Alison Armstrong and the Independent Creators Alliance FB group

alison-armstrong-with-michael-easton-roger-howarth-aug-2016

Roger Howarth, Alison Armstrong and Michael Easton last summer.

Alison Armstrong is a gifted author I met through online fan groups for Michael Easton, the General Hospital actor who inspired my vampire soap opera thriller Hope Dawns Eternal. Alison and I met in person at a GH fan event in New Jersey in 2014. This morning she’ll be meeting Michael and his GH buddy Roger Howarth at another event in New Jersey. Since I couldn’t afford the trip this time around, I sent Alison a copy of Hope Dawns Eternal in hopes that she can hand it to him directly, along with a letter and a couple of poems I hope he’ll enjoy.

Back on October 8, 2016, Alison and I both participated at an Indie Authors Day held at libraries nationwide. Soon after, at my request, she sent me the following post about the event:

Having attended an Indie Book Fair recently as an author, I learned some valuable information regarding marketing and distribution; however, the overall message of the advice left me feeling disheartened regarding the arbitrary standardization of the publishing industry and upset about the commoditization of the arts in general.  Instead of focusing on creativity and literary talent, the speakers at the book event emphasized orthodoxy in page design (justified text, avoidance of stylistic content-driven page and paragraph breaks, etc.) .

Although I support the importance of proper grammar and punctuation and feel that these aspects, along with originality in content, expression, and style, are essential in quality writing, I do not believe that standardization of font, margins, and other traditional publishing practices should be given such a high priority.  Nevertheless, despite the increasing numbers of indie authors, the publishing industry persists in perpetuating typographic conventions that are usually not used in Word or other common writing programs.  In so doing, the publishing industry imposes an arbitrary standard to differentiate between traditionally published and print-on-demand authors so that the “indie” writers may feel pressured into purchasing services to make their work appear more like traditional published materials, thereby making their work less independent, more restricted by financial concerns.   Along with the standardization of text format , book publishers seem to be promoting an increasingly conventional approach to cover design, resulting in a glut of covers featuring monotonously similar figurative clichés associated with the book’s genre,  such as the faceless torsos displayed like slabs of cosmetically enhanced meat on the covers of lurid romance novels.

The arts in general, especially in the United States, are generally viewed in a similar way as those hunky yet generic slabs of flesh, something to readily consume as entertainment or profit from.  Favoring the familiar, the already established, the tried and true moneymakers,  publishing companies, recording companies, and movie studios sign fewer new authors, musicians, and filmmakers.  The newbies and the “indies,” therefore, seek new ways of gaining exposure for their work.  However, as with the “indie” book fair example, even some resources and organizations presuming to work on behalf of the independent artists devalue certain aspects of individualistic expression.

Independent authors, musicians, artists and filmmakers represent a challenge to the financially-driven industries that struggle to maintain a monopoly on the arts by propagating lookalike, superficially pleasing but often substanceless clones. The literary renegades, such as William Burroughs and J. G. Ballard, the ravaged voices of Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith, these muses of rebellion and individuality epitomize the freedom, intensity, and expressive potential of the independent, creative spirit.  

Inspired by artists such as these, I have created the Independent Creators Alliance group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/269464480120915/ ). I invite creators in any of the arts to join in solidarity, supporting each other and the ideal of artistic freedom. I envision this group as a place to express our ideas regarding the arts and integrity to our vision while connecting with other creative people. It can be a place to network, brainstorm ideas, share sources of inspiration, and collaborate perhaps on projects. In these rather depressing times, we need the arts more than ever to heal the soul.

alison-armstrong-indie-book-fair-10-8-16

Alison Armstrong at Indie Book Fair last October.

Alison makes some provocative points that are deserving of further discussion. I’ve joined her Independent Creators Alliance group on Facebook, and I hope you will too. And by all means check out her books Revenance and Toxicosis, both available on Amazon. But don’t confuse her with the other Alison Armstrong, who writes books about how women can please and communicate better with men. That’s definitely the wrong Alison!

Hope Dawns Eternal makes The New York Times!

