Saturday, August 20, 2022

The Surprising Humanity of Resident Alien


Scott D. Parker

I really enjoy being surprised by stories and characters.

I started watching the TV show Castle because of the premise and Nathan Fillion, but over time realized that Stana Katic’s Beckett was a deeply emotional character that arguably had the biggest character arc of the entire series. John Scalzi’s novel Redshirts was advertised as a Star Trek parody but ended up delivering an emotional ending so vivid that on the day I finished the story, I couldn’t even talk through the ending to my wife without breaking down.

Add to this list the TV show Resident Alien on the Syfy Channel (still dislike that styling). Billed as a starring vehicle for Alan Tudyk, Resident Alien follows Tudyk’s alien character as he crashes in a small Colorado today. He assumes the physical form of the town doctor—Harry Vanderspeigle, a human who does not survive—and attempts to go about his mission to destroy all humans. In the process, however, he meets and interacts with the residents of Patience, Colorado, and learns what it means to be human and all the messiness therein.

Let’s be honest: Tudyk is a gifted actor who can make you laugh so hard you’ll stomach will ache. A great example of this is the movie “Death at a Funeral,” the original British version. Here, Tudyk’s Harry has an odd way to “smiling,” a childlike wonder at the world, a love of “Law and Order,” and a penchant of saying exactly what he’s thinking without any nuance. In every episode, there will be moments that will definitely make you laugh out loud.

A show like this might need someone of Tudyk’s caliber to get it greenlit, but the supporting cast is what makes the difference, and in Resident Alien, the cast is wonderfully just…normal. And human.

Sara Tomko plays Asta Twelvetrees, a Native American nurse who works with Tudyk’s Henry very close. She’s a town native—nearly all the characters are, a trait that plays into the interactions—who gave up her daughter when she got pregnant in high school, the father being a pretty abusive guy. That decision haunts Asta as it would anyone, which is especially hard when the daughter is now in high school herself.

Asta’s best friend, D’Arcy Bloom (Alice Wetterlund), owns the town bar after a skiing accident at the Olympics derailed her career. She’s a borderline alcoholic who so often makes the wrong decisions that you basically think her lot in life is already cast. She thinks that, too, so when she interacts with everyone, there’s general assumption D’Arcy will just always choose wrong.

Sheriff Mike Thompson (Corey Reynolds) and Deputy Liv Baker (Elizabeth Bowen) provide a steady dose of comedy (just in case you think I’m only zeroing in on the everyday drama). Mike’s a veteran cop from Washington, DC, who left the big city for the small town after his partner was killed. He often doesn’t have the right ideas but hides that fact behind over-the-top bluster. Liv is basically ignored by Mike even though she has her brain in the police game and is often correct about the central mystery of the story: what really happened to the real Harry and why are the government officials snooping around. Bowen deadpan delivery, laced with a real-world resignation that she knows she’s too good for the department but doesn’t know how or where to move.

The mayor is a young Ben Hawthorne (Levi Fiehler), a slight man who likes to make candles and takes a backseat in nearly everything and from everyone, especially his more dominant wife, Kate (Meredith Garretson). He dated D’Arcy when they were in school together and Kate sometimes wonders if there’s still a spark.

There a pair of child actors work mentioning as well. Judah Prehn plays Max Hawthorne, the only child of the mayor and his wife. He and his best friend, Sahar, (Gracelyn Awad Rinke) can see Tudyk’s true alien form. Initially they’re scared but soon some to realize they can get things just by threatening Henry.

This may seem like a lot but the story lines are woven pretty well. There is the overarching story of Tudyk’s true mission and which humans ultimately come to know the truth. That’s almost always played for laughs and the laughs are full and genuine.

But it’s the small moments that makes this show rise above others and shine, and this week’s episode was a great example. Asta did a thing that tormented her so Harry used his alien ability and wiped her memory of the incident. The ripple effect meant she missed not only that memory but other things as well, things that hurt others. It was then that Asta told Harry that everything humans experienced, the good as well as the bad, is equally important. For Harry, he’d just as well just be happy, yet that’s not always possible.

D’Arcy’s actions the past few episodes, relationship-wise, were like walking on thin ice. Would she keep making the bad decision and self-sabotaging her life? That’s what she’s always done and there was a moment in this week’s episode when she fell back into the same habit. She had a moment of reflection and made her choice.

Lastly, there was a recurring theme of death, specifically end-of-life. Henry doesn’t understand it and wants to just have it happen away from him. But as a doctor, he needed to be with a dying man who told Henry how good his long life was and how ready he was to see his deceased wife.

Within the span of about ten minutes of the episode, I went from laughing and literally holding my sides to wiping away the sting of tears.

That’s the kind of show Resident Alien is because that’s the way life is. This is a great show and I highly recommend it.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Goodbye, Saul

I started watching Breaking Bad in it's second season, after binging the first on Blu-Ray, so I can say with confidence the first time I saw Saul Goodman on my TV was either very late at night on April 26, 2009, or early the next morning.

That's. God damn, man. That's 13 years. 

And tonight, we said goodbye to him. 

