Monday, December 15, 2014

BAD TV Christmas Movies: Angels and Ornaments

" I didn't know you wrote lyrics!" "I didn't have the music 'til you"

"As long as there's music in our hearts, we're all angels."


Angels and Ornaments might win this year's Christmas Magic Award for the silliest and most inane and annoying Christmas movie plot of the year. (Though Christmas at Cartwrights was pretty bad).

It has it all! An angel, a girl with a subpar singing voice, a Christmas ornament, a throw-back to WWII, actors with no chemistry and a eight dollops of lazy dramatic foreshadowing.

So Karin loves music and Christmas and is basically a friggin angel. She is played by the lady who faked her pregnancy on Glee. She works at the music shop with a guy who is in a lot of Stratford Festival productions. She loves him. He loves her. Even though she can't sing and is blind to the fact that he loves her, that she keeps dating a douchebag named Tim and still has a home answering machine like this is 1998.   Meanwhile, Harold--is an angelesque guy who is actually Karin's grandfather (!!!) and is returning to help her find her true love and the end progression to a song she cannot complete and the essence of a carol ornament she hangs on her tree.  He gets a job at the music shop too!  immediately! because there is so much economic upturn in New York City music shops these days! also, he has a watch so he can keep an eye on things in heaven or something. And, don't worry, he gets his wings or gets to be an angel or something.

The three of them talk a lot. For three hours.   I wouldn't call what happens here a plot per se; rather a bunch of strung up dialogue with intervals of Petrarch and Dickinson recitation.

As a background thing (again, not really a plot device, because, you know, no plot ) Karin wants to have the Christmas solo at church. But, she REALLY IS A TERRIBLE SINGER! so it goes to someone else. Except it doesn't because Stratford Guy (who would have to basically mortgage his music shop ) bribes the church with FREE INSTRUMENTS FOR ALL if Karin can sing the Christmas solo which he writes. The lyrics are kinda the Night Before Christmas and kinda not and the music is the UNFINISHED SONG THAT KARIN'S GRANDFATHER-GHOST-ANGEL wrote.


Also, there's a scarf and ornaments and mix-ups and a scrapbook and stuff.

And then it ends.

As Harold sees the fading image of his dead WWII era love.

And no one thinks it at all creepy that a dead grandfather is a matchmaker.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

In which I Sign a Book Contract

Hi EVERYONE!

so thrilled that you will get to meet my lady detectives, Jem and Merinda, for real.

Inspired by my passion for all things Sherlock Holmes, I am thrilled to the gills to be signing with Harvest House.   I have had the best time emailing with my fun new editor and plotting out the entire thing.


Three novels (beginning with the Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder in early 2016 ) are coming your way.

But... you also get some Sherlock Holmes-sized novellas---starting in Dec 2015.


so stay tuned


Thursday, December 11, 2014

TV Review: The Red Tent



When I was in University I read The Red Tent and I loved it. I didn’t think of it as harmful. I didn’t think of it as revisionist. Rather, I thought of it as embellishing a slight snippet of scripture whose weight allotted for speculation and research. If you think about it, Biblical fiction does a lot to embroider and embellish and for the most part we embrace it. Probably my favourite Biblically themed novels of all time Ben-Hur and The Thief (by Stephanie Landsem) use Christ as a peripheral character whose essence is the center. Nonetheless, we assume Him into the life of characters that are highly fictitious. My favourite Old Testament re-telling “In the Field of Grace” by Tessa Afshar does the same with the Ruth and Boaz story, planting fictional seeds that allow the eventual coming of Christ to inhabit the pages.

Also in University, not long after reading the Red Tent, I attended a weekend of seminars designed to look at the Bible merely as a great piece of literature. For this, I set my faith and my pre-conceived notions aside, immersing myself instead in the beauty of translation ---from the Hebrew and Greek, through the Latin Vulgate and finally to the King James and the numerous translations we are familiar with today. From structure ( prose, as in the Message) and modernization (the NIV) ,we recognize that this is a tome that has undergone a lot of sieving and a lot of filtering. For me, what is important, is that the general message stays the same. The authenticity is in the feeling. The feeling is in interpreting it with the guidance of a Higher Power. The Bible is one book that is borne of relationship, of study and of personal conviction. That being said, like any other story I read and love, I look for the essence of truth and the intent when I visit interpretations of the story.


