While impatiently waiting for Amazon to make the MP3 of Chantal Kreviazuk’s new album Hard Sail available, I decided to trawl YouTube to check out the songs on it. I came across this must see, must hear treasure for people who have never heard of her and fans alike.

Chantal Kreviazuk is a Canadian singer songwriter I first discovered in the days when brick and mortar CD stores roamed the earth in vast herds. One of my favorite passtimes was buying music at random, though sometimes on the advice of store clerks who thought I was cool because I spoke their music language. The day I took home Under These Rocks and Stones I instantly fell in love with her voice, her lyrics, and her melodies. Music inspires my writing in ways almost symbiotic and Chantal Kreviazuk’s has been a fixture in that inspiration stream from the moment I heard Surrounded on the above mentioned CD. That makes having to wait out Amazon’s Canadian music lag especially irksome.

In the meantime this gorgeous, intimate Strombo Sessions performance is almost as wonderful as a studio album, since I love the nuanced subtleties of live performance. The set list only includes three songs, two from Hard Sail and a Radiohead cover, but it is so awesome it feels like a longer private concert. This live performance showcases the fact that she’s a classically trained pianist, and the beautiful cello accompaniment adds a haunting note, even evoking the sound of humpback whalesong during Daydreaming. This Strombo Sessions performance is such a treat, as I wait for the new album from one of the singer songwriters I’ve loved the longest.

Chantal Kreviazuk on Strombo Sessions

This year the Nicholl initial results weren’t quite as early as last year, but the timing was both good and bad for me. The emails came four hours after I got home from my mom’s funeral, which made the fact that my science fiction entry got absolutely nowhere not be as upsetting as it would have been at another time. After the initial shock of disappointment, I really didn’t care too much. Beyond the timing, it was the first time any of my screenplays hadn’t received at least one positive score since I started entering the Nicholl again a few years ago and the sf one has been a Page Awards Semi-Finalist once and Quarter Finalist twice, so it’s not like I don’t have plenty of proof that it’s good. It’s just the capricious nature of subjectivity and individual reader’s taste. Not that I’m happy to have had it bomb out, but other things have taken precedent over such concerns this year.

My other two entries made up for it, for the most part. In keeping with that capricious thing, the drama that got one positive score last year got two this year and the one that got two last year got one this year. This kind of thing can drive you bonkers, if you let it. Not letting it can be a struggle, but if you can remember the bits about subjectivity and individual taste it gets easier. With the Nicholl in particular, it helps profoundly to keep always at the front of your mind that out of the 2016 competition’s 6,915 entries, only 357 made QF. With those kind of odds in the most prestigious competition of them all, I’m really, really pleased with the positive scores I got again this year.

Once again I find myself saying I love Twitter. I can’t quite sleep, so of course I start scrolling through, wondering what marvel I will happen upon in the middle of the night. This time it was The Elephant Man who caught my eye.

I’ve been interested in Joseph (John) Merrick, known as The Elephant Man because of his terrible disfigurement, since seeing the movie about him, starring Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt. Many people could not bear to look at him, while conversely others paid to see him. Much of his life was one of degradation and despair.

His eventual friendship with London surgeon Dr. Frederick Treves led to the letters chronicled in this article , which I found extremely moving. They shine a bright light on the wonderful, in the often dismal quality in various walks of life of the people of Victorian England. This Wikipedia entry goes into a lot of fascinating information about this remarkable man’s life. My favorite moment depicted in the movie is that Princess Alexandra befriended him, apparently seeing the erudite nature of the man behind the deformities over which he had no control.

Something I didn’t expect to find within these letters was Francis Carr-Gomm’s eloquent explanation of why God allows such horrendous suffering. This question becomes a point of anguish for those of us who must watch someone we love dearly suffer tremendous pain, especially for an extended time. Carr-Gomm showed himself through his words in these letters on behalf of Joseph Merrick to be a wise, kind, and benevolent natured man, while Treves and all the people who found ways to help a lovely, gentle, intelligent soul trapped within a monstrous exterior were examples of the best the Victorian Age had to offer.

I wish Joseph Merrick had been given opportunity to live his entire life among the kindest of strangers, many of whom became friends. Regardless of his earlier treatment, it is a beautiful thing that in his final years he found peace and the experience of happiness most of us take for granted, even when we think we know what true unhappiness is.

I just finished watching a thrilling thriller that bombed at the British box office. It made just $141 in a weekend. I’m so used to seeing box office figures in the millions that I had to go back to check the numbers. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a movie with such a high caliber cast make just $30 per theater on opening. My taste in movies often goes against the critical reception, and this time is no exception. It’s always strange that two people can watch the same movie, then have diametrically opposed reactions to it. In the case of Misconduct, I seem to be swimming upstream in my enjoyment of this movie. Ah well, all the more reason for me to run toward something critics flee.