I’ve always been in awe of The New York Times, so it was thrilling to be interviewed by a Times reporter last Tuesday on New York’s primary day, and even more thrilling to find myself quoted in the next morning’s edition, and to discover that the reporter, Jesse McKinley, topped off his story with the title of my vampire soap opera novel, Hope Dawns Eternal. Here’s the poem I wrote to commemorate the occasion.

Hope Dawns in a Grungy Gun Club

Hope Dawns Eternal!

The New York Times, that great gray lady, gave me the last words

In the story “Voting at a Gun Club,”

Filed before the presidential primary was even over.

Inside, I’d traipsed the length of the grubby gray cinder-block building

At the Bailey Mountain Fish and Game Club,

Passed the yellowed illustrations of assorted guns,

Taped to the cheap pine paneled walls.

Passed the mounted deer heads, the sample ballots on collapsible tables,

Faced the row of portly aging men

Who smirked as I declared my party and signed the Democratic ledger.

They told me to remove the Women for Hillary button

Pinned to my dusty rose Old Navy fleece—no electioneering allowed

In this Inner Sanctum of democracy.

I blackened my chosen circles, fed my ballot into

The silvery maw of the machine,

Nostalgic for the heavy curtains, the leaden click of levers

Pushed down to reveal the red x’s of my choice.

 

When it was over, out in the sunlit clearing in the woods,

A blond young man in casual sports attire, reporter’s pad in hand,

Approached and asked if I could spare the time to talk.

Over his shoulder, a photographer snapped away

As I stumbled over half-baked opinions,

While my inner critic cursed my lack of originality,

Stringy hair and nearly nonexistent makeup.

 

When the questions wound down, I asked what paper he was with,

Thinking Schenectady or maybe Troy.

The New York Times, he said, in a near-apologetic mumble

Like the one I use when I say I’ve gone to Harvard and Columbia.

I told him of my father, managing editor of The Milwaukee Journal

Back in the fifties heyday of McCarthyism. He was suitably impressed.

Almost as an afterthought, I told him I was a novelist,

Rummaged in my purse, handed him a postcard for Hope Dawns Eternal,

My vampire soap opera novel.

 

That night I binged on TV primary returns, rejoiced for Hillary.

Woke Wednesday morning, guardedly hopeful,

But dubious I’d made the cut. He’d no doubt talked to lots of people,

And I’d said nothing especially quote-worthy,

Let alone worthy of The New York Times.

My ever tech-savvy husband grabbed his cell,

Googled my name and news, and said, “You made it.”

I commandeered the phone, scrolled down,

And there I was at the very end of the article,

Sounding surprisingly articulate.

When I reached the last lines, I shrieked:

“An amateur novelist, she pressed a pamphlet

For her vampire novel into a reporter’s hand.

Its title: Hope Dawns Eternal.”

 

He chose it as a closing metaphor, I’m sure,

But to me, such synchronicity feels like a blessing.

I’m not big on higher powers,

But maybe something somewhere is looking out for me

And success is in the stars.

Of course I’ll have to work my butt off,

But I can legitimately say,

“As featured in The New York Times.”

My parents, with their lost, unpublished novels,

Would be proud.

I premiered the poem yesterday at my women writers group and last night at POETS SPEAK LOUD, a monthly open mic at McGeary’s Tavern in Albany, where I was featured poet. I got a warm reception both times, and I hope you’ll enjoy it too, regardless of your political persuasion.

Here’s a direct link to the New York Times article:

http://www.nytimes.com/live/new-york-primary-2016/at-a-gun-club/

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00069]

Congratulations to my contest winners! Free books for the best guesses about Michael Easton’s new character

Michael E with baby and red phone 1-27-15

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

Hallelujah! It’s official: Michael Easton will soon be back on General Hospital. I had Friday, March 18, highlighted on my phone’s calendar, complete with a celebratory rainbow. But ABC preempted GH for Nancy Reagan’s funeral, so today’s episode won’t air till Monday. That means Michael will reappear on Monday, March 21, the first full day of spring. That feels somehow more auspicious than the day after St. Patrick’s Day.

michael-easton & Frank Valentini grocery promo

Valentini and Easton in the video promo of a “chance encounter” announcing Michael’s return

According to Executive Producer Frank Valentini, Michael will once again be playing a doctor, and not any of his previous Port Charles roles. “He will be very different from anyone else Michael has played,” Valentini said in the March 14th issue of Soap Opera Digest. “But at the heart of it, you still have this amazing actor who is really loved by the fans and loved by the cast and crew on General Hospital.” 