I revisited the Red Tent in its Lifetime incarnation and was, again, completely compelled by this embellishment of the Biblical tale. It didn’t change my set opinions on the story, it didn’t threaten my faith, it didn’t offend me. Rather, it seemed to make a lot of sense. Anita Diamant painstakingly researched the world of the women of Jacob’s tribe and here she inserts her own ideas and plausible event sequences to colour in the patriarchal lines. To add, it is just a gorgeous filmed and heart-wrenching story of family, of love, of suffering and of a woman strong enough to overcome injustice while still doing good to those around her.


The Red Tent is the eponymous name given the place where women during their monthly cycles and confinement and childbirth would retreat. Diamant admits there is no factual evidence for such a structure in the Biblical tale; but she makes a convincing argument that it was often a custom of many Middle Eastern cultures of ancient times and knowing that women in both natural areas were viewed as unclean as per later Leviticus law, makes a lot of sense. It is here that we are guided first and foremost to meet sisters Rachel and Leah and their handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah.


Jacob, as in the Biblical tale known to most, arrives to aid the farmer Laban and falls immediately in love with his beautiful daughter Rachel. Unlike in the Biblical story familiar to us, Rachel, scared of the act of love on their marriage night, forces Leah to wed in her stead with a veil covering her. Jacob and Leah consummate their marriage and Jacob enters into the family. Leahs gives him several sons, as per Biblical record, and Rachel, often barren, one golden boy named Joseph. Finally, Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah arrives and it is her voice and life explored.


She is raised in the sphere of women in the Red Tent and eventually becomes apprentice to her mothers (especially Rachel ) who are talented midwives. Inside the Red Tent, everything is cloistered and shrouded in feminine sphere. While Jacob is adamant his offspring follow the faith of One God, the women still pray to idols of fertility and motherhood. For Christians and religious types who are interpreting this as blasphemous, I instead assert it is quite plausible given the time period and the known obsession with idols. [ I heard some banter on the internet where people were admonishing this aspect for being “un Christian” which is, face it, a little ridiculous considering there was no Christ for which to be Christian]


***

I get a little perambulatory here; but I did find that the story led me to do some forward thinking as one often does in the Old Testament while anticipating the sanctity and redemption of the New.

While the story has shifted and facts have been embroidered and in some factors re-imagined, I assert that the strongest themes of the miniseries and the novel are themes that believers should applaud: themes of grace and forgiveness. Usurping thoughts of revenge with magnanimous acts of benevolence. When Dinah witnesses Jacob reconciling with his brother Esau, her mother Leah bids her to mark the moment and remember it: for ( and I paraphrase) we can measure the quality and strength of a man by his ability to forgive. Later, in Egypt, upon her deathbed, Dinah’s mother in law begs for forgiveness for her ill-treatment of Dinah and for sequestering Dinah’s son. Dinah gives forgiveness. When Joseph, at this point vizier of Egypt sentences Dinah’s son Ramos to execution for an attempt on his life, he forgives by reducing the sentence to exile and sparing his nephew. Finally, as Jacob lays dying, Dinah gives the gift of forgiveness by tending to the father she had years earlier disowned.

Blood is a major motif:
the blood which brings life ( which can put believers in mind of the Cross and the ultimate act of life giving ) and the blood of the slain men in Shashem. Of sacrifice when Shalem and his King father are willing to offer the bride price of circumcision as per Jacob’s wish. Blood marring cloth otherwise perfectly spotless and white—Shalem provides Dinah with a snowy shawl on the night of their wedding which later, blood-stained, becomes reminiscent of another cloth marred with blood.


