Archive | August 2015

General Hospital’s new bipolar plot line: like father, like son?

Maurice Benard as Sonny Corinthos

Maurice Benard as Sonny Corinthos

On Friday’s General Hospital, Sonny Corinthos, played by the actor Maurice Benard, gave an eloquent description of his struggle to come to terms with bipolar disorder. I’m still furious with the former head writer, Ron Carlivati, for killing off Silas Clay, a plot twist that enraged thousands of fans and may well have played a part in Carlivati’s firing, but I have to commend him for addressing the topic of bipolar disorder in a major new story line.

Loyal viewers have known for years that Sonny, the moody mob boss of Port Charles, is bipolar. (So am I, by the way; I’ve blogged about it elsewhere.) I never watched General Hospital until my favorite soap star Michael Easton came on board after ABC cancelled One Life to Live. Now that they’ve murdered Michael’s character, I’ve been tempted to stop watching, but this new development may keep me hooked. In the few years I’ve been watching, there have been references to Sonny’s mental illness, and the fact that he generally keeps it under control by faithfully taking his meds. But I’ve never seen him markedly manic or depressed.

Maurice Benard, who’s been playing Sonny Corinthos since 1993, has been outspoken about his own bipolar disorder. He

Me and Michael Easton at Fan Fantasy day, April 2014

Me and Michael Easton at Fan Fantasy day, April 2014

was diagnosed at age 22 and has been on lithium nearly nonstop ever since. He’s spoken openly about his illness in interviews and on many talk shows, has worked with nonprofit organizations that focus on the disorder and won awards for his advocacy work. His heartfelt soliloquy about his bipolar disorder in today’s episode had the authenticity of real-life experience.

GH Fan event in 2014. From left: Laura Wright, Michael Easton, Bryan Craig, Maura West. Bryan plays Morgan, who's now possibly bipolar.

GH Fan event in 2014. From left: Laura Wright, Michael Easton, Bryan Craig, Maura West. Bryan plays Morgan, who’s now possibly bipolar.

Sonny and his ex-wife/bride-to-be Carly were speaking to their son Morgan, trying to convince him to see a doctor for evaluation. For weeks they’d been expressing concern that he might be bipolar, especially since the disorder can run in families, but I couldn’t see it. Morgan’s been one of my least favorite characters, a dim bulb with such flat affect that he’s the last person I’d peg as bipolar. He and Bryan Craig, the actor who plays him, have a huge fan base, and I know they’ll hate me for saying this. But today Morgan was brimming with energy, grinning and telling them how great he feels, so clearly he’s at the start of a manic upswing. In the near future, maybe we’ll get to see if Bryan Craig can actually act. He must have something going for him, since he’s engaged to Kelly Thiebaut, a gifted actress who played an evil doctor and left the show of her own volition. She can always come back, though, since the writers didn’t kill her off; she merely left town—unlike Silas, who was shown lying dead on the floor with a knife in his back.

As Sonny and Carly point out, Morgan’s been acting erratically for months—poisoning his brother, screwing his girlfriend’s

Nina saying her final farewell to Silas, while Franco looks on. They're both suspects in his murder, along with several others.

Nina saying her final farewell to Silas, while Franco looks on. They’re both suspects in his murder, along with several others.

mother Ava, then screwing her again when she’s pretending to be his aunt Denise—but that kind of behavior is run-of-the-mill for soaps, nothing that would suggest bona fide mental illness. Still, those kinds of off-the-wall escapades can be symptoms of bipolar disorder, so I’m guessing Sonny and Carly are right. And who am I to question their judgment? They’ve been married and divorced five times, and they’re about to put a ring on it for the sixth time. Perfectly normal, right?

Coincidentally, one of the main characters in my novel Hope Dawns Eternal is a temperamental mobster named Tony Giordano. But he’s not into marriage or preoccupied with multiple children and babies, and he’s not bipolar. A sociopath, perhaps, who’s obsessed with becoming a vampire, but nothing like Sonny Corinthos.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00069]When I began writing Hope Dawns Eternal three years ago, I took care to create original characters with minimal resemblance to soap stars or actors who might have inspired them, however distantly. But so much has changed on General Hospital—in terms of both fictional characters and real-life behind-the-scenes drama—that I can now genuinely state that any resemblances are purely coincidental.

You believe that, right? Whether or not you do, I’ve got a wonderful book to sell you. And by the way, like Maurice Benard, I religiously take my meds. But that may not be enough to save me if my books don’t sell.

Attention GH fans: I’d love to hear your comments. What do you think of the current plot lines? Were you watching GH when Sonny had genuinely manic or depressed episodes? Do you think they should bring back Silas?

