All too frequently I come across tweets and blog posts by writers and screenwriters who are afraid of the blank page. Perhaps a more accurate way to put that is that they fear what it represents, especially at the start of a new project. Beginning to put freshly crafted footprints across a pristine wordscape can be daunting. There’s always the potential for an early misstep to alter the path you think you’ve
chosen. Sometimes such an opening can be considered a happy accident. Other times…not so happy. A writer prone to endless rewriting or tinkering could end up in an alphabet filled quagmire that blocks the true path to fin.

Since I started writing screenplays the way I was already writing fiction and started writing fiction the way I was already daydreaming, I’ve never had much of a problem with the blank page. It was only well after I got into fiction writing that I realized that what I thought of as daydreaming was actually my brain plotting fiction, but neglecting to let me in on that crucial little fact. In hindsight, and in that case, the writer in me started manifesting when I was a little girl. That’s awfully cool. I wish I’d figured it out way back when I was studying to be a journalist.

The daydreaming to plotting thing segued right into cinematic fiction and screenwriting plotting, complete with imagery and sound. I work on stuff in my head, until it’s ready to burst onto that initial blank page. It’s as if the characters walk onto the computer screen from my brain when they’re ready, and that’s an exciting time. It makes the whole process a series of adventures in creativity, one page at a time. Each click over onto the next page leads to a blank canvas waiting to receive the next phase of the adventure.

This doesn’t mean I don’t get stuck sometimes. People have been writing themselves into corners for a long time. Probably all the way back to some beleaguered soul cursing at his papyrus, as he washes down the time’s equivalent of chocolate with its companion coffee prototype. Intense creativity is inherently frustrating and scary and impossible…at times. But that passes. The rest of the time can be fun and exhilarating and joyous.

I think the way to not be afraid of the blank page is to not look at it as an overchallenging monster. Something set before you to taunt and elicit insecurity. If it can be seen as the doorway to an experience which at that stage is for the writer alone, it can be an invitation to wonder instead of a reflection of selfdoubt. Why not let that initial draft be the place where the blank page is your friend, your partner on the journey of your characters across the wordscape of their lives?

I’ve been taking care of my elderly mom for quite some time. On Labor Day I had to call an ambulance to take her to the ER. She developed back and abdominal pain about a week earlier and it took that long for her to give in and get medical help. Strength, stoicism, and stubbornness are a powerful combination. I’d never dealt with an ambulance before and I must say there were frustrations. So here are a few things I now know everyone needs to be aware of.

1. Don’t ask the EMTs for directions, if you have even an inkling of where the hospital is. I did, then mentioned how I thought I’d go following after them. The man one said not to go that way. Actually he said I was wrong. He then proceeded to give me directions involving a different road and a lot of turns. Of course I got lost. I was fine until one big Hospital sign was the last I saw. Taking just one of his turns wrong led me into a maze of possibilities. I ended up on what looked like a state highway I’d never seen before heading out of town, and right across the state border if I’d driven long enough. Most everything was closed for the holiday, but I finally saw a guy mowing by the road. I stopped to ask him and he was very kind and intelligent. His simple directions had me at the ER door in no time. It was not far at all from where I had originally planned to go and turn by the nearby BK. So now I know it would have been better to try my way, then ask at BK if I needed to.

2. Have the Social Security Number of the person going by ambulance ready. We’re all told so often to be extremely cautious with that all powerful string of digits. It’s easy to be so cautious with where you put it that you can’t find it in an emergency. I waited in the car to follow the ambulance, while it stayed in the driveway for a while. The woman one got out and came to ask for my mom’s number. I said I’d have to look for it. I went in to start and before long she followed me in, pretty much badgering me for it, saying something about regulations and they aren’t supposed to leave without it. I was getting really stressed over that, on top of the already boiling over stress from my mom’s situation. She said she really needed it, (again) and that they’d wait a little longer while I looked. I frantically tore through drawers with no luck. Finally…finally I thought to get it off her tax papers. When I ran outside with this desperately needed piece of information, I was left staring at an empty driveway. They’d run off without it. Leaving me thinking she’d gotten worse.