There are also wonderful moments of grace and symbols of communion. Jacob’s mother, the oracle Rebecca who—in this adaptation is attributed for Joseph’s ability with dream interpretation---is often visited by impoverished pilgrims who wait for hours in the hot sun to provide her with offering and wait to hear their fortunes. Noticing their hunger, Dinah and Rebecca’s slave girl break bread and provide it to the poor standing in line. Grace is found when Dinah risks her life to descend into the valleys of Thebes and aid the life of an abused pregnant woman at risk of her own. Dinah, too, eventually accepts her gift of midwifery and despite the prejudice afforded the “Foreign Born midwife” and her stubborn pride at the occupation’s harkening back to her tumultuous past, she casts it aside to help the women in need. Even as it takes her to the castle yet again where she will deliver (unbeknownst to her) her brother Joseph’s first son.


There are people who are automatically going to look at the two major departures from the Biblical story ( here, Dinah is not raped inspiring her brother’s bloody revenge, rather she falls in love with the prince and marries without her father’s consent and Rachel and Leah not being ordered by Laban to trade bridal places when Jacob asks for Rachel’s hand). But by just looking at the creative license here and fostering and mulling on these supposed discrepancies, they will miss the beauty of a story that is knit with grace, resilience and, ultimately, the power of forgiveness over vengeance. There are not many more Christian themes than these. Instead of attacking stories that try to present moments of goodness and light amidst the magnanimous grandeur of the Biblically historical setting, we should look at how these stories might inspire eventual readership, scholarship and study. Diamant takes departures, but she does so respectfully and the intent and the outcome, not to mention the positive changes that can be wrought from this inspiring story, are something not to scorn but to praise.

Guest Post: Jaime Wright on being Done with book heroes....

Jaime's getting a little sick of the regular same-old book hero
(I am secretly hoping she likes my Ray when she meets him). As in all guest posts, opinions are those of the author)  A few Rachel thoughts: as an equalist, I don't always like the "aggressive, leading man" trope because I want men and women to be equal. What I like is confidence :) and what I like is strength in more ways than one. Some guys have physical strength--the type you see in the Rock, some guys have strength in swagger, like John Wayne--- but some guys have intellectual strength (Benedict Cumberbatch) and some guys have emotional strength --the strong, silent type. So what defines strength to you?   Jaime raises a good discussion point, and I would love to hear your thoughts.... )



From Jaime:

I’m done with book heroes. Seriously. What happened to them? They’ve all become … pasty. Ok. My husband tells me not to use all-encompassing words like “all” because it’s not an accurate representation of truth. Fine. Most of the book heroes have become … pasty.
I read a book the other day. The hero never argued, didn’t bite back, and when he finally snapped – he apologized. Apologized? Instantaneously? It was enough to curdle my toes and curl my stomach. So, I switched from inspirational fiction to general market. That hero ripped the woman’s corset off (which means he needed hands of steel because corsets don’t rip easily) and became as loving as a cave man on pre-historic crack.


Where are the real men in fiction, I ask? The ones who are temperamental, sweaty from labor (not other unmentionables), have pasts that haunt, grip, and wound, and are brutes. My husband is a brute. I love it. The other night I stubbed my toe and whined for about five minutes until he looked up from his book and said “seriously, Hon, get over it”. Love. That. Realism. Men are real. In so much fiction today, in that situation, my husband would have leapt from his chair after tossing his book five yards away from him. He would have cupped my wounded foot in strong hands, peeled my sock off, stroked my toe, and bandaged it. All while I was somehow perched in his lap. Then he would have moved in for a kiss, or an almost kiss, and then the chapter would end and leave you hanging.
That is not a real man. I’m lucky my husband even noticed I stubbed my toe.
Or maybe it is in your life. I suppose some sensitive souls exist. Maybe. Somewhere.
Is it just me? We’re even at the point of celebrating finely boned men, with cheekbones that demand blush, and skin that is more porcelain than a baby’s. (I’m hearkening Orlando Bloom in my head – don’t kill me). What happened to the strong, rugged Russell Crowe’s, or the husky-voiced Harrison Fords, or the suave, debonair Cary Grants?
I want to venture (*disclaimer: this is my personal theory, not based on statistics, theology, a college degree or anything more than two shots of espresso and a refill) that society has drifted away from the strong male for a primary reason:
1.      Female empowerment
Let me cut this down for you—and don’t bristle, I’m the queen of female independence. Still…