Now that the news is official, my contest is officially over.

No one guessed that Michael would be coming back as a doctor, but I’m awarding copies of my vampire soap opera novel Hope Dawns Eternal to the two fans with the best entries:

RYAN CARPENTER wins for the entry with the most knowledge of the show’s history. He guessed Michael would return as the villainous Valentin Cassadine, who’s been referenced several times on GH since the 1980’s, but who’s never actually made an appearance.

LOIS TROUTMAN wins for most creative guess. She thought Michael would return as the head of the shadowy WSB organization, which is involved in all sorts of international intrigue, but she also deserves a shout-out for her many valuable contributions to Michael’s enormous and dedicated online fan community.

I was blindsided by the news that Michael would return as a doctor, although that had been my first guess. Especially after the departure of Jason Thompson, who had played Dr. Patrick Drake, many of the soap’s followers commented that for a show supposedly centered on a hospital, there weren’t nearly enough doctors. I thought Michael might return as a long-lost or previously unknown brother of Silas Clay. After all, Silas already had a twin brother, the evil rock star and serial killer Stephen Clay, who had entertained the delusion that he was a vampire. It wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch to create another doctor and make the siblings triplets.

GH mattcohen_Dr. Griffin Munro

Matt Cohen, aka Dr. Griffin Munro

But I abandoned that theory when Dr. Griffin Munro, a brilliant neurosurgeon, made his entrance in February. Played by the actor Matt Cohen, he’s a hunky guy with dark hair, gorgeous blue eyes and serious film and TV credits—a major contender in the heart throb department. They also introduced Dr. Matthew Mayes, an older, curmudgeonly doctor with a nonexistent bedside manner. He’s played by Matt Riedy, another actor with extensive experience in film and TV. Google him and you’ll discover he’s also a serious body builder, though his face looks much older than his body, to an extent that I first thought they’d photo shopped two different people together. Perhaps somewhere down the road he’ll get to bare his torso as the love interest of one of the more mature actresses, but I’m not holding my breath.

GH Dr. Matthew Mayes Matt Riedy

Matt Riedy, aka Dr. Matthew Mayes

 

So I thought they had the doctors covered, but apparently not. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with Michael’s character. In an interview in the same Soaps in Depth, Michael was candid about his stint as Silas Clay, a character created after, for legal reasons, he could no longer play John McBain: “I felt like I didn’t have a place, really. There was not much of a point to it.” He thought long and hard about coming back, but now he says, “I feel inspired, more inspired than I’ve felt in years. It’s a new start. I’ve forgotten the other character. . . . there’s an energy that I feel in it that didn’t exist with the Silas character, where I felt like I was just hanging on from day to day. . . .and most of it was just to push another character’s story line along.”

Michael Easton as Silasclay

Michael Easton as Dr. Silas Clay

 

Ever the gentleman, Michael refrains from criticizing—or even mentioning—the former head writer Ron Carlivati, who probably had a hand in his firing and was then fired himself, but the interview, along with Valentini’s, offers a remarkably candid perspective on the interpersonal politics that play out offscreen.

So once again, congratulations to Ryan Carpenter and Lois Troutman. I’ll be mailing you autographed copies of Hope Dawns Eternal, and like thousands of others, I’ll be counting down the ten days until Michael Easton appears in a new incarnation on the first day of spring.

 

 

 

 

 

Who will Michael Easton play when he’s back on General Hospital? Win a free book if you guess right.

 

Michael Easton as John McBain

Hallelujah! Michael Easton will be returning to General Hospital in the very near future, it was announced last week. The chat rooms and fan sites are abuzz with speculation about what role he’ll play, but ABC hasn’t yet leaked any details. I’m sure they’ll string out the suspense throughout February Sweeps Month, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

I’m giving away three first-edition copies of Hope Dawns Eternal!