My title for this post is tricky. On its surface it is what it is. The case at the center of Misconduct is about as open and shut as they come. Not. Well, sure, it seems so at first. It’s obvious who the white hats are, and equally obvious that Anthony Hopkins’ character is a very bad man. A corrupt  big pharma exec, with a ruthless black heart. But…but…but he does seem to care about his beautiful young girlfriend, when she’s kidnapped. Those but…but…buts keep coming until the final frames. By the time of fade out, I felt as if my center of intellectual gravity had shifted…several times. As I waited for the mental room to stop spinning, I realized the biggest but…but…but was the floppiness of this slick, red herring riddled twisty thriller. It may be fair to say every movie is at the very least somewhat different for every person who sees it. In this case I seriously feel as if I saw an entirely different movie than the critical pariah that bombed so badly in Britain.

Anthony Hopkins was riveting, but of course I feel that way about his Barclay’s Big commercial, so consider me at least slightly prejudiced on the subject. On the other hand I’ve seen at least…seventy five of his movies and only disliked two, while still admiring his performances, so I can speak with considerable authority on his prowess with whatever script he crosses paths with. The man is brilliant. Pacino is no slouch, of course, and I always like Josh Duhamel’s tall, charming, talented, good looks (not necessarily in that order). Those three came together as a multipronged powerhouse, of obfuscating cinematic glory.

The plot boasts as many twist as the Iron Throne does sword points. Yes, it is confusing. It is extremely complex. It takes a nimble mind to keep up. Maybe you have to like the three male stars as much as I do to even try, but the reward for the effort is sitting back in awed comprehension of a puzzle with not one missing piece. It falls together in a way that makes you want to hit somebody. Several somebodies. But there’s more than enough blood and bruise makeup on display to make you realize several some bodies have already been hit hard enough for one movie. So you mentally applaud,  and in my case start the search for the next Anthony Hopkins movie in the quest to see them all.

Now about that title. Beneath the surface it’s a nod to the beautiful, seamless camera work in Misconduct. I started noticing the way we watch externally, as characters glide from one location to the next. They often traverse rooms, even buildings, with an elegant grace that is so organic that it almost seems they’re transported elsewhere by nontraveling motion. This way of handling scene transition is not only visually beautiful, but technically so as well.

The reason I’m so attuned to that kind of thing is that when I first started learning the art of crafting a screenplay, I had trouble with scene changes. I didn’t realize it at first, but as I started the extended period of proofread-and-rewrite that is such an integral part of the process, I came to see that I had not yet learned the how and where of location transition.

This odd sticking point may be due to the fact that I was a novelist first. With fiction writing, the narrative flows subconsciously, often intuitively and assumptively for both writer and reader. With screenplays it’s more technical. The script is all about what the camera sees.    Physical transition is a series of opening and closing doors. While you don’t need to describe these doors, or acknowledge their existence even, you have to make sure you clearly get a character out of a location, without zipping him into a different room as if by magic. Unless you’re actually writing Harry Potter. Then you can apparate him to your heart’s content. What you can’t do is have muggles disapparate into walls.

The more you write, the more automatic proper transition becomes, but while learning it takes concentration. I was busy remembering proper slugline structure, to CAP or not to cap, and how many lines were trying to slip into any given action block. Eventually, I came to realize that while I concentrated on all that, I was slamming cameras into walls and doors and quite possibly people I’d forgotten to move out of the way.

Watching Misconduct glide people along from an external vantage point made me realize there’s always going to be more and more and more to learn about ways to make what a screenwriter sees in his head translate to the screen visual. Thus, location transition doesn’t always have to involve opening and shutting doors, literally or figuratively.

So, another movie I went to the opposite corner with the critics on. And the box office. I wonder what the handful of people watching in each almost empty screening thought. I’d like to think at least some left thrilled with the thriller they just saw, and wondered what movie the critics who panned it had seen instead.

Misconduct–Official Trailer #1

Barclay’s Big Commercial

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Today was my mom’s funeral. I planned every detail meticulously, with great love. She was surrounded by people who knew her, admired her, and remembered her from some point along the great, long winding road of her remarkable life.