A lonely birthday marred by murder of my favorite soap opera character

The bar at Ashfield Lakehouse (winter snowmobilers, but a similar crowd)

The bar at Ashfield Lakehouse (winter snowmobilers, but a similar crowd)

It’s not often a man strikes up a conversation with me in a bar, but then it’s not often that I find myself alone at a bar in a strange town where I know no one.* New York City doesn’t count—I met my husband at a bar there over 40 years ago, Max’s Kansas City, to be specific. And when I’m in Manhattan for the day, I sometimes treat myself to a libation in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel or the Marriott Marquis before heading back to Penn Station. But those are elegant upscale establishments with overpriced cocktails and comfy upholstered chairs that invite lounging, so they don’t count.

The Ashfield Lakehouse, on the other hand, is the quintessential blue-collar pub, and the man who asked me about the book I was reading at the bar when I took refuge from the storm was a perfect match for the place—middle-aged and moderately paunchy, with curly brown hair and a ruddy complexion suggestive of Irish origin. I’m not sure he was actually hitting on me. Perhaps he was just being friendly. But when he told me that like Abraham Lincoln, he had kind of an evil side, I decided it was time to settle my tab and make tracks back to Wellspring House, where I’d gone for a writer’s retreat week.

Whatever his intentions, I’ll admit I was flattered, especially since my seventy-fourth birthday was just hours away.

Robb and his motorcycle

Robb and his motorcycle

Back in my room, when I logged back online, I found a Facebook message from my husband wishing me an early Happy Birthday. I poured myself a nightcap, settled into bed with Abe the vampire hunter, and read myself to sleep.

Friday was the first birthday I can recall spending alone in over forty years, and the first day my voluntary solitude weighed heavily on my mood. The dozens of birthday greetings from friends on Facebook brightened the day enormously, but I missed Robb, and I longed to hang out in my garden with my dog Sirius and my cat Lunesta.

Although I had no access to television, I knew Friday’s General Hospital would end in a cliffhanger, and it was hard to focus on my writing. Would they really kill Silas Clay? I thought it more likely that they’d string out the suspense until the next week, maybe close with a pointed gun or an off-screen scream. But no, by 3:00pm the reports started flooding Facebook—he was dead, lying face-down on the floor, stabbed in the back. The only cliffhanger was the mystery of who had murdered him.

Silas Clay, stabbed in the back on my birthday!

Silas Clay, stabbed in the back on my birthday!

At first I felt surprisingly calm. After all, the rumors of the murder had been flying all week. But as I surfed through the messages pouring in, the sorrow was contagious. Women were crying nonstop, some for hours. One had vomited, another fainted. Many swore they would never again watch General Hospital. Like me, many had watched Michael Easton since he played the vampire Caleb Morley on Port Charles, then Lieutenant John McBain on One Life to Live and GH, then Dr. Silas Clay on GH. Fourteen years in all—it was like losing a member of the family, a close friend, a fantasy lover.

Elmer's (photo by Peacebear222)

Elmer’s (photo by Peacebear222)

I drank some wine, went for a swim, then headed to Elmer’s for a solitary birthday dinner. The place was crowded, though with a clientele very different from the Lakehouse. More upscale, dressed in country chic, speaking quietly with their partners—and virtually everyone seemed paired off with a partner. I was glad I’d be checking out the next morning.

I began this post as an exploration of my writing experience at a retreat house, and how it compares to the experience of writing at home in my own office. But I veered off on a tangent—much the way my writing got derailed by a drama being played out across the country in a Hollywood studio.

So in conclusion, I’d say I didn’t give the retreat experiment a fair trial; thus the results can’t be considered valid. If I ever decide to repeat the experiment, first I’ll treat myself to a computer or tablet equipped solely with a word processing program—one that doesn’t connect to the Internet.

*This is a continuation of the saga I began last time, in the post dated August 10th. If you missed it, I recommend you read that one first so you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Real-life soap drama shatters idyllic writing retreat

Wellspring House. Photo by Julie Lomoe

Wellspring House. Photo by Julie Lomoe

“Wherever you go, there you are.” That’s the most significant lesson I brought home from my week at a writing retreat in the Berkshires the last week in July. You can change your surroundings, plop yourself down in an idyllic setting with maximal solitude and minimal distractions, but it’s fiendishly difficult to jettison your habitual ways of frittering away the hours you ought to be writing.