As women, in the 21st Century, we want our individuality. Whatever historical and societal issues exists, the fact remains, and will always be there: We don’t want to be ruled by the strong male. Dominance. Slavery. I call it the Cinderella-Effect. We want our dresses and the key to our cell, so if we leave the prince standing aimless and heartbroken, it’s because we wanted to. Ouch. Now that’s something to be proud of, ladies. Let’s weaken our males so we can be strong.
We daren’t marry the strong male type, or date, or even entertain the idea for fear he’ll lock us away and we’ll be scraping pumpkin off our shoes for the rest of our life. ERRR! Back up. The strong male type is totally misconstrued. If you want to hearken Scripture, it doesn’t even define the strong male as the ruler, king, or probably better termed, “the dictator”. It defines the strong male as the protector, defender, leader, and the one who takes the bullets. Well, hold up there. I’m a strong female. Horribly strong. I’m totally willing to take bullets for my family, defend and even lead. But there’s also something super attractive when the man steps up and says “I’ve got this”. Super attractive. And when he reinforces my talents, my intelligence, and my feminine strength, I suddenly don’t have issue with playing follow the leader. Because, in reality, he’s holding my hand and we’re in this together. Who doesn’t love a great team player? My husband empowers me. He is my energy-force-field. He stands behind me, cherishes me, and sacrifices for me. Now there’s a strong hero-type.
So back to fiction, now that I’m off my coffee-induced soap box and have now raised a thousand theological eyebrows. This isn’t intended to be an argument for submission vs. independence. It’s an argument for the man to be … well … manly, again. And that as women who want to be strong, we don’t emasculate the male into being stupid, weak-kneed, Ray Romano idiot-types. God created men, ladies. That includes the fact that they just might not kiss our boos-boos, apologize like sweet baby boy angels, and act all Victorian-gentlemanly. They just might outright chuckle when we trip and face plant. They might even forget to apologize because in their minds, that issue was done and over with three days ago, so why are you still stewing about it?

I told my husband I already have his epitaph set and ready for his gravestone. Get over it. It’s his favorite catch-phrase and it’s reality. He’s dead. Move on. Get over it. Have the life God intended and stop weeping over the grave that holds a lifeless body when he’s perfectly happy in eternity.
I digress. In short, my point is this: I miss the real male in fiction.
Can we write him again? Can we write the cowboy who forgets to tip his hat in the direction of the lady? Can we write the hero who rides a Harley with a blackened eye from a fist fight? And what about the Bible-preaching preacher who tells his parishioner to stop sinning because it’s just plain wrong—forget tip-toeing around the truth.


Bring back the MAN to the HERO.
That’s my cry.
That’s my plea.
Signed, yours truly,

And extremely independent female who appreciates a good, strong, Godly, aggressive leading man.


About Jaime: 

Professional coffee drinker Jaime Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing spirited and gritty turn-of-the-century romance stained with suspense. Her day job finds her a Director of Associate Sales, Development & Relations. She’s wife to a rock climbing, bow-hunting youth pastor, mom to a coffee-drinking little girl and a Sippy cup-drinking baby boy, and completes her persona by being an admitted Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Blogspot junkie.

Jaime is a member of ACFW, enjoys mentorship from a best-selling author, and has the best critique partners EVER! (Yes, that's an exclamation point.) She was a semifinalist in ACFW’s 2013 Genesis contest and that alone encouraged excessive celebration over extra espresso with hazelnut syrup.


Find Jaime on the web

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Allison and Rachel's Christmas Movie Extravaganza

Round II

I HATE THESE MOVIES 


Some TV Christmas movies are saccharine or sappy or cheesy but I still love them.

Others just make me angry.
Like a Bride for Christmas ( which sends the entire world the wrong message).

Eve’s Christmas and The March Sisters at Christmas are not two movies I love to hate. They’re just movies I hate.

I HATE these movies ( remember Ebert and how he hated movies?  HATE HATE HATED them?)

