Are You a Fan of Serialized Fiction?

Game of Thrones

Be it via novel, movie or TV, I am a big fan of series. Words like book one or episode one make my heart beat faster. I love the way the series format allows character arcs to develop over time. I gain emotional satisfaction from the breadth and depth and incredible scope. And I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings. Consider the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. And few will fault the creators of the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars movies. Well, at least not in my hearing!

Star Wars

As a novelist writing a series with multiple view-points and a large and vibrant cast, I sometimes face censor for the dearth of characters (all with their own unique stories) for the reader to keep track of. But when I look out into the world of serialized storytelling across delivery mode, I see a great hunger for the detail rich, character heavy saga type of story that I’m writing. 

Twitter Banner 3

To illustrate this view, a reader emailed me the other day to tell me how much she loved Disappearing in Plain Sight. These are her words:

Your character development is excellent and your storyline complex but completely believable! You are quite the writer in keeping the climax climbing a very long time but you sure tie things up in quiet a bow!

Many thanks! That is exactly what I am trying to do.

Conn Iggulden War of the Roses

I’ve just finished Conn Iggulden’s War of the Roses series. Though he may play loose with historical time lines and break the head-hopping point-of-view rule, his books are amazing. Just darn good storytelling. Kudos as well to Phillipa Gregory’s books written from the viewpoint of the female characters who lived during the War of Roses and the Tudor era. I’ve read and loved them all.

I’m not a slave to genre. I’m in for any book, movie or TV series that demonstrates good character development. As the characters gain awareness, so do I.

Jack Reacher

I’ve read all the Jack Reacher novels and am in awe of Child’s ability to keep me coming back for more. He doles out the details of Reacher’s life at just the right titrated levels. I felt the same about Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books. I’ve sat in rapt attention watching Game of Thrones as I did with Firefly or Stranger Things or CBC’s Heartland.


Even a character like Groot in the Guardian of the Galaxy movies has room for growth and thus something important to teach.


How do you feel about serialized fiction? Are you up for investing hours in either reading or viewing instalment after instalment, following characters new and old through the breadth and depth of their life experience? Let me know and tell me about your favourites.

Before I Fall – A Movie that Makes You Think

Before I Fall movie poster

Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch) seems to have it all: popularity, a loving boyfriend (Kian Lawley) and a seemingly perfect future. Everything changes in the blink of an eye when she dies in a car crash but then magically wakes up to find herself reliving the same day over and over again. As Samantha tries to untangle the mystery of a life derailed, she must also unravel the secrets of the people closest to her and discover how the power of a single day can make a difference.

I don’t see many movies, let alone a new release! Stop the presses. My daughter and I found ourselves with time to spare last night. I wasn’t so tired I had to flop in bed at 9:30. This movie was cued up and ready to go. The first twenty minutes of viewing, before the dramatic scene that sets the stage for the plot to unfold, are pure slogging. The viewer will almost wish something bad happens to the main character and her friends. They give a new meaning to the expression ‘mean girls’.

Once Samantha has died and is thrust into a purgatory of reliving her last day on earth over and over, the movie gets interesting. The blurb summarizes nicely – discoveries are made, past behaviours are examined and a variety of denial mechanisms are brought into play. But ultimately, Samantha is forced to recognize her culpability in setting a terrible chain of events in motion.

The twofold message of this movie is a great one for young and old alike. The plot aptly demonstrates how, with one tentative step after another – no choice earth shattering or worthy of pondering in and of itself – a person can end up on a path never planned for or anticipated. Even more important is the belief we all have that there will be endless time to get things right. We brush off behaviour that is petty, or mean or selfish. We know we’re better than that and we’re sure we’ll make it right in the future. But what happens if our time runs out? On any given day, are we ready to leave this life behind?

Samantha discovers that living one day fully with not a single regret is all the preparation needed to make the ultimate sacrifice and leave this world knowing she made a difference.

See Before I Fall with the young people in your life. Talk about the message. This movie will make you think.

Facebook: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Clint Eastwood - Google images

I’ve been on Facebook for years and I must say, it’s definitely a mixed bag when it comes to enjoyment. Here are a few of the types of posts that get my proverbial goat:

Facebook adHow to write a book in a weekend and turn it into an Amazon bestseller – oh come on! Give me a break, Facebook Sponsored Ad. Why not just reach through my computer and slap me in the face.