In the meantime, I’m running a contest and giving away three signed first-edition copies of my vampire soap opera thriller Hope Dawns Eternal to fans who send me their best guesses as to what character Michael will play. Here are the categories:

  • Most imaginative and outrageous
  • Best entry based on knowledge of Michael’s history on General Hospital and other ABC soaps
  • Most accurate guess before the new character is revealed

Caleb Morley

Like the rest of you, I’m clueless as to when the big reveal will take place. It could be any day now, so get your entries in ASAP. I’ll run the contest until the new character is revealed in full, either on screen or in advance publicity or leaks. I’m guessing ABC will keep the secret as long as possible in hopes of a big reveal, but if the news is leaked early, I may close the contest at that point. After all, as author of this blog, I’m the sole judge and jury, as well as the rule maker. Gossip sites and random speculations on various quasi-official sites won’t count; the news has to come from ABC itself.

There are three ways to submit your entries:

  • Comments on this blog
  • E-mails to my personal account julielomoe@gmail.com
  • Snail mail to: Julie Lomoe, Norse Crone Press, P.O. Box 363, Wynantskill, NY 12198

Of course I’d love it if you buy Hope Dawns Eternal now, without waiting to see if you’re a winner. You can read the preface and first chapter right here on this blog. It’s available in paperback from Amazon, as well as on Kindle and in other eBook formats.

Let the games begin!

GH Fantasy Michael Easton

Me and Michael Easton at Fan Fantasy day, April 2014

 

GENERAL HOSPITAL: Women writers break the balls of their big male stars

Is General Hospital terminally ill? Should the venerable soap be put out of its misery once and for all? After more than 50

Jean Passanante & Shelly Altman

Jean Passanante & Shelly Altman

years, perhaps it’s finally time to ring down the curtain for good. After a week of watching episodes credited to the new head writers Jean Passanante and Shelly Altman, I’m finding it virtually unwatchable, and I’m willing to bet thousands of other fans are feeling the same.

Ron Carlivati, the former head writer, was fired in late July, and the arrival of the two veterans of other soaps was announced with much fanfare. But the real-time arc of soap opera storytelling plays out months ahead, so Carlivati still got the onscreen head writer credit until a week ago, when Passanante and Altman’s names appeared in his place. But even if I hadn’t noticed the credits, I’d have known that something had gone grievously wrong.

Ron with the traitorous Jean

Ron with the traitorous Jean

First I noticed the increase in romantic scenes. The new writers have been quoted, most recently in the October 26th ABC Soaps in Depth, as saying they want to give viewers, in Passanante’s words, “a show that is character-centered and emotion-driven. That is our first aim….Whenever we talk about story, we ask ourselves ‘What are the romantic stakes?’ Where is [sic] the yearning and love and romance.”

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not against romance. There’s plenty of it in my vampire soap opera thriller, Hope Dawns Eternal, and I pay my dues to the Romance Writers of America. But suddenly characters are speaking in trite, saccharine clichés that don’t even sound like the characters we thought we knew. Saying those lines must make all those talented actors want to puke. Even the background music is more syrupy.

Julian flaunts it for Alexis

Julian flaunts it for Alexis

There are more lingering kisses and shots of men’s bare torsos. Again, nothing wrong with that, but I hope the presence of six-pack abs won’t become the determining factor when they hire new actors. Then again, maybe it already is. Take William DeVry, who plays Julian Jerome. His scene with Nancy Lee Grahn as Alexis, playing footsie and sipping champagne in a big bathtub, was pretty hot, and I like the fact that they’re both 40-something. But the fact that the top five actors in the latest reader’s poll all flaunt their bare-chested physiques on a regular basis somehow unnerves me. Personally, I’d rather the cameras focus on interesting faces—like Michael Easton’s for example. But oops, that’s not going to happen—they killed off his character, Silas Clay, the same week they fired Ron Carlivati.*

But what I found most unsettling this past week was that three of the most popular romantic male leads—all of them in the aforementioned top five—had spectacular meltdowns and made stupid decisions that went totally against character. Then in the same episodes, they calmed down and did rapid turn-arounds that made no sense either.