You must realize, American Hallmark/Lifetime viewership that 99.9999 per cent of your Christmas fare is filmed over here in Canadia…most likely in April or May.  Because they are filmed over here there is a requisite amount of Canadian talent and locations needed. And because Canadian television stations are forced to play a certain quota of Canadian made television every day, the Canadian Hallmark and Lifetime crap is played and played and played.

We LOVE to show Eve’s Christmas ‘cause it is chock-full of Canadian stuff: locations (they even get married like in a frakkin canoe ) and Canadian “celebrities” who spend the other 11 months of the year serving me Starbucks.

Eve’s Christmas is just awful.  It is a cliché upon cliché plot of a Christmas star and a magical chance at re-living life.  But it isn’t even delightfully cheesy. It’s just dumb. And with no makeup or hair budget.

And IT IS SO CANADIAN!



From the budget production values to Being Erica as the quirky friend. To the synthesizer music that I am sure some David Foster wannabe thought was gonna launch his career.

Anyways, Eve is a b**ch (there is a theme to the movies I hate hate hate and it involves the heroines being insufferable b**ches). She is a big corporate something or other with a bad hairclip to keep her stringy dry 90s severe hair subdued and a typical 90s business suit. This film was, however, not 90s but filmed in the mid-00’s. That’s okay. Canada is always a decade behind.

Eve (Amber from Clueless) is planning a ski trip with her douchebag boyfriend. Eve hasn’t been home in a billion years ( as is usual of these cookie cutter corporate women who have ambition and careers so must be SOULLESS enough NOT to go home at Christmas).  One night she gets drunk with Being Erica and sees a couple happy and a glint of something shines underneath her bad eyeshadow.  Leaving the bar she runs into a homeless guy who is actually an angel and thinks she should change her life.Then she goes home and drinks more and watches home movies. Then she falls asleep and the Christmas star transports her back to whenever ago in her small town.




IT IS SO BAD!

Eve cannot adjust to Old Eve in her Old Small Town. “ I made tofu!” “What’s that?” “ Can you make me a cappuccino?” 

And then, as is kinda  a Hallmark/Lifetime Trope, there is a karaoke scene. However, obviously there wasn’t a budget for song rights because they spent it on the Christmas Star CGI so Eve and Being Erica sing.

And lo and behold she runs into the guy she was going to marry. The most nondescript feminine looking Canadian guy ever.   And their romance is rekindled. AND SHE IS STILL A JERKFACE ---but now a jerkface who sometimes squeezes out a tear or two.

I HATE THIS MOVIE
Anyways, in the end she gives up her corporate life and decides to stay with him and they get married just before Christmas in a canoe –or by a canoe--- in a lake that isn’t frozen over because this is DECEMBER , people and no lakes freeze over ( I HATE THIS MOVIE )

And Being Erica and all the happy useless tv movie archetypes: the nice parents Eve is ashamed of, the rowdy high school girls, the lady who owned the diner, rejoice!

Then Eve wishes on the same friggin’ Christmas star for life to always be the way it is and she wakes up in her 90s era purple silk sheets and bwahhh?  WAS IT A DREAM?  Nope, nondescript feminine looking guy is there beside her and she gets to be married AND be a corporate b**ch and remain as unlikeable as she was in the beginning.

Merry Christmas
 
I refuse to post a picture of this awful movie. So here's REAL Jo March

The March Sisters at Christmas

There’s not a lot of things I can say about this since thelast time I got mad at it.

Except I want to highlight that I am sick of b**chy girls getting love and happiness at Christmastime.  There is no female in the universe more likeable and relatable than Jo March until the Lifetime claws get into her.

The only new perspective I have now is  I was in Concord last month and it is a darling town and when I saw some of the stock Concord footage they used to supplement the actual filming locations ( which were probably either Oakville or BC) , my heart was aglow.

I HATE this movie. I hate this movie for what it does to a delightful classic. I HATE HOW UNNECESSARY it is.  Do you want a Little Women Christmas?  JUST FRIGGIN WATCH LITTLE WOMEN! I love the June Allyson version and the Winona Rider one. Pick one. DO BOTH! Just don’t watch this festering piece of holiday over-ripe goo.

