Thoughts on The Social Novel

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was held this weekend on the USC campus. I spent Saturday walking through the booths, checking out local bookstore offerings and featured authors. I also found a couple of indie author promotion and marketing booths and made contacts with them in regards to my current novel. It was a fun and interesting day for me. In addition, I attended a couple of “conversations,” moderated author panels focusing on fiction. One panel was appropriately labeled “Looking for Trouble,” considering the wild and erratic conversation that came from the four authors. However, the other panel turned out to be more intelligent and thought-provoking in its discussion of the “Social Novel.”

At first, the authors on the panel wondered at why they had been selected for a panel entitled the social novel. Rachel Kushner had a recently released novel, “The Flame Throwers,” which followed characters in rebellious New York City neighborhoods in the late 60s and equally rebellious neighborhoods in Rome during the early 70s. Marisa Silver’s recently released novel, “Mary Coin,” examined a fictional history of a photographer and her subject based on a famous photo of a migrant mother and her children from the 1930s. Jonathan Lethen was about to release a novel in the summer that appeared to be hard to explain in the session. There appeared to be no common theme in the narratives of these authors, except for the general concept that actions of their characters had to interact within the social network and individuals within a common social group. The conversation became a discussion about the concept of the individual within society and the contrast between the two. The panel defined two perceptions that was recognizable in literature – the American perception that favored individualism within societal relations and the European perception of a social commonality and responsibility among the individuals within the group. The general impression I received from the panel was that writers usually expressed themselves on one side or the other. What I wished there was time to consider was whether any of the authors felt a sense or possibility that modern literature might move toward a balance of the two perceptions, a sort of global perception that the individual has an innate responsibility toward the social community, while the social community depended upon its recognition of the individual contributions supporting it.

I can see the difficulty in trying to examine this delicate balance within a literary structure. Like all balances, it is dependent upon competing forces. While trying to understand this balanced competition, each of us tends to sympathize and side with one perception over the other. We feel that society must recognize each of us and it is up to us to present our own individuality to society as a whole – or we feel that society needs each of us to come together so we must submit our feelings and talents to the good of the whole. It becomes hard for us to see how both perceptions are just as valid and just as necessary in finding that balance. Also, even if we accept and explore the necessity of balancing both perceptions, we find it hard to not try and calculate an absolute formula in which to find and impose this balance. In nature and the universe, this balance is always fluid and constantly under recalibration. No wonder it is hard for any writer – past, present and future – to explore any story or set