This Variety article has some interesting insight from creator Julian Fellows on his feelings about the series and the possible future incarnations of Downton Abbey, as well as a really lovely one minute Season 6 teaser trailer that includes just about all the main cast.

My introduction to Stephen Sondheim came through first discovering Mandy Patinkin, a wonderful actor and a singer with a glorious voice. Oddly, it wasn’t The Princess Bride that led me to Inigo Montoya’s portrayer, but a ragged concert poster on a walked by wall in a random Gulf of Mexico town. Look! A man named Mandy! Little did I know that when curiosity led me to buy his self titled album, I would fall completely in love with his singing, his style and his acting. And through him, an abiding love of all things Sondheim.

I first heard Giants in the Sky on a Mandy Patinkin album. Having never seen the play, though I would love to, the song threw vague and nefarious imagery into my imagination. I’ve found myself humming it under my breath randomly ever since, and I’ve also enjoyed an occasional tepid minor belting in the car. That’s what Sondheim does to even a nonsinger. His intricate lyrics and melodies make me feel like a lesser Idina Menzel, when I get a few bars of his more challenging creations even close to the way they were intended.

Into the Woods as a movie gave me a chance to finally see the music realized visually. I thought it was a little slow and a little stagey in places, but otherwise was not disappointed. In actuality, the moments that seemed a bit more stage than silver screen gave me a touch of a feeling of experiencing its Broadway incarnation.

There were two singing highlights for me. One was the young boy, Daniel Huttlestone, playing Jack. He had a nice voice and a stunning mastery of his most difficult songs. The combination of rapid paced melody and what a lesser talent would have found to be tongue tangling lyrics was enthralling. And Meryl Streep was wonderful as The Witch. She looked both beautiful and terrifying, and displayed a wonderful talent as a singer. Is there anything that versatile lady can not do with striking individuality?

I enjoyed Into the Woods very much. I would have loved it as a two hour Sondheim experience, but I was so pleased to find the movie to be for the most part captivating, thrilling, and lovely.

Into the Woods Trailer

Here’s one for the screenwriting contingent . Screenwriting is so different from writing fiction that it requires a whole different way of thinking. While fiction writers spend way too much time on rejectomancy, screenwriters have to try to figure out what makes professional readers want to recommend a script. In some ways it’s the same mental process, but the people at the gates of publishing houses and studios by the nature of their respective industries look for different things.

What strikes me most about this article is the divide between keeping a reader engaged and keeping one invested. At first glance the two seem almost like the same thing. They are very similar, with invested being the natural, souped up extension of engaged. But then it occurred to me that the difference is more than superficial procession of process.

While it takes skill to write in a way that such a pared down medium as a screenplay keeps a reader avidly turning pages, keeping them engaged is another thing entirely. I think in many, if not most, cases keeping readers engaged requires something in addition to skill. It needs that elusive connection between writer and reader that lives somewhere between the place where the writer’s thoughts and intentions flow into ink and the reader’s eyes and expectations. That place might be called a catalyst for the magic that happens when a writer and reader, in their respective roles, form a rare kind of collaboration. Unintentional and involuntary, and very, very special, that kind of entertainment chemistry is what makes written works sing through the mind and heart and soul. The ideas and hopes and experiences coalesce and resonate into unforgettable experiences.

I think engaging a reader can be the outcome of serious intent and effort on the writer’s part. I suspect that making someone outside the writer’s mind become invested in the unfolding story’s outcome is as much a matter of the right minds meeting over a hot cup of freshly brewed wordplay, maybe more than simply well written words.

This leaves me pondering the idea that I can learn and learn and learn some more, until I’m a very good writer, but that may not be enough. Success may require that further element of meeting the mind of a stranger, and making that unknown person fall in love with what I’ve written. This way of looking at it certainly explains how very good screenwriters may remain unproduced indefinitely… or forever. They’re waiting for their proverbial prince to come, in the form of just the right reader who will get them.

I don’t think that kind of seeming magic can be learned or directed or even controlled. Magic rarely can.

This article by Diane O’Connell is the kind of thing you see, think you’ll glance over and pick up a tidbit of info that might be of help. Then you realize you’ve seriously read the whole thing, paused over several points, and learned ways to improve your writing that you didn’t consciously realized you needed to have drummed into your head.

It’s odd how you can know certain information and utilize it, then come across it spelled out in such a way that you suddenly see new layers to it and know you’ll be a better writer for having read it.

The big takeaway here for me is that it contains the best description I’ve seen of the writer’s dire enemy conjured up by the dreaded “Show, don’t tell.”. We’ve all had that one drummed into us. Yet I now feel I have a better understanding of how exactly to show, not tell. For which I am grateful.