Candy Crush logo

Invitations to play Candy Crush – leave me alone, please. I am not a fan of that deep, nightmare voice that says, “Yummy” all the time.

Diary with lock - Google imageAnything to do with anyone’s sexual desires – especially if it involves firefighters. People, people – think! Social media is not the same as that chunky diary you used to have with the little lock and key that you hid under your mattress.


Cheesecake photos of any guy without his shirt off – unless of course you know this guy personally and let’s face it, most of those guys we wouldn’t even ask to take their shirts off let alone put their pic up on Facebook.

Large happy face - google images     Large sad face - Google images

You’re on top of the moon happy one day and angrier, sadder, or madder than you’ve ever been in your life the next – and all over the same person or event. Unless of course you are newly fallen in love, planning a wedding or any other major event, pregnant, a new mom or dad, nursing, experiencing a major life transition, the partner of a recently retired person, on holidays, starting a new job, in school of any kind, decreasing your food intake for some reason, just starting an exercise regime, having to clean your room, house, car, motorhome, or clearly diagnosed with a mental illness of some sort.

I’ll take in stride all the pictures of your cat (or dog) doing cute (or at least you thought so at the time!) things, the monthly shots of your extending pregnant stomach, pictures of what you ate for lunch, endless inspirational quotes, links to so-so YouTube videos and a whole lot more of the minutia of everyday life.

And you know why? Because here are the things I love about Facebook:

Matt's birthday

Photos of you and your family or friends doing interesting things. (Oh, heck – even not so interesting things.) Happy Birthday, Matt! (Don’t get me wrong, I loved this one!)

Prairies - Bruce Witzel photo

Photos of beautiful places and things – I know, I know . . . beauty is in the eye of the beholder but still . . .

Updates that tell me something neat about you, your family, friends or events.

Announcements about cool things happening in your community.

Links to articles, blogs and videos that you found valuable for whatever reason.

Oh crap . . .

Funny cartoons.

Great recipes. I found one the other day for watermelon and feta cheese salad. Delicious.

Leonardo - Guenette photo

I’m off now to post a photo of our old cat, Leonardo. He’s gone now but was cute in the day. That counts, right? Please let me know how you define the good, the bad and the ugly of Facebook.

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?


Frozen movie coverMy granddaughters are crazy about the latest Disney movie, Frozen. On my recent visit, I got to watch the show, along with them, several times. Children do enjoy repetition. Frozen is, without a doubt, a Disney masterpiece with appealing characters, a heart wrenching storyline, breathtaking visuals, and award winning music. I defy you not to tear up when an act of self-sacrificing love saves the day – and not your typical Disney love moment when Prince Charming’s kiss awakens Sleeping Beauty. This is an act of love and sacrifice of one sister for another.

The story is loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Snow Queen.  If you are familiar at all with the original, you will take the word loosely to mean hardly recognizable. But therein lies the genius of Disney – take an idea and spin it widely in a commercial vein that will find traction far and wide. There is the question of marketing to consider – dolls, books, figurines, costumes, games, DVD’s, and CD’s. The wise consumer knows the movie is just one long commercial for the merchandise. And yet, there is entertainment value and lessons to be learnt.

ElsaIn the Disney version, Elsa (the oldest daughter of the King and Queen of Arendelle) has been born with a gift – she can create snow with the twirl of a hand, freeze the ground with the stamp of her foot.

Her younger sister, Anna, is delighted at Elsa’s ability and the two little Anna and Elsasisters run wild through the castle building snowmen and playing in wintery landscapes created by Elsa. Until one day when Anna is accidently struck in the head by a potent blast of Elsa’s freezing power and needs to be rushed to the wise troll king to be healed. He makes a foreshadowing statement – fortunately it was the young girl’s head. Heads are easily changed. If it had been her heart, that would be a different story. A frozen heart is most always fatal. The troll king erases all memory of Elsa’s magic from Anna’s mind. He warns Elsa that her gift will only grow stronger and, while it can possess great beauty, it also contains great danger.