I was so pleased with the elegant, beautiful service. My only disappointment was that music wasn’t provided for graveside services. I chose a longtime family friend to speak, and as he began his beautiful remembrance of her, he asked us to all sing the first stanza of Amazing Grace. He didn’t tell me that in advance and, as I sat there beside her for the final time, I was so grateful that he had thought of it. She loved music and some of her aides at the nursing home would sing hymns with her, bringing her joy as her life wound to its close. It was such a joy to me that her final song was sung to her by an impromptu choir composed of the voices of people she loved. And what a rare occurrence, privilege, and honor that I got to sing my mother to sleep, as she had done for me so lovingly as a child.

I would have loved to speak, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to be understood through my weeping. If I could have, I would have read one of my favorite poems. Funeral Blues, by W. H. Auden is not about a daughter and her mother, but it captures the beauty-lined pain of saying goodbye to someone beloved for the last time. Since I couldn’t read it for her, tonight I’ve found this wonderful reading, by actor Tom Hiddleston.

Rest in peace, dearest one.

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                  Sarah McCage
                     1919-2016
My mom died last night, quietly, peacefully, with me sitting a few feet away. If I had written the story of how she would leave me, it would have been what happened. Just the two of us by ourselves, in a quiet hospital room, with my two favorite nurses just outside the closed door to help me through the aftermath with compassion, kindness, hugs, tears, shared stories of beloved family members lost, and even laughter. I miss her terribly, but I’m happy that her suffering has ended and that someone so wonderful and dear graced this earth for nearly a century.

I came across some old pictures that to anyone else are just that. Old fading pictures. For me they’re memories that are as bright as the blue sky, green pine needles, and colors of sunrise on the days they were taken. They’re all from the yard of our farm where I grew up.

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This is autumn looking across the road toward a large wooded area, with a creek hidden from view running through it. I remark on that because such densely forested tracts are becoming rare, as more and more trees go down so houses with large yards can go up or agriculture continues to grow. The field struck by such bright sunlight belonged to a relative for a long time. Often neighboring farms were held by extended family members for several generations, but as the last farming inclined members died their farms were sold to big operators, until all family connections to neighboring lands are lost. This road has long since been paved, but I can so vividly remember creeping along in the hot sun as a little kid, squatting occasionally to study individual rocks among the jagged layer of gravel. Even growing up on a gravel road can be cool, if you know how to make it that way. My mom did. She made it both educational and fun, by teaching me to be a fossil hunter practically in my own yard. That gravel was quarried from who knows where, with ancient layers of literally buried treasure. Of course gold would have been nice, if we want to get really literal about buried treasure, but I was thrilled to spot something unusual and pounce on a special rock. There were sometimes partial foliage images to be found. I remember at least one perfect indentation of a tiny sea shell. It looked like a minuscule Japanese scallop had been pushed into cement, then pulled out to leave it’s shape behind for a child who would later come to find real Japanese scallop shells lying along Shell Beach on Sanibel Island. Maybe that’s where my love of the shore, all shores really, originated.

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And here’s a sunset through the branches of the tree from the previous picture. That tree always weirded me out, because it almost cost us our house. My mom was starting to cook dinner when my daddy brought the tree home and we went outside to supervise the planting. By the time we came back in, a fortunately small grease fire had started. It was probably scarier than it was house threatening, but I never forgot it and it made me forever wary of pine trees. It was pretty, though, and perfect for that spot.

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A furrowed field blanketed in snow is a familiar sight on a farm.  I always loved the unique way it looked…corduroy ground, burrowed under a frosty veil, waiting for spring.

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This snow scene features my favorite pecan tree. There was a low branch on the other side, where I liked to sit and dream away a summer twilight. The old house in the distance was a lingering dinosaur, in that it had no running water. The well in the back yard was my only experience of seeing water being physically drawn from the ground. It was a lengthy process involving a metal container lowered and then slowly (the last resident was an elderly woman) emerging from its shaft, with water streaming from holes in the metal that had some purpose I didn’t understand. Even as a little kid, just knowing about that well made me extremely grateful for the shiny metal faucets in our house. That old house up the road was weathered and gray. I’m afraid the only time it ever looked beautiful was as a silhouette in this picture.

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In contrast to frigid winter is this warm, molten gold sunrise sky. This time the silhouette is part of the barn roof. Like the old house and many trees, the barn is long gone. Most of the old ones are. They had such character and a rustic beauty all their own, but, as old fashioned agricultural practices faded away, most owners tore them down to get them out of the way. Occasionally, a lone antique barn can be spotted still, sitting in glaring isolation, awaiting the day when perhaps with regret they will join so many others as mere memories of days past. This image lives in my memory as what I saw, rain or shine, fall or winter or spring, sunrise or blue sky as the view as I got on the school bus. A constant in a child’s life. A rite of passage on the way to growing up.

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