First there was Billy Miller, aka Jake/Jason, becoming visibly agitated and impatient in his frustration over a missing DNA GH billy-miller-shirtless-general-hospital-ABCstest. His character, nicknamed “Stone Cold” in his previous incarnation, would never have blown his cool like this, then decided it wasn’t important and taken to bed with the evil Elizabeth.

Then there was William DeVry’s Julian Jerome. Learning that the baby he’d fathered with Olivia wasn’t dead after all but was alive and well and living nearby, he went charging off to reclaim the baby through brute force, although Alexis tried her best to convince him the best way to get custody or at least visitation rights was to act calm and collected and pursue the case through legal means. But no, he went charging off to confront the mother, babe in arms, and snatch the baby away. Others managed to talk him down, and by the end of the episode, he and Olivia were chatting amiably about how they could share in parenting after all.

But the most egregious folly was that of Maurice Benard’s Sonny Corinthos. Still hospitalized and bedridden after a shootingMaurice Benard as Sonny that left him at death’s door, convinced he’d become totally powerless, he insisted on going home against medical advice and convinced his son Morgan** to smuggle him out in a wheelchair. When his wife Carly intercepted them, Sonny pushed himself up from the chair and promptly fell flat on the floor in a classic pratfall. Once resettled in bed, after an off-screen conference with Carly, he did a total 180° and docilely agreed to chill out and follow doctor’s orders after all.

If these total turn-arounds in the span of a few minutes are what the new head writers mean by character-driven plotting, General Hospital is in deep doodoo. Such major transformations take time, and maybe months of therapy. (Where’s Dr. Kevin Collins when we need him?) In the examples above, it’s as if the women in these guys’ lives waved a magic wand, and voila! Men who’d been acting like raging bulls were instantly brought into submission. The new women head writers may give lip service to romance, but beneath the surface, perhaps they’re man-haters at heart, making their most powerful and sympathetic male leads into out-of-control idiots, then having the women break their balls and whip them into docility.

Me and Michael Easton at Fan Fantasy day, April 2014

Me and Michael Easton at Fan Fantasy day, April 2014

Do I sound bitter? Unlike many fans, I didn’t swear off GH forever when they fired Michael Easton, but I may not be watching much longer—more and more, the show’s an insult to my intelligence. Does anyone out there agree? I’d love to hear your comments, both pro and con. And I’d love it even more if you buy my vampire soap opera thriller, Hope Dawns Eternal. You can read the prologue and first chapter right here on this blog, and I guarantee you’ll find it more entertaining.

*The murder of Michael Easton’s character may have been one of the factors that led to Carlivati’s firing, but the true story has never come out, and Michael’s been unfailingly gracious in his comments after he was let go. His millions of fans have been public in their outrage, however.

**Speaking of Morgan, I wonder what the new writers will do with the theme of his possibly being bipolar, which I blogged about a few posts back? I’m willing to bet they’ll drop it completely.

UPDATE, OCTOBER 28 – MEA CULPA (sort of)

Lots of GH fans took offense to the blog above and/or the way I described and linked to it on a Facebook post. Let me clarify: in no way do I want General Hospital to be cancelled. I still watch it daily, and I still like many of the actors. I hope the new writers prove me wrong, and they deserve time to settle in and hit their stride. Perhaps I was feeling particularly cranky when I wrote the above post. Nonetheless I stand by what I said and defend my right to say it!

Great new blurbs and a poetic rant

My new author photo by Shannon DeCelle

My new author photo by Shannon DeCelle

Here’s the new back cover copy for Hope Dawns Eternal. I’m reformatting the interior to increase the size of the font and width of the margins. That results in more pages, which requires adjusting the cover as well. While it’s being tweaked, I decided to add an author photograph and some review quotes as well. Since some of my blog readers may not know what the book’s about, this will give you a good idea. I hope you’ll order it on Amazon, either in print or on Kindle.

It’s hard blowing my own horn, and I hate it when people come up with excuses for not buying my book. I wrote a poem about it which I read at “Poets Speak Loud,” the monthly open mic at McGeary’s in Albany hosted by Mary Panza. I thought of posting it on my blog but decided it was too vitriolic to float around the Internet in its entirety. But if you’re curious, below the book description, I’m including a censored version.