As is often the case in Disney movies, parents are not especially helpful. Elsa’s parents choose to isolate the poor girl, keeping her from her sister and the world. She is taught to hide and control her secret – conceal it, don’t feel it. Elsa’s emotions turn to ice as she learns to suppress her power. Eventually, in another true Disney twist, the parents are suddenly knocked off. Elsa finds herself in charge of the kingdom. Coronation Day brings Hans and AnnaElsa and Anna back together with icy fireworks as Anna announces she will marry Prince Hans after knowing him only one day. Isolation has had a negative effect on Anna as well – too ready to fall in love with the first person who shows her any attention at all. Elsa refuses her blessing on the marriage and ends up revealing her freezing power as she tries to fend off Anna’s objections. Elsa escapes to the mountains to create an ice palace where she can finally be herself – let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered her anyway. She rules over a frozen wasteland. Unbeknownst to Elsa, her freezing spree spread beyond her mountain palace – she has frozen all of Arendelle, as well. Anna goes after her sister, confident that she can convince Elsa to reverse her actions. A wild adventure ensues where good guys become bad guys, a comedic/philosopher snowman named Olaf comes to life and both Anna and Elsa must confront the women they have grown to be.


My enjoyment of the movie comes from watching how granddaughters, Emma and Brit react to the story. They have quickly learned the actions and lyrics for the most popular songs and with their Elsa and Anna dolls in hand, act out and sing their way through the movie. At five-and-half-years-old, Emma is able to unwind the more emotional aspects of the story. She tells me, “Grandma, this part makes me want to cry.” Yes indeed.

Two-and-a-half-year-old, Brit will run up to Emma with her Anna doll outstretched and ask, “Wanna build a snowman?” She sits on the floor and shakes her little head, singing, “Use to be best buddies, now we’re not. Wish you tell me why.” Emma holds up her Elsa doll and says, “Go away, Anna.” Brit slumps and turns, saying in a mournful voice, “Okay, bye.” If you haven’t seen the movie, pop over and watch the first minute of this You-Tube video. You’ll understand exactly what I’m describing.

Emma knows all Elsa’s words and actions for the wildly popular hit tune, Let it Go. As I watch her performance, I am struck by wonder at the facial expressions and body movements. Emma, a savvy, computer-literate, little girl, pulls up You-Tubes of each song from the movie as well as a host of videos of other kids performing the numbers – some of these are quite elaborate with soundtracks, voice overs and costumes. There is more than enough material available at the click of a mouse to fuel her desire to imitate.

Why should adults watch Disney movies with kids? We get to tease out what lies below the surface – under the ice, so to speak. In the final moments of the movie, it’s easy to miss the fact that Anna turned away from what she thinks will save her (true love’s first kiss from Sven) to save her sister from the sword of good guy turned bad, Hans. The act of love is Anna’s and that is what unfreezes her heart. It wasn’t anything anyone else could do for her. And through Anna’s actions, Elsa learns the secret of her icy gift. As the troll king said, fear was her enemy. Gifts of great power are controlled only through love, never fear.

frozen Anna

I am left thinking, what a mixed bag children’s entertainment is these days. There are valuable messages in Frozen that a wise adult can pull out and emphasize. Who wouldn’t want to play on the theme of the love of one sister for another when dealing with two sisters? And love healing all – wonderful stuff. I wasn’t above making a big deal over the fact that Anna didn’t need true love’s first kiss to get the job done.

So, are Disney movies turning a feminist page? I love this You-Tube Emma showed me of Elsa leading the other Disney Princesses in the song, I Don’t Need a Man. But, lest we toot a congratulatory horn too loud here, all the Disney Princesses are still an animated version of female beauty impossible to achieve, and though Elsa may have escaped the need for a guy, Anna is obviously headed for romance with Sven. But you do get the idea she will be calling the shots. After all, she is a Princess and he is the ice block supplier to the kingdom. Quite the disparity in social position.

If you have a young daughter or son, granddaughter or grandson, niece or nephew, sit down and watch Frozen with them. You won’t regret the time spent ferreting out the teachable moments and you’ll probably find yourself breathless, tears in your eyes, waiting for a miracle – just like the child beside you.

DSC_0348     Anna and Elsa

(All  animated pictures courtesy of Disney promotional material on Google images)

The Value of Courage – “42” A Movie about Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson - Pasedena CA - throughtheluminarylens

The value of courage, my 200th post, the last day of 2013, baseball and a little taste from my upcoming novel – I have an eclectic mix of thoughts to share today.

When my kids were little, we had a set of books entitled, The Value Tales. These books featured people whose achievements fit the criteria of many important values – Believing in Yourself: Louis Pasteur, Helping: Harriet Tubman, Determination: Helen Keller, Kindness: Elizabeth Fry, Giving: Beethoven and many others. The book that was requested the most in our home was, The Value of Courage – The Story of Jackie Robinson.