Personally, I thought it was a wonderful finale. It was slower than the Breaking Bad finale, both more obvious on a plot level, but deeper with its characters, and on an emotional level, it worked beautifully. We finally saw Better Call Saul show a man finally accepting who he is, what he has done, and then deciding to stop running from everything he's been running from. But it was also more than that. Ultimately, this show (and I don't believe this was ever the creator's intentions) became about more than Jimmy and Saul and Chuck. It became about Kim, too. And the slow-motion doomed love between Jimmy and Kim. 

That scene of them smoking together, one last time? That's the heart of the show right there. That's the real, hidden heart of Saul Goodman. 

13 years is a long time to know a character. I'll miss this show a lot. I'll miss these characters. But it ended with us knowing right where they are. Where they deserve to be, probably. 

But I'd like to think, maybe it's hope, actually, that this wasn't Kim's only trip to see Jimmy. That, maybe, there will be a few more cigarettes shared in silence. 


Monday, August 15, 2022

Snake Slayer

 By Marietta Miles

A person wearing sunglasses and a hat

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It’s time for a quick shot and this week we’re featuring Oakland writer Rob Pierce. Rob wrote the novels Blood By Choice, Tommy Shakes, Uncle Dust, and With The Right Enemies, the novella Vern In The Heat, and the short story collection The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet. He has been nominated for a Derringer Award for short crime fiction and has had stories published in numerous crime magazines. His latest release, Snake Slayer, brings together a few of his most popular and most interesting characters. Snake Slayer is about criminals on the run, not just from the law but from other criminals. Two of them are lovers, the third an ex. Deria is psychotic and Vern is her violent ex, who let her go because he thought she lived too dangerously. Russ is the new guy who’s in way over his head. It seems that bad things are about to go down.

What inspired Snake Slayer?

My novella Vern in the Heat, first published in 2015, was about Vern, Deria, their relationship and how she changed. Now, it wasn’t strictly a relationship book, as the plot had a lot to do with criminals and their violent acts, but that was a major part of it for me. This book starts with them separated due to her penchant for violence, which Vern, a violent-when-necessary criminal, considers self-destructive. Deria flat out likes to kill. She also wants to survive, so she can kill more. The specifics of this story started with the beginning, the initial bloodbath from which the rest unfolds. Then the story becomes about what killing does to different people, how they unravel or don’t.

The characters are diverse emotionally and mentally, how do you prepare to write for such different people?

The preparation started while writing Vern in the Heat. I wanted to write a story with different points of view. According to my writing group, I wasn’t always doing it successfully. I was told by a good friend, Sean Craven, to read Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. It came to me like providence, in a free bundle of two dozen books but you had to take all two dozen. So, twenty-three books for Little Free Libraries, one for me. Such a majestic work. Chris Rhatigan, who edited that book and this one, had to work with me extensively on conveying those perspectives. He didn’t say a word about them this time around. It’s possible to learn technique. Doesn’t make me McMurtry by any means, but I’m a better writer than I used to be.

That said, I did have to learn one more character, one significantly different from Deria and Vern. Turned out pretty well, I’d say. The character, not his life.

Which character did you find most interesting?

I love writing Deria. Vern, too, but the focus this time was Deria. She’s an exceedingly angry woman; she hates jocks, which doesn’t bode well for any she comes across. I consider the book a radical feminist diatribe. No idea whether any women see it that way. I like women, though, despite how they’ve come off in certain books. Some things are sadly necessary for the consistency of story. In this book, it’s men who don’t fare so well.

Imagine and share where these characters are right now?

After the last page? No idea. Vern in the Heat wasn’t written with a sequel in mind, neither was this one. There were a lot of scenes cut—this was originally a 65,000 word novel, but too many scenes didn’t work—it ventured into the beginnings of COVID and the characters figuring it would all get sorted out quickly. Maybe I can make some of those scenes work. But I’m currently finishing work on another novel, writing short stories between drafts, and anticipate going back to another “novel” rife with scenes that don’t work, but some that work so well. Always a lot to figure out.

Cheers, it’s been swell.


Snake Slayer is out August 15.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Anything Can Be an Opportunity


By Claire Booth

It was a beautiful Sunday morning. There was a farmer’s market, and foot traffic, and lots of leisurely strolling. What better place to set up a table and sell books?

Me, Danna Wilberg, Richard Meredith, and Cindy Sample at Rick's table outside Face in a Book.

My home bookstore, Face in a Book, uses its location on the main thoroughfare to savvy and generous effect during the summer. Savvy, because it’s capitalizing on the weekly farmer’s market crowds that flow right past its entrance. Generous, because it’s inviting local authors to share in the bounty. They’re the ones on the shady bench outside, getting the chance to talk to readers and showcase their books.

Is there a local bookstore in your area that’s doing something similar? Not capitalizing on a Sunday street market, necessarily, but rather—looking at one beneficial thing and seeing if another beneficial thing could be added to it?

I know many booksellers are already doing this. But if you’re an author, are you? We all could probably do better at looking at unrelated activities/events and seeing if there are hidden opportunities to connect with readers. For example, Cindy Sample (in photo above) once arranged to have a table at a large chain wine and liquor store on National Daiquiri Day (yep, that's a thing) and sold copies of Dying for a Daiquiri, a book in her cozy mystery series.

If you've done something like this, or have a local bookstore that has, I’d love to hear more about it.


Me and Face in a Book's Bookseller Extraordinaire Janis Herbert.