3. When you can’t find an SS# in an emergency, go straight to tax papers. Do not pass go. Do not waste time looking through a wallet you realize halfway through belonged to your late father and was in a drawer as a keepsake for your mother. Not realizing until you see his picture on his driver’s license can be a waste of precious time.

4. Remain calm when you are checking the patient in and the intake person tells you she doesn’t need the SS#. It also seems that the ambulance woman caused all that frantic extra stress for nothing, since they got there just fine sans number as well. I was so angry that I had to just put on a veneer of acceptance, yoga breathe, and remind myself I had more important things to worry about

5. If possible train yourself to go into starvation mode. I was at the ER for 7 hours. Longer for my mom since I got delayed over ambulance related setbacks. Neither of us got to eat all day. They don’t allow food back in the ER and I had to answer questions or accompany her for multiple X-rays and a CAT scan at random times, so I couldn’t go for any food at all. Fortunately, dire situations tend to kill my appetite and I can sort of will myself to carry on if I do feel a little hungry and/or weak. My mom was in so much pain she wouldn’t have eaten even if she’d had the opportunity. Some people who really have to have regular meals could be in a lot of trouble, so it’s best to have someone with you if possible.

After those 7 hours of tests and stress, she was sent back home with no definitive diagnosis. The doctor wanted her to keep just taking Tylenol, but only half the amount I’d been giving her. He eventually prescribed a painkiller that’s barely managing her pain. When I scheduled the followup I found out her regular doctor has had surgery and won’t be back for almost two weeks still. She’s seeing his PA tomorrow, and so the struggle continues to get to the root of the pain and fix it.

Bonus thing to know–Find a really intelligent and compassionate pharmacist. I depend on the best one I’ve ever known. He helps me find the best possible dosages to lessen side effect potential and keep her pain to the minimum. His instructions and advice are more spot on and sensible than most doctors I’ve encountered. Above all, he’s patient with my many questions. Find a pharmacist like ours, because he gave me his cell number so I can call him after the pharmacy is closed. That’s rare, but if there’s one professional with a heart, there must be more. Surely.

Long before the words Jersey Shore became synonymous with a certain group of televised partiers, I fell in love with the entire New Jersey coastline. Seaside Heights was the first place I ever saw the ocean. Ocean City was the only place where I got to ride a carousel with honest to lady luck brass rings. Yes, I did grab one and never forgot the experience. And, no, I did not fall off my horse doing it! Quaint Cape May, with its grand seaside Victorian Hotels. Atlantic City with its sentinel lighthouse, standing watch over the gambling mecca so far inland that it’s more like a streetlighthouse. And Wildwood, a bit off the beaten path, slower, with a feel of what it might be like to live along the coastline so near to New York City, yet far enough removed to seem like a step back in time.

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I like the historical feel of the lighthouse, with its brick pavement and gaslight type fixture. It too seemed a bit inland. Maybe a Jersey thing.

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This gull and its shadow are the quintessential beach image. New Jersey knows how to show seagulls off to full advantage. Flying overhead, decorating a beach like this one, even swooping down to snatch a treat right from a tourist’s lips (I saw that happen once), they’re ubiquitous, charming…and a little scary.

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Dunes are another feature of many beaches the world over. I could never get used to the shale beaches in Great Britain. They’re cool because they’re almost exotic to someone accustomed to soft white, golden, or even black sand shorelines. They aren’t easy to walk on, though. While loose sand is shifty underfoot, navigating gazillions of pebbles makes a person feel like Smaug slithering through his mountains of treasure. To me the novelty of shale will never replace the feel of soft sand on bare feet. And sand dunes are beautiful, in their stark way. Add a retaining fence and sea oats, and they become salt air still lifes.

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And, finally, one of the attractions that make the Jersey Shore so appealing. Whether tucked away in a cavernous room filled with harsh artificial light or displayed right out in the open air, carousels have long been fixtures of the boardwalks. Each is a work of art, particularly the glorious antique treasures, gilded and painted and all but throbbing with make believe life, as the music plays, the horses soar and dive on their poles, and sometimes a brass ring waits to be snatched by eager fingers.