Over the holidays, my husband Bruce and I had the opportunity to watch the movie “42” – The Jackie Robinson story. For the baseball lover, “42” is right up there with, The Natural and Field of Dreams.

That children’s book from long ago came to life for me as Branch Rickey, the Methodist, curmudgeon-like baseball executive (played brilliantly by Harrison Ford) devised a plan to break the colour barrier in Major League baseball by signing Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson’s courage in the face of rampant racism is vividly displayed in his ability to turn the other cheek. He holds his anger in check, refusing to retaliate in kind. This is grace under pressure at its finest.

At more than one dramatic point in the movie, Robinson asks Rickey why he’s so relentless in his plan to open the Major League to coloured players. The last time he asks this question, Robinson presses for more than a pat answer related to profit margins. Rickey shares his desire to return baseball to a pristine and idyllic state – the perfect thing it should always be.

The subject of baseball comes up in my debut novel, Disappearing in Plain Sight and its soon to be published sequel, The Light Never Lies. In the sequel, the characters discuss W.B. Kinsella’s novel, Shoeless Joe and how the game of baseball is a metaphor for life – a form of perfection to be strived for, not only on the field of dreams but also in the course of the day-to-day.

“Baseball is the most perfect of games, solid, true, pure and precious as diamonds. If only life were so simple . . .” (W.B Kinsella – Shoeless Joe)

In the following scenes from, The Light Never Lies, Beulah has been convinced to help coach a team of kids and the Crater Lake Timber Wolves have been revived to play an exhibition game against Beulah’s team.

“Liam tells me you have some enthusiasm for baseball. I’ve got a proposition for you.”

Beulah leaned back against the solid weight of the bakery’s long wooden table and folded her arms across her white-aproned chest. She nodded at Alex to continue.

“There’s this bunch of kids from the reserve over at Cedar Falls. They’d like to go to a baseball tournament down in Courtenay on the August long weekend. I’m looking for a coach.”

“Doesn’t a proposition mean you do something for me and I’ll do something for you? I’m not hearing the part about what’s in this for me. Do these kids even know how to play baseball?”

“Let’s say they are long on enthusiasm and short on skills.”

“Ya right . . . still not hearing what’s in it for me.”


Robbie changed the subject, “I’ll tell you what I think about that Trickster ball team. Those kids don’t know jack shit about baseball and they aren’t getting better, even though this is their fourth practice.”

Alex pointed his can of Coke at Robbie, “Watch your language; what the hell will people think . . . a kid your age talking like that.”

Beulah laughed, “I hear you, Robbie. We’re still a long, long way from moulding that crowd into any kind of team. I’ll tell you this, though – we might just be at the end of the beginning.” Beulah narrowed her eyes thoughtfully, her attention caught for a moment by the boats in the harbour. The riggings made a steady thwacking sound as they flapped in the wind that swooped over the breakwater and tossed the tops of the masts to and fro.

She remembered her first sight of the kids as they stumbled off the bus – black and grey hoodies pulled tight around scowling faces, a couple of the guys wearing leather jackets and stomping boots, one girl dressed like maybe she thought she would be trying out for a Much Music video. The sneering, adolescent attitude had not fooled Beulah. It didn’t begin to hide the aching need the kids had to be part of something none of them could even name. Alex was right about that – helping a kid find out what that something could be, was a project worth taking on.

She was brought out of her reverie when Alex hopped up from the bench. He eyed Beulah with a knowing look, “You are a woman who enjoys a challenge. I could tell that from the first day we met.”


Beulah ran over to the Tricksters dugout. She snapped at Alex, “You’re supposed to be giving these kids a pep talk . . . you could hear a pin drop in here.” Beulah pulled the kids into a huddle and got them raising their heads and cawing loudly. She stood back and studied her team. Alex had gotten the band to spring for uniforms, black with white trim. She hoped they wouldn’t be mistaken for magpies.

Beulah turned to see several members of the Timber Wolves glaring at her. She whacked hands with a few kids and ran back to the other side of the field.

Jillian walked out from the backstop fence where she had been chatting with Roland and stood behind the plate. She shouted, “Play ball,” and the game began.

Beulah kept Robbie busy running back and forth with messages for Alex about what he should be doing to coach her team. At one point, she was seen urging one of the Trickster players to head for home. The Timber Wolves howled for real when that happened but Beulah just laughed at them. At the end of the fifth inning, with the Tricksters down by two runs, she announced, “That’s that. I’m jumping ship.” She trotted off to the sound of loud boos from one side and rousing cheers from the other.