I HATE THIS MOVIE





Recap:

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Highlights of Allison ,Rachel and Friends Live-Facebooking Peter:Pan Live

Peter Pan:Live  was not nearly as mockable as I was hoping.  Not nearly as mockable as The Sound of Music: Live which was great content destroyed by awkward acting and pauses and staging. BRILLIANT, BRILLIANT mockery.




Peter Pan:Live is just bad content staged as a showcase for boyishly angular Allison Williams and very awkward Christopher Walken ( take a shot every time he forgets one of his lines .....) 


and it was SUPER boring.  Like, it didn't end.....forever....

and several friends showed up on the chain to diss and discuss.

And Allison and I were at our snarkiest......



And over on twitter, Broadway stars who loaned some respectability to Sound of Music: Live weighed in.........


And during commercial breaks we compared the differences between Canadian and American commercials while Ruth Anderson found us shirtless pictures of Jason Isaacs ( Hook/Mr. Darling in the movie from years back )



And when we couldn't take the ridiculousness on our screen, we improvised with Google images......




And then we found pictures of a shirtless Chris Walken and played up games on his name.....and Jessica Keller won the day with some DW.



And it was all fun and games until we realized it was NEVER GOING TO END.....



And then Kelly Rogers from Kailana's Written World made a cameo




And then Hillary swooped down with some Chris Messina to try and make us all feel better.....



And Gina (from Dickensblog) had a brilliant theory on the NBC musical casting process....



There are several recaps of the monumental event:






Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Quirky Romances that Rachel Really Loves

I have been talking with my friends Hillary and Melissa about favourite romantic movies.   We talk a lot about everything and we always want to make sure we have all seen what the others love.

Here are a few quirky movies that just touch the romantic in me in some way shape or form. To add, they might not be overtly familiar to everyone .


Princess Caraboo:  loosely based on a true story, this whimsical tale is set during the prime of the Regency---Prince Regent and everything! ---involving a stowaway pretending to be a princess (she even has her own language) adopted by an aristocratic family.  Several believe she is a fraud, though, including a reporter with lots of gumption ( I love those!) played by Stephen Rea.

Sliding Doors:  I love love love this Choose Your Own Adventure tale and its quotable lines by the inimitable John Hannah ( seen here with gorgeous Scotch accent in tow).  In one life, Helen catches the subway train, in the other she doesn't and her life intersects letting you know what each path would hold.  Romantic, daring and sweet. GREAT hero.



Crossing Delancey:  a recent discovery of mine thanks to a post by Susanna Kearsley on facebook.  I watched it every night when I was in Boston recently in my hotel :) You can tell immediately that the screenplay is whisked from a stage play. The dialogue is so tight. Isabella works at a bookstore and is romanced by a pretentious author. All the while a man who sells pickles has his eye on her.  When a professional matchmaker and her Bubbe attempt to set her up, she learns a lot about herself.  Just a sweet, quiet exposition on ideals met and changed.  GREAT HERO!  knows himself. Has a Knightley-esque confidence about him.


The Giant Mechanical Man:  This is one that Ruth introduced me to and I have a thing for Chris Messina in this. He is so mesmerizing.  He plays Tim a talented street performer who bonds with Janice a meek and mild unemployed woman. They both try to maze through life with late night pie, silent films and menial jobs at the local zoo.  There's a real Chaplin-esque flair to this.











The Mirror Has Two Faces: my favourite romantic comedy of all time.   Jeff Bridges plays a stalwart math professor at Columbia who places an ad for a platonic relationship based on a marriage of minds and not sex and Rose, a spinster English professor ( played by Barbra Streisand) answers.  I swear I quote this film once a day.  Its exposition on the medieval conception of Courtly Love and its beguiling exploration of two people attempting to embark on a physically passionless relationship just hits me.     Observe how  subversive it is: using romantic cliches to make its point--- down to clips of Now, Voyager and Brief Encounter and the ironic use of a swelling Marvin Hamlisch composed soundtrack.