After Sandy’s devastation I’ve often thought of the magical nature of the Jersey Shore. The dunes and the birds will come back and remain a fixture no matter how many times mother nature upsets their balance, but historical buildings and art in the guise of entertainment bear such fragility as the years pass. I treasure my memories of days spent among them, and hope many manage to withstand the wrath of time and tide to be treasured on for years to come.

I watched Mary Poppins at some point, but I really don’t remember much about it. The songs are stuck permanently in my head, because I had to learn them for a music program in grade school. It was actually pretty cool for a small rural school. We waved silk scarves during Let’s Go Fly a Kite and one poor girl got roped into dressing up like an old woman and scattering invisible crumbs as the lucky rest of us merely sang “…tuppence…tuppence…tuppence a bag…” Supercalifragilisticantspellit was a rousing success. So I couldn’t resist singing along with the poor songwriters trying to please Mrs. Travers.

Said Mrs. Travers was quite the character in Saving Mr. Banks. I found her difficult nature to be the only thing I didn’t like about the movie. Then again, that WAS the movie. And her rigid, obstinate reaction to a perfectly lovely adaptation in the making made her just as tragic as she was annoying. The counter story of her childhood in Australia, hazy bucolic scenes intercut with her shiny Hollywood misadventures, was my favorite part. Partly because it explained why she was the way she was, and partly because I loved the Australianness of it. It captured both the beauty and the harshness of the
outback, even as it captured the
beauty of her relationship with the failed drunken father she adored. Emma Thompson was excellent as a sad figure who eventually became a shining jewel of a person as Walt Disney slowly chipped away at the stone that she had become.

Tom Hanks was amazing. He totally disappeared into beloved Hollywood icon Walt Disney. As the movie portrayed
him (I say it like that because I don’t know anything about Walt Disney other than what I saw in Saving Mr. Banks), he was a shrewd businessman and someone who lived his life with an almost child-like joy. Who better than modern day beloved Hollywood icon Tom Hanks to portray such a character?

I watched this right after Winter’s Tale and again was struck by how talented Colin Farrell is. I was also impressed by the talent of the child actress playing the girl version of Mrs. Travers. It will be interesting to see what she’ll be doing a decade from now.

Saving Mr. Banks turned out to have much more depth than I’d anticipated. A dual period period movie, as well as a look into the adaptation process…with the book rights very much in limbo during that process. It’s also a strong lesson in how not to behave if you’re an author expected to make compromises in collaboration. The audio recordings of the real Mrs. Travers played during the end credits reinforce that lesson. Mrs.
Travers, as it turns out, needed saving every bit as much as her dear Mr. Banks. It just took Walt Disney’s intelligence and compassion to make her realize it.

Saving Mr. Banks Trailer # 1

The first thing I have to say about Winter’s Tale is that it is so visually stunning that it’s as if the movie inhales the viewer to a point somewhere between watching from outside and inside the screen. The colors that linger in my mind are blue and white and gray…and red of course. Even the white and gray are vivid still, with the bluey white of winter almost pulsating.

The whole thing pulsates. With life and death, good and evil, love and fear…and magic. Horse by himself is such a thing of beauty. And then magic transforms him into something even beyond mere beauty to mesmerizing glory.

I was looking around online and saw its setting called a mythic New York and that pegs it. It’s pretty much my favorite era…the line between the Victorian and Edwardian, but only almost. It’s a not quite as it was reality of its own. I like the leeway that gives filmmakers to transform what we think we know into something a bit other. Otherworldly and just unfamiliar enough to intrigue. Oddly, such a delicious little thrill of a mental gasp, when this “to the country” Beverly’s family is so excited to travel to turns out to be Queens.

Beverly was played so beautifully by Jessica Brown Findlay. I already liked her as the tragic Sybil from Downton Abbey, and Winter’s Tale really revealed more and different layers of her talent. I loved the scene where she’s running through the house to plunge into her cooling pool. Sometimes a simple seeming visual can be positively poetic as it unspools.

I’ve never been much of a Colin Farrell fan. Until now. He was pitch perfect as the con man who steals Beverly’s heart and weaves his thread of magic and battling good and evil throughout. Russell Crowd was excellent, though his character was so evil he wasn’t exactly likeable. A hallmark of fine talent.