There comes a time when practicing writers can feel they’ve learned everything they need that helps them do what they do. That’s a deceptive feeling. (Perpetrated perhaps by muses who just want to be left alone to do their thing?) There’s always more to be learned. Sure, a lot of it’s useless., but sometimes it may be just the thing needed to make good writing great. It can never hurt to have smart information in the back of your mind.

Plus, stuff like this can be an invaluable reference point, when you’re trying to explain to someone else why what they’re doing can best be done another way. Often people won’t listen to your own opinion, but if you can point the same thing out on the great oracle known as The Internet of Things, it’s a different matter entirely.

Heather Nova is one of those amazing singer songwriters I was fortunate to stumble across in the days of yore, when brick and mortar music stores abounded and impulse music buying was at its peak. I liked to roam the alternative aisles, sometimes accompanied by my favorite sales guy, who was so tall looking up at him while he enthused about some music he was sure I would like would make my neck hurt. He was almost always right about the music, though. That personal interaction with like minded music lovers is something I really miss, now that music shopping online has become my norm.

The day I discovered Heather Nova I was on my own, wandering the aisles, perusing covers as I flipped through CDs. The pretty green of her Siren cover art jumped out at me and unwittingly I made what turned out to be a very wise purchase.

Falling in love with Siren led to falling in love with Oyster. The combination of her ethereal voice and gorgeous evocative lyrics became part of my personal soundtrack for my writing. I can hear Walk This World, Truth and Bone, Winter Blue, and Paper Cup still and be taken right to specific characters and plots. I love that entanglement of writing and music so much. It’s one of the things that make writing/screenwriting such a joy.

I was disappointed when it became harder to find Heather Nova’s CDs. Even the all knowing hive mind known as Amazon music didn’t have much, except for foreign releases that were either unavailable or unacceptably expensive. She did a couple more I was able to get, but as she grew into her talent a lot of her music had segued from the raw beauty of those two beloved albums into more polished mainstream sounds.

Fast forward to a few days ago, when I did a periodic check of my Amazon music app’s search engine, in case she had something new. Ta da! This time she did!

Enter The Way It Feels. Of course I bought it immediately. At first I thought it was going to be another one with the best of her sometimes ragged vibrato filed smoother than I would like. Then I got to The Archeologist .  I can’t stop listening to it. Though not raw and visceral like Blood of Me, it still has that element of unique beauty that made me love her music so much in the first place.

There are other songs on The Way It Feels in a similar vein, but I haven’t been able to drag my ears away from The Archeologist for long enough to truly appreciate them. For now, I’m content to let that one wash over my soul to inspire me and also to simply make me happy to have new Heather Nova music to be as thrilled with as I was the first time I listened to Siren and Oyster.

I think I’m going to have to try to find some of those obscure recordings she did on a tropical island that were released in Australia, and see what gems they may hold. I have to say that Siren was a very apt title for that early album.

Heather Nova — The Archeologist (Live)

This Vine is just too cute. I keep watching Winter the lamb come dancing down the hall when called, and it makes me smile every time. I’m not sure I’ve heard of a lamb as a pet before, but after seeing this I think it must be fun. I’m not likely to jump on the internet cats bandwagon, but just had to spread the lamb love.

Sometimes people will say something to me or near me in such a way that I never forget it. A mundane situation here, an unusual circumstance there, no predicting when or where, each makes me smile whenever I remember.

1. “We can but try.”

This one is from an old British TV commercial. I think it was for spot remover or laundry detergent. A hard working housewife, worn down from a long day of…cleaning spots, and a voice so world weary and resigned that you can’t help sending waves of sympathy to her through the telly. A sigh, a rolling of eyes and she IS you. She is everybody. Wherever you are, whatever you attempt after experiencing that commercial once or a dozen times, you find yourself uttering those words in that exasperated tone. Suddenly you’re back in England, enjoying the block of commercials before your show starts as much as the show itself, and you smile. You did your best. You can but try. You carry on, humming the Benny Hill theme (which is much more difficult than you’d think. Oh well, we can but try).

2. “It wouldn’t be a surprise then, now would it?”

Nestled on the banks of Loch Ness, a small white clapboard building housed a restaurant. One must assume it was frequented by the locals, since it was the only restaurant in sight. Or driving distance. Charmed by my middle aged Scottish waitress, complete with brogans and a brogue as thick as the mists worn by the glowering giant Ben Nevis snugged up almost against the restaurant’s back.

As my dining experience progressed, the veneer of charm wore thin. Beneath her accent my waitress had initially concealed what some might consider a snappish personality that I personally felt was more along the lines of surly. I hate to admit that I was intimidated, but I was. Not at first. Not until the exchange that went like this.

Me (perusing my menu) “This dessert…Ice Cream Surprise…could you tell me what that is”?”