The Purple Rose of Cairo  My favourite Woody Allen film features Mia Farrow has a humiliatingly abused wife obsessed with the pictures.  One evening she finds herself so engaged in the "Purple Rose of Cairo" ( traditional 30s tripe with high-faluting talk, martinis and buried treasure), she finds herself dating the hero. Winsome, sweet, nostalgic and yearning.



Romantics Anonymous:  This sweet French confection focuses on two people with severe social anxiety disorders who find love  over their shared passion for chocolate.  It is almost awkwardly painful to watch at times; but resilient and exhilarating at others.







Cluny Brown: long time favourite classic of mine adapted from the equally quirky novel by Margery Sharp by director Ernst Lubitsch. It more than has his famous touch.   Cluny is a plumber's daughter who ends up at the prestigious estate of the Carmel family as war erupts. While she sets her cap on the boring local apothecary, the visiting impoverished and daring writer Adam Belinski (CHARLES BOYER!!!!!!!) sets his sights on her.   The euphemisms and innuendo are a mile a minute.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Am Writing: waiting to use that perfect, magical setting




It’s neat to be of the imaginative writerly ilk because I often think of myself as a piece of Velcro. The strangest things stick with me. Because they stick, I often keep them in a mental jar to be pulled out when needed. What I am inspired by may not necessarily winnow its way into my current scribbling project.
omgomgomgomgomgomgomg so purty



I knew somehow, somewhere, in some way since I was in grade 9 and first stepped in, that the Elgin and Winter Garden theatres would someday make their way into a fictional landscape of my crafting.



The Winter Garden is amazing and magical and romantic and breathtaking. I always jest that when people see it for the first time it elicits an immediate gasp of surprise and I am right. It is just one of the most lovely pockets in the great over-coat that is Toronto.


And with the ornate floral scenery of the Winter Garden tucked away, I saved it--- I saved it for something special. I scribbled and scribbled several books wherein the Winter Garden could play in. The main theatre in the building, the Elgin, and its gilt-edged proscenium arch and wrought-iron elevators and sheer Edwardian splendor were a wonderful place to creatively inhabit. But I never used it. I scribbled and wrote and scribbled knowing/hoping someday I would find a time to pull it out.

It would make the BEST spot for a romantic rendezvous or a meet-cute or one of those I know that You Know that You Love Me, I love You revelatory moments that make my fingertips all buzzy. It would make the best secret hideaway.


When I was white-boarding my lady detective novels I couldn’t get the Winter Garden out of my head. I was like: is this the story? Is this it? It fit. It worked. I plotted and played. But it wasn’t just working the setting it, it was deciding if the setting was worthy of the characters, fit them like a glove and vice versa.


It worked----

CAN YOU EVEN.....



Except I had a teensy problem: the book I wrote was set before the Elgin and Winter Garden theatres opened. (they opened in 1913 by Mr. Loews, so I eventually catch up to it in my timeline) So, I sacrificed authenticity for creative license and le voila! Created my own double-decker theatres that are an absolute replica of the one of Toronto’s crowning architectural treasures. I don't do well at hiding it.  It is the most obvious descriptive comparison ever.


Then came the challenge of putting it in words. Stifling and pruning my wonderment of a place where the magnitude and scope of its singular brilliance can never quite be captured in writing:

“… slowly, clicking, buzzing, the theatre illuminated. A secret garden fairyland. Overhead a forest of plants, vines and leaves intertwined, the walls elaborately painted in woodland splendor, dried flowers hanging from the ceiling and ornamenting the wall sconces and lantern-holders. The colored lights specked the ceiling like rainbowed stars setting the beauty of the garland design incendiary”

So I relied on my loquacious hyper-sensationalized over-romanticism: “I held out my hand, deftly tracing the tender outline of a gold-embossed design on one of the pillars, sculpted like a tree, furrowing up to a painted night sky canvas at which the focal point was an embellished moon.”

Needless to say, research trips to steal into the crevices and backstage and up squeaky steps and over the fire-escape of this wonder-world were not hard for my die-hard romanticism to endure


The theatre became putty in my writerly hands and I cajoled and coaxed it into something that gave me giggles and elated glee.