I was looking online because it wasn’t until the end credits that I realized it was based on Mark Helprin’s novel of the same title. I read and loved it a long time ago, but literally don’t remember a thing except the title and author…and a little icy imagery. In hindsight so many details seemed vaguely familiar that it’s unreal that I didn’t put it together on my own. Information I found online talked about how it’s just one thread from the many in the 700+ page novel and not exactly like the book, so I guess I was so caught up in it that I didn’t go split brained to figure it out.

So beautifully acted. So dreamy, romantic, and time stopping. I already want to watch it again. That’s one of the highest compliments I can give a movie. I don’t usually give movies stars, and that’s just as well. Winter’s Tale lives under its own canopy of stars that look like ours, but are reachable with the magic that lies at its blue and white and gray pulsating heart.

Winter’s Tale Trailer

As I’m still enjoying being thrilled that Sean Bean has a weekly TV series, TNT’s Legends, I found this little Entertainment Weekly slideshow very entertaining indeed. It shows pics of his death scenes from a half dozen of his roles. The best part is that each one is accompanied by an anecdote from Bean himself. Since it was Boromir’s beautiful, arrowstruck demise that made me a Sean Bean fan, I’m rather fond of that one. Others, like the infamous Dead Ned’s Head of Game of Thrones and the gruesome torn apart by horses swan song in Black Death, not so much. He seems cautiously optimistic that his state of mortality is in on upswing now, so hopefully he’ll be around for seasons and seasons of Legends. I thought the premiere on Wednesday was excellent, and a wonderful showcase for his enormous talent. When it’s time for the series finale though, all bets are off. I wonder if it will be impossible for them to resist the longstanding tradition of finding a new way to kill Sean Bean? Until then I intend to enjoy watching him transform himself into his character’s legends every week.

I’ve been thinking about dreams a lot lately. I go through phases where I have one after another, often movielike in every way. Sometimes they’re…we’ll call it interactive, for lack of a better word. As if I watch a movie I also live in. Those are the best kind for fiction.

The fantasy novella I’m working on now sprang from a dream I had last year, but still remember vividly. Oddly, as I started writing the opening, expecting to plunge right into the dream part, it got away from me and a character who was supposed to already be dead took center stage and caused a short story to become a novelette, then a novella when I wasn’t looking. It’s some of the best writing I’ve done, though the way it’s shaping up to be as much literary fiction as dreamy fantasy is going to make it tough to market. Tougher. Long short fiction is its own roadblock, as markets for it are few. Some plan ahead corner of my mind is already considering the potential for screen adaptation. The writing part is way cool, though. And now that the one character who didn’t want to be dead (no, not a zombie or vampire, unless you consider that such autonomous characters, unwilling to be dead and sucking up story for themselves are the fiction writing versions) has now deigned to go gently into that good night, maybe I can get to the part where the dream comes in. Thousands of words in, in fact.

Is it the same story it would have been if the dead guy hadn’t inserted himself into the thick of things at the beginning? In a way. It’s still about the theme of the dream. It just doesn’t know it yet. It’s deeper and richer than it could possibly have been, if that one character had only been the memory that drove the plot. I’ve read time and again to trust your characters. It seems to apply double when you’re confronted with a living, breathing, page hogging character who was supposed to be dead.

We all have two kinds of dreams. The ones that are like wishing on a star, no star required, and the ones that tell us stories as we sleep, sometimes no sleep required. The ones that project futures on our very best days are the propellent that pushes creative people forward, uphill, over obstacles, and against the wind. They feed us and nurture us in times of doubt and pick us up and carry us forward, even when we think we’ve lost the ability to walk the path that chose us. The other kind, the ones that come to us in the still, soft dark of night inspire us with ideas and images and even fullblown stories we can share with others who seek the impetus of their own dreams. We all dream as we sleep and dream of our most elusive desires. Many people who never write or make music or art still devour it as if it’s essential to the wellbeing of their existence. And they dream too. Both kinds of dreaming feed us all on levels we may not even be aware of.

It’s pretty amazing, really. This miraculous ability we have that requires nothing more than going to sleep and waiting to see what will unfold on this night or the next. And the companion dream kind. The one that let’s us hope against all logic, because we know that sometimes dreams of night become stories and the dreams for the ages become truth.

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