CAN SOAP STARS LIVE FOREVER? IF THEY’RE VAMPIRES, ANYTHING’S POSSIBLE.

“A fascinating twist on the vampire romance theme takes you on the set and behind the scenes in the world of soap operas. This well-crafted page turner was hard to put down.”

—Robb Smith, author of Granny Porn 

“Lomoe’s witty, playful and thrilling novel, like the daytime dramas it depicts, entangles its characters in a mysterious web of murder and passion. Fans of soaps and the supernatural should be captivated by this fast-paced read.”

—Alison Armstrong, author of Revenance

Jonah McQuarry is the new cop in town on the soap opera Sunlight and Shadow. Tall and slender, with dark good looks and Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00069]blazing blue eyes, he has millions of fans thanks to his years on Hope Dawns Eternal, so the showrunners bring him along when the QMA network cancels Hope and replaces it with Brand New You, a self-help reality show. When he meets the raven-haired beauty Abby Hastings, he suspects he knew her when the actor who plays him was a vampire on a long-defunct soap and she was his leading lady.

When the host of Brand New You turns up dead and drained of blood, Jonah becomes a prime suspect. Even worse, he begins to suspect himself. Could Mark Westgate, the actor who plays him, be suffering from dissociative identity disorder, and could Jonah truly be a vampire?

Watch for the sequel, Sunlight and Shadow, coming in 2016.

Reading at Poets Speak Loud at McGeary's

Reading at Poets Speak Loud at McGeary’s

Okay, now here’s my shadow side, coming out in an expurgated version of the poem I read at Poets Speak Loud. No words have been altered but some content has been deleted because I don’t want to identify or diss the people involved.

THE ANGRY AUTHOR

“Julie, if you mention your new book one more time,

I’m going to walk away whenever I see you coming.”

Thus spake a respected elder of our church,

In front of a dozen others. Raised an obedient girl,

I followed orders and stayed mum thereafter

^&*($* Bragging’s bad, and so is pushiness.

Just ask poor Hillary, being pilloried for strengths more seemly in a man.

My &*()%$ group’s no better. &*(#& they meet

To coffee klatch and tell each other how great their writing is,

&*()#% You think they’ll buy my book?

Maybe a couple will, if I beg and wheedle, swallow my pride

And gulp down bile and anger, all for a measly ten bucks, plus

Palpitations and dangerously spiking blood pressure.

Hand selling, they call it—I call it shit. I’d rather dirty my hands

My dog Sirius, who stars in Hope Dawns Eternal

My dog Sirius, who stars in Hope Dawns Eternal

With poop when I scoop my dog’s turds on our morning walks.

Compared to the stench of personal rejection, his shit smells sweet.

Besides, he gives me unconditional love.

Then there’s the Internet, Facebook and the fan groups

That count me as a member, showing just how low they’ll go

But bristling if I try to guide them to my blog. I know they’d love my book,

But blatant self-promotion’s frowned upon, could even get me banned.

The moderators issue dicty warnings—one more transgression,

One more step over the invisible line in the cloud,

And I’ll be forever blackballed.

And what about the friend I asked for a review, at least a measly quote.

“I’ll blurb your book,” I said, “if you blurb mine. A win-win for us both.”

She’d read it but turned me down, claimed she had nothing to say.

^&*(%#@*%^&*

And all the friends and relatives, with all their lame excuses:

“I just don’t have time to read anymore.”

“I’ve got too many books already.”

“I still haven’t read your last one.”

“I don’t like vampires.”

HOPE DAWNS ETERNAL: it’s yours for a measly ten or eleven dollars,

The same as a half-way decent glass of wine, and I could really use the money,

Though it’s beneath my dignity to admit it.

F*(% you, I want to scream. You crappy tightwad! You lousy piece of shit!

Instead I smile politely, paw through my purse for another Tum

And turn away before I trash what used to seem like friendship.

What happens to all this anger? Strangely enough, I find it energizing,

higher up the tone scale than depression,

the deadly black hole that could really do me in.

I’ll channel it into SUNLIGHT AND SHADOW,

the next in my vampire soap opera series.

Hmm, whose blood should I drain first?

Writers, can you identify with this rant? Readers, have I totally turned you off? I’d love to read your comments.

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.

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