So there you have it – my 200th post and the last post of the year 2013. It seems auspicious to talk about courage. Challenges are always just around the corner. Grace under pressure is most often required. But life is a bit like baseball isn’t it? I’ll let Caleb have the last word with another sneak peek from, The Light Never Lies.

Beulah narrowed her eyes at Liam and frowned, “Are you going to sit there and make me give myself a good, stiff kick in the butt? You’re a great friend, you are.”

“Tell me what Caleb would have said. You saw a side of him that I never did.”

Beulah snorted, “Ya, a drinking side.” She was thoughtful as she answered, “Caleb would have said . . . What we have here, Beulah, best case scenario, is a temporary setback; worst case, a game changer. But there are still a few innings to play. Life is like a game of baseball. You never know when a grand slam is going to change the whole damn outcome. Then he’d have offered me that lucky watch.” She nodded her head towards the watch on Liam’s wrist.

Our passive solar home with photovoltaic solar electric array and solar hot water tank

Happy New Year from Fran – the day is bright and sunny on the West Coast of BC. Hope you have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and best wishes for 2014.

“Flight” – A Good Movie for a Writer to See.

Last night my husband and I went to see the movie, Flight, starring Denzel Washington. I had no idea what the movie was about – I had seen an advertisement on a billboard coming out of LA – Denzel looking pretty handsome in a pilot’s uniform and the title. That’s it. 


As we approached the theatre in San Luis Obispo our conversation went something like this:

When’s the last time we went to see a movie in an actual theatre?

I can’t even remember.

I think it was Slumdog Millionaire.

But wasn’t that the Christmas Emma was born? Four years ago – wow!

When on holidays one should do many interesting things. That’s our motto. And seeing a movie is good for a writer. If you watch a movie carefully you can learn a lot about the way to move a plot along from scene to scene, characterization, dialogue, and story arc. As an added bonus, you can do all of these things in less than two hours. Of course, reading novels is a great way to accomplish the same thing, but it takes longer.

Flight, is an amazingly ironic and subtle movie – like an onion, one can peel back layer after layer of meaning – it all depends on how deep a person wants to go. And that depends on what the person came into the theatre with in the first place – much as it will be when (hopefully) a reader picks up my novel.

The scenes of the plane crash had me on the edge of my seat with my hand over my mouth so I wouldn’t gasp out loud too often. Denzel Washington was utterly believable in the role of an alcoholic and drug using airline pilot whose life is falling completely apart. The movie is dark and gripping from beginning to end and for anyone who has even a smattering of experience with what addiction can be like – eerily familiar. The type of movie that makes you feel a bit queasy as just what you expect to happen does in fact happen.

But for the writer, there are so many other levels. Here is a story where the hero and the villain are all wrapped up in the same character. There is no doubt that Captain Whittaker is a hero – he managed to pull off a miracle – crash land the plane and only lose six out of one-hundred and twenty people. In simulator tests after the crash, ten pilots tried to pull off what he accomplished and all ten crashed the plane and killed everyone on board. At the same time, Captain Whittaker is a man who blatantly stepped into the cockpit of a plane under the influence of alcohol. He was responsible for the lives of every person on board that plane and he was drunk and high on cocaine taken in order to counteract his use of alcohol. He saved the lives of one-hundred and fourteen people and yet he betrayed the public trust. Interesting juxtaposition – isn’t it?

For the movie viewer who likes to see a form of justice done – Captain Whittaker does end up in jail. In yet another ironic plot twist, hitting rock bottom and going to jail frees him from his addiction and reunites him with his son. A touching moment occurs at the end of the movie when his son comes to the prison for a visit. He asks to interview his dad for his college entrance exam on the topic of the most fascinating person I never met.

The movie raised an interesting question for me. Could Captain Whittaker have done what he did in the cockpit that day if he hadn’t been in the condition he was? Maybe if he had been sober as he was supposed to be, he would have crashed the plane and killed everyone on board as all the other pilots in the simulator did. Now that is irony, for sure. He saved the lives of so many people and yet he went to jail for breaking the public trust – another irony – justice or a miscarriage of justice? Who can say? No easy answers. A movie that makes a person think – good work Hollywood! That’s exactly what I want my writing to do.