Having used it --- knowing that it was there – I am currently in the process of parading it out again as I write book II in the series and keeping it in my heart’s eye for book III.


It is not going to be analogous to my Jem and Merinda series. I know I will use it again. But I am glad I saved it, this ornate gold-mine, because once I had it as my mental putty I teased it with such aplomb.




It fits my plaything character puppets and their world and their desires. And they fit in it like they belong there—as they do in all of Toronto, cozying into its furrowed old-sweater folds.



Monday, December 01, 2014

Allison and Rachel's Christmas Film Extravaganza Day One: Merry Christmas you Wonderful Old Building and Loan


Today is the first day that Allison and I are going to be providing you with the best of the best and the worst and worst-best Christmas movie fare.

We both love Christmas movies and we cannot wait to navigate the Hallmark, the cartoons, the good bad, ugly and classics! Comedies! and Peter Pan: Live with all of you.

You’ll be here at A Fair Substitute for Heaven on Dec 1, 8, 14, 20, 26 and over at Allison's 4, 11, 17, 23, 29 





Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17

For me, the ultimate Christmas classic is a film that has been appropriated by the season. Long in the public domain, a film that had not specifically been made for Christmas is a beacon of remembrance for many.  One of hope, second chances, a Dickensian flare for a visiting angel and a sweet, resonating love story.  Indeed, its Dickensian tropes: from a small village adorned with the Christmas emblems made popular in the Victorian age to the snatching, creeping Scrooge-like Potter are easy for fans of the great British author to see.  Unfortunately, unlike Scrooge’s tale, Potter is left without redemption (horrible old spider that he is).  But fear not, for redemption is nigh and borne of sacrifice. Here, when George Bailey gives up his dreams of traveling the world and shaking the dust of Bedford Falls off his boots; when George and Mary disperse of their honeymoon money when there is a raid on the bank, when George steps up to Mr Potter in the stead of his absent-minded Uncle Billy who has lost the deposit.



I cannot even write of these moments without tearing up. 

Zuzu's Petals
Hee-Haw
Buffalo Gals 
the National Geographic Society
"George Bailey, I'll love you 'til the day I die..."

A love story not just between George Bailey and the sweet-faced Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) but a love story between George and Mr. Gower, the druggist overcome with grief at his son’s loss,  and George and the memory of his father,  George and Bedford Falls, the town he gives up everything for, George and his Uncle Billy, George and his brother Harry whom he rescues, sacrificing his hearing and risking his life .  To wit, it is also a love story between a community post-war and post-depression that needs something to believe in.  Some optimism subversive to the long-stretching clutches of the wily Mr. Potter.


It’s a Wonderful Life advocates thanksgiving and redemption and grace. But it also asserts a perfectly plotted narrative emblemizing the web that we spin and the lives that we touch.   For writers, this expert plotting and perfect characterization allow us to fall so deeply into Bedford Falls' spell that at the end, as George runs through the snowy Main Street unaccustomed to being treated as a stranger, so we, too, are surprised that our new friends are not embracing them. We know Nick Martini, we know Mary. We know George's mother. We know Annie the housekeeper. We know them all. We have seen them through George's eyes and subsequently have embraced them as he has. 




It also is expert in symbolism and technique. Consider George's family business: helping families build the homes that will become the foundations of the Christmas hearth gatherings and traditions so brilliantly evoked in the film's iconic closing scene. 


As a child I was taught that even those things not specifically crafted with Christian resonance, if good and pure, could be yet another emblem of the Maker’s craftsmanship and there is so much of the divine in It’s A Wonderful Life. More than the hokey “Every time a bell rings…” line that my brother Jared mocks every year; but ingrained in its stronger thematic resonance.

Share redemption, sacrifice and grace.  Harken back to a time when idealism reined supreme and Capra-esque optimism patched up a nation late of War.


It's a Wonderful Life also does well at infusing a carol that presents the whole of the Gospel message in its stanza. 




(and get all this goodness and light out of your system, ‘cause the Lifetime and Hallmark fare shall soon rear it’s wonderfully ugly head! )