Texas coast, but we’ll be on the wet side of the storm, so a lot of rain is forecast. When I say “a lot,” I mean anywhere from 12″ to four feet.

The strengthening might be good news for us. Not so good for people in its direct path. The first predictions were that it would come ashore and then sort of amble east and sit on us for a few days, pulling in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and dropping it on us. I don’t see that eastward jag on any of the current maps, so I think that’s good. If it speeds on through, so much the better. The real trouble comes when storms like that—like Allison—stall. We’re doing minor storm prep, making sure there’s nothing in the yard that will go airborne, filling the car gas tanks, getting a few supplies so we don’t have to venture out if it rains hard. Our part of the community doesn’t flood, as a rule, and we don’t have to go anywhere this weekend, so we’ll be fine, I figure.

My work has been translated into French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Russian and, now, Bulgarian. I received word this morning that the anthology Shining in the Dark, which contains my new story “Aeliana,” will be published by Pleiad Books in Bulgaria in late November. The anthology title in that language is СИЯНИЕ В МРАКА and my name is written on the cover thus: БЕВ ВИНСЪНТ.

We’ve been watching Call the Midwife on Netflix lately. It’s set in East London in the late 1950s, the story of a handful of nurses who work as midwives in conjunction with a group of nuns. It’s based on the memoir of a real midwife and the stories are charming but they also delve into social issues of the era: poverty, abortion, mixed marriages, incestuous relationships, abuse, etc. There’s one old nun, Sister Monica Joan, who is suffering from bouts of dementia, often prone to quoting philosophers or poets, but who occasionally becomes properly lucid and can cut straight to the heart of an issue thanks to her many years of life experience. She’s a delight. We’re in season three of five, and it has been renewed to run for a few more years.

I also finished Ozark, which I quite enjoyed. It’s been drawing some comparisons to Breaking Bad, but it’s not quite as artistic as that earlier show, and it has a few stumbles and mis-steps, but I’ll be back for season two. We went out to see An Inconvenient Sequel last weekend. A lot of it focuses on Gore’s behind-the-scenes efforts during the negotiations over the Paris Accord, which I hadn’t heard about before. It’s a State of the Union statement on how things have changed—and how they haven’t—in the years since An Inconvenient Truth. Well worth seeing, but I doubt any climate deniers will bother, so it’s hard to gauge its real impact.

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The Geeks and Me

After I got back from Bangor last Wednesday, I spent 45 minutes on Skype with the four hosts of the Geek Cast Live podcast. The podcast is now available online. My part starts about 20 minutes in and runs through the end. I had a great time talking with them!

Also available as of a couple of hours ago: my preview of Mr. Mercedes, the TV adaptation of King’s Edgar-Award winning crime novel, which premieres on Audience Network tonight. I haven’t yet heard where people who don’t have U-Verse or DirecTV will be able to see it. Stay tuned: it’s probably the best TV adaptation of King to date. I’ve seen the first four and can’t wait for the rest.

We watched The Zookeeper’s Wife this weekend, and then followed it up the next evening with Fiddler on the Roof. I first saw the latter in 1979-80 when I was living in Halifax. Saw it at the Barrington Street cinema with some high school friends. I’d forgotten how long it was (just over 3 hours), and there’s a song that I’ve always associated with it that I now discover is not in it at all—it’s in Oliver, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen. But I must have, else how would that song be so strongly imprinted on my mind?

Trying to find time to get back to Ozark, which I’m halfway through.

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Riding with…

Life is an adventure, an interesting one at that. I’ve been very fortunate. My wife says I live a charmed life, and I can’t argue with that.

This week, I flew over two thousand miles (each way) for dinner and a movie!

The destination: Bangor, Maine, a city I have visited numerous times over the years. I grew up in New Brunswick, Canada, and Bangor was a regular destination, either for camping or shopping. I’ve also passed through a number of times on my way back to visit family.

I went up on Monday because it takes a long time to get there from Texas and I was worried that a delayed or missed connection would mean I wouldn’t get to attend the main event on Tuesday afternoon/evening. That gave me plenty of time to wander around town. I visited Gerald Winters and Son on Main Street, the relatively new store devoted to King books. I’d met Gerald previously at NECON, but I’d never been to his store. He has some amazing stuff. In addition to a full-scale reproduction of the crate from Creepshow, he has the original stamp used to print the text on the spine of The Eyes of the Dragon. Stuff like that. I chatted with him for a while before visiting a couple of sites that I’d never managed to get to before: the Standpipe and the Paul Bunyan statue, which will be familiar to readers of It. I was bemused to discover that the standpipe has a WiFi network. How different would that make the story, were it told today?

Unbeknownst to me, Columbia Pictures had brought a “gaggle of movie writers, bloggers, podcasters” to town on a private jet and they were following a similar itinerary to mine. Our paths never crossed. #19hoursinbangor brings film writers to Bangor for an exclusive Stephen King tour.

We had a large group dinner before the main event, which was an advanced screening of The Dark Tower, sponsored by Zone Radio. After dinner, we headed over to the cinemas at the Bangor Mall. I missed the entrance and went into the mall ring road, where I proceeded to drive my phone’s GPS system insane. Turn right, turn left, make a U-turn. By the time I got back to where I needed to go, the voice was no longer speaking in complete sentences, and when I got back in my car after the movie, it still wasn’t very happy with me.

The radio station gave away some Dark Tower books and audiobooks, t-shirts and a few signed galleys of Dark Tower novels as door prizes before the movie, as well as movie posters and stickers. The woman who was “handing out” the t-shirts lobbed them into the audience like a quarterback. One of them spiraled right at me and hit me in the chest surprisingly hard! It was a small, so I passed it on to someone else who’d be able to wear it.

Then Stephen King appeared and made a brief speech before the movie started. I posted my review of The Dark Tower at Cemetery Dance Online earlier today. Also check out an excerpt from my interview with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, conducted in 2012.

After the movie, a gang of us decamped to the nearest Denny’s to discuss the movie and have desert. It was a great excursion. I enjoyed myself immensely. I also have to say that Bangor airport is one of the most chill airports I’ve been through. The TSA people were so friendly and amiable. It may have to do with the fact that I was there at 6:30 am and they hadn’t had to deal with travelers for hours, but their friendliness impressed me.

Then, last night I spent about 45 minutes talking about all things King with the geeks who produce The Geek Cast Live Podcast. I’ll let you know when that episode airs. It was a lot of fun talking with them.

This is cool, too: I was interviewed by Tony Tremblay and Matt Bechtel at NECON for The Taco Society Presents on YouTube. The focus of the episode was Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, the charity anthology that contains my short story “Truth or Dare?” My bit starts at 29:15. After we chat for a couple of minutes, I read an excerpt from the story. Note my flashy Hawaiian shirt, purchased specifically for the convention.

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