Her (scowling like a lowering loch storm): “Well, if I told you that it wouldn’t be a surprise…(ominous pause, during which I’d swear I heard thunder)…. Now. Would. It?”

Me: “No! Of course not. Sorry. I’ll have that. (I think I threw another “sorry” in right about then) Thank you.”

She sort of sniffed expressively, turned on her heel smartly, and marched away. I waited quite some time, wondering first if she had climbed the frigid looking mountain at her back to retrieve fresh ice to surprise me with. Eventually I started wondering if I could leave some money and sneak away before she delivered my surprise.

I found myself still in my chair, when I heard the pitter patter…clomp…of her brogans, as she approached at last. She plonked a utilitarian white dessert dish down with a strange little flourish, and stood there expectantly.

Finally she could contain her odd mixture of pride, curiosity, and mischief no longer.

“Well? Surprise!”

I looked up from contemplating my glop of melty vanilla ice cream, valiantly attempting to float on a chunky sea of canned…beg pardon…tinned fruit cocktail. I was disappointed, but I didn’t want her to know that. I just knew she’d bellow something scary in that accent I could barely understand, if I showed weakness.
Starting to feel as if I had encountered a female version of The Kurgan, I smiled as valiantly as my ice cream coexisted with its accompanying surprise.

“Thank you. It’s…very nice.”

She nodded, apparently satisfied that I had, indeed, been thoroughly surprised, and clomped away.

I don’t know why I was disappointed. It just seemed too ordinary, I guess, so near the deep, dark waters where Nessie swam across my imagination. What was I expecting? A haggis sundae? Herring a la mode? A Scotch whiskey float?

I think I’d better be grateful for the surprise I got.

3.  “It’s not Nessie!”

Not far from the restaurant there was a museum devoted to Nessie. I thought that was awesome and eagerly went in to see what I could learn. A woman who worked there approached, excited, I thought, to share her knowledge. I thought wrong. This one wasn’t as scary as the waitress, but she was intimidating in her own way.

It soon became apparent that she had either been doing her job for too long or had just finished dealing with the most annoying bus load of tourists ever. Instead of leaping to answer any questions informatively, her grating, high pitched annoyed old lady voice was like a Jack-in-the-Box, jumping forth to shut down any stupid thing a tourist might say. She wasn’t so much an informer of facts as a debunker of myth and mystery.

Her strident battle cry?

“It’s not Nessie!”

Anything she was asked about everything from unusual ripples on the loch surface to suspicious dark shadowy gliding objects would elicit the same bleating response. She was loud too! Nessie herself could have come ashore and crashed through the front window, and all Ms. Negativity would have done was scream even louder that it was not Nessie.

I don’t know what her problem was, but the Nessie Museum experience became a treasured, albeit goofy, memory that sticks with me still.

4. “Did you hear that?”

This whispered question passed between my two Australian companions before a day’s outing. One was a friend of mine, an experienced traveler familiar with “exotic” accents. The other was a friend of hers who obviously had not met many, if any, Americans.

The “that” in question was my pronunciation of the freaking out girl’s name. I’ve always liked the name Jennifer. Now I can’t hear it without thinking of how it amused, thrilled, and halfway awed someone unaccustomed to hearing the Aussie dropped letter R. To me it was Jenn-eh-fur. To its owner it was Jenn-eh-fuh. Vocally, that one letter makes a world of difference.

I totally sympathized. The Australian accent is cool and exotic to me. So I understood what was setting her off. That did not stop me from feeling as if I had become an unwitting performer in a stage play for one. She giggled uncontrollably every single time I found her dropped R. In a way it was charming…for a few hours. Over the course of a day of shopping, lunching, and sightseeing it became tedious.

Over time it’s become a fond memory. Of course now part of my brain hears an echoing giggle every time the extremely common name Jennifer is uttered in my presence.

5. “Howzit, sistahs?”

Somehow it was quite some time before I came to know about Hawaiian Pidgin. I heard what my mainlander ears thought they were supposed to hear, even when they did not.

Early on I was shopping with a friend when a shoe salesman greeted one of us with a hearty “Howzit, sistahs?” On the mainland that would translate into something like “Hi, how are you?”. We thought he was saying we looked like sisters and proceeded to have an exclamation point infested conversation about how weird that was. Much later I proceeded to be embarrassed and wonder how he managed not to laugh at us. Very professional of him. Who knows? Maybe it happened so much that he did it on purpose for amusement to break up the tedium. I hope he was chuckling still the next time he tried to fit a size ten dowager in a muumuu with a size eight.

I’m sure there are more of these memorable moment moments tucked away in the back of my brain. I seem to attract strange incidents wherever I
go. It can make for some awkward situations, but also provide priceless souvenirs.

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