My husband had spent a couple of highly productive weeks at Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts, so I decided to give it a try. My goal: to get a good running start on Sunlight and Shadow, the second in my vampire soap opera series. In particular, I wanted to get inside the head of my heroine, Abigail Hastings. Hope Dawns Eternal, the first in the series, is told entirely from the point of view of the hero, Jonah McQuarry, who fears he’s being possessed by a vampire played by the actor Mark Westgate on a long-cancelled soap. This time, I plan to alternate between Abby’s and Jonah’s viewpoints, especially since that will give me more freedom to describe Jonah in more explicitly loving detail.

Michael Easton as John McBain

Michael Easton as John McBain

Wellspring is a beautifully restored, rambling old two-story house run by Preston Browning, a retired English professor. There are bedrooms for from eight to ten writers, each nostalgically furnished in New England bed-and-breakfast style, each with its own writing desk and chair. There’s no television, and the spotty cell phone service works only if you have Verizon, which I don’t, but they do have WiFi. A shared kitchen, but no set mealtimes, and you’re responsible for your own food.

The atmosphere is quasi-monastic. Talking isn’t forbidden, but people tend to speak in hushed voices, and if you encounter someone in the common areas, it’s perfectly okay not to speak. Since people spend most of the time in their rooms, presumably writing or confronting the reasons they can’t write, it’s possible to spend an entire day in silence.

Preston Browning, proprietor of Wellspring House

Preston Browning, proprietor of Wellspring House

I booked a five-night stay and arrived Monday evening, vowing to write at least 2,000 words per day. Only after a full day of successful writing would I allow myself to tap into the box of Almaden Pinot Grigio I’d brought along. But Monday was practically over and I was tired after my drive, so I decided to take the night off and get an early start on Tuesday.

I settled in with wine, cheese and crackers. I’d brought a few library books, so I cracked open Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. Next thing I knew, it was two in the morning—an all too common bedtime, I admit—so I slept till ten, then went out for a leisurely breakfast at Elmer’s, the restaurant down the street. Back in my room, I whiled away a couple more hours with Abe, rationalizing that the book counted as research into vampire lore. When I finally buckled down to work Tuesday afternoon, I was delighted to find myself back in the flow. Jonah and Abby were trading lustful glances and barbed witticisms in their favorite bar, and I was happily channeling their words as fast as I could type. I felt good about meeting my word count for the day.

Wednesday morning, I was still in the flow. Around noon, I decided to take a break and check my email. As usual, my inbox was dominated by Facebook notifications from the General Hospital fan groups I belong to. I clicked on one of the links and brought up my Facebook page. Within moments, I was clobbered by devastating news: Michael Easton, my favorite actor on General Hospital, was leaving the show, and Friday would probably be his last day. Although he’d signed a three-year contract renewal in March, the news didn’t come as a total shock. His character, Dr. Silas Clay, had been given increasingly crappy story lines, and recently, he’d barely been seen at all. But had he quit? Been fired? I surfed from one site to another, checked out all the soap gossip columns I could find, but nowhere could I find an explanation.

Michael as Dr. Silas Clay with Ava's baby, January 2015

Michael as Dr. Silas Clay with Ava’s baby, January 2015

This called for more than a cursory lunch break, so I headed to Elmer’s again. I ordered a  Chardonnay and silently toasted Michael, whereupon Wednesday morphed into an official day of mourning and goofing off. I hung out at the beach, did some leisurely swimming, showered and changed, then decided to dine at the Ashfield Lakehouse, a boisterous blue-collar pub. What the hell, this was hardly the time to count calories, let alone words. Their sandwich of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil pesto went fabulously with the house red wine. After dinner, I retreated to my room and lost myself in the memoir of a classical pianist who had been molested by her father until I drifted off to sleep.

Thursday I tried my best to write, but I never got back in the zone, never reentered that state of creative flow where the words spill onto the screen of their own accord. I kept clicking back to the web, searching for the rest of the story of Michael’s departure, trading conspiracy theories and wallowing in collective grief on the fan sites. Rumors were flying that Silas Clay would be murdered on Friday’s show. What choice did I have? I headed back to the Lakehouse for a repeat of that yummy mozzarella sandwich.

Ashfield Lakehouse. This is exactly where I was sitting when the rain started pouring down.

Ashfield Lakehouse. This is exactly where I was sitting when the rain started pouring down.

Although storm clouds were threatening, I chose a seat out on the deck overhanging the lake. I was midway through my mozzarella sandwich when a drenching downpour let loose. The waitress helped carry my stuff inside, where I found a seat at the bar. I was back to Abe the vampire hunter once more, trying not to drip cheesy grease onto the pages, when a man asked what I was reading. When I told him, he grinned and said, “I think Abraham Lincoln had an evil side. I have kind of an evil side myself.”

(to be continued)

Ashfield Lakehouse, where I took shelter from the storm at the bar.

Ashfield Lakehouse, where I took shelter from the storm at the bar.