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!

Michael Easton’s mysterious doctor Hamilton Finn

Michael Easton as Finn shooting up 4-8-16

Michael Easton as Hannibal Finn

It’s been two weeks since Michael Easton returned to General Hospital as the mysterious doctor Hamilton Finn—three episodes per week, for a grand total of six, and in half of them he’s been shown shooting up with some mysterious substance from a gigantic syringe. We don’t yet know the contents, but the phases he goes through from craving to semi-stoned satisfaction give him a wonderful opportunity to show off his acting chops, something he couldn’t do as the tightly controlled John McBain and Silas Clay.

Like most fans, I don’t believe he’s shooting up an illicit drug, at least not of the opioid variety, but it could well be something experimental he brought back from his travels in Australia and heaven knows where else, perhaps something derived from his “service lizard,” the bearded dragon Roxy that he’s keeping caged at the Metrocourt hotel.* He’s probably self-medicating in hopes of curing some exotic, potentially fatal disease.

michael-easton-hamilton-finn-lizard

Finn with his “service lizard,” the bearded dragon Roxy.

Fans are loving this latest reincarnation of Michael’s. He’s edgy, temperamental, quick to anger, with a sardonic sense of humor. Friday’s scene, when he was cajoling and shouting at Tracy to wake up following her brain surgery, was marvelous—she may have been near-comatose, virtually at death’s door, but how could she resist such a gorgeous doctor luring her back to life?

For me, this is by far the most fascinating character Michael has played since the late lamented vampire Caleb Morley on Port Charles. He’s already inspiring me to plunge back into Sunlight and Shadow, the sequel to my vampire soap opera novel Hope Dawns Eternal. My enthusiasm had flagged since they killed off Silas Clay last July 31st, which happened to be my birthday. But I’m eager to get back into the adventures of my Jonah McQuarry character, who’s just beginning to embrace his true identity as a vampire, and his lady love Abigail Hastings, who’s hiding more secrets than he can possibly imagine.

What are your theories about Dr. Hannibal Finn? Who is he, really? Why does he want to stay in Port Charles, and what characters will he become involved with? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if through his “service lizard,” he’s seeking a magical elixir that will give him eternal life? Then he’d be sure to stick around awhile.

Michael Easton as Finn brooding 4-8-16

*Thanks to Alison Armstrong for researching bearded dragons and posting an article from an Australian museum that states: “Recent research has indicated that Bearded Dragons possess primitive venom glands, the use of venom in dragon lizards is not yet understood, however a bite from this species should pose no long-term ill effect. The bite site should be cleaned with a mild disinfectant, as with any animal bite.” They rarely bite, however, but they do puff up their bodies, including the “beards” under their jaws, to appear more formidable to potential aggressors.

Please visit me at http://www.Amazon.com. Just type Julie Lomoe into the search box and all three of my books will come up: Hope Dawns Eternal, Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders, and Eldercide. I could really use some sales!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

General Hospital’s new writers pass probation with flying colors

Author’s note: I wrote this blog post nearly two weeks ago, and I procrastinated about posting it. So much has happened since then—especially the announcement that Michael Easton will be back soon—that I considered revising and updating it, but I decided to leave it as is and then post a new one in the next couple of days. Please subscribe so that you won’t miss any updates. I’ll be running a contest, too!

GH Passanante & Altman

Jean Passanante & Shelly Altman

It’s been over three months since the work of the new regime has been in evidence on General Hospital. The new head writers, Jean Passanante and Shelly Altman, came on board last August after the firing of Ron Carlivati, but it wasn’t until mid-October that the fruits of their labors were on display. I was dubious at first, but it’s time for a three-month evaluation, and I believe they’ve passed their probationary period with flying colors.

News of Carlivati’s firing preceded the killing of Michael Easton’s character, Silas Clay, by only a few days. Like many of Michael’s fans, I was devastated,* and debated whether to swear off watching the soap forever, but ultimately I couldn’t shake the GH habit, and I’m glad I hung in there. No watershed moment marked the transition—it would have been uncomfortably jarring if it did—but gradually the changes became apparent.

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

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

 

First and foremost, romance and relationships took on more importance. Were there more steamy bedroom scenes? Were they longer, with more bare skin on display? I’m not sure, because I don’t keep count of such things, but it seemed so. The romantic dialogue sometimes seemed too saccharine and clichéd, but I didn’t mind; in fact I rather enjoyed it.

The most positive change: story lines began moving more quickly, with more action. The when-will-Jake-remember-he’s-Jason saga dragged on far too long, but the writers inherited that problem from the previous regime, and they’ve speeded things up a bit.

Heroes have become villains, and vice versa. On fan sites, many viewers bemoan the fact that Nikolas, who used to be a virtual as well as titular prince, seems to have gone over to the dark side. But they’re especially incensed at the impending break-up of Dante and Lulu Falconieri, who seemed like the ideally married golden couple until Lulu’s cousin Valerie arrived in town. Lulu became a lying, conniving bitch who drove Dante into Valerie’s arms, much to the disgust of fans who’d like to see Dante and Lulu reunited.

Maurice Benard as Sonny

Perhaps the biggest transformation is that of the mob boss Sonny Corinthos. Wheelchair-bound after a near-fatal shooting that left him unable to walk, he’s sounding more and more like a New Age guru, spouting nuggets of wisdom like “The quickest way to lose is to refuse to try.” I wrote down that quote verbatim from a recent episode, when he was dispensing advice to his son Michael.

Sonny’s full of advice for all three of his sons, including Morgan, who’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, like Sonny himself. I blogged about this development back in August, when the subject was introduced with sensitivity and understanding. For a while it looked as if the new writers were going to abandon this story line, but they’ve brought it back to the forefront. Morgan doesn’t like the flat way his new medications are making him feel, and Sonny’s giving him excellent advice, hard won from his own experiences, about the dire consequences of going off his meds. General Hospital is providing a valuable public service in disseminating essential information about this diagnosis, which the media so often links to horrendous crimes.**

(To be continued with updates)

*The reasons behind Michael Easton’s firing remain mysterious. In online comments, he’s said it came as a total shock, but he’s been unfailingly diplomatic and gentlemanly about his departure. He’s not burning any bridges, because who knows, he might decide to return some day, though I’d prefer to see him move on to bigger and better things.

GH Fantasy Michael Easton

Me and Michael Easton at Fan Fantasy day, April 2014

 

**Speaking of bipolar disorder, I recently republished my novel Mood Swing:The Bipolar Murders. It’s now available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback versions. You can read more about it elsewhere on this blog. Please check it out. Better yet, please buy it!

 

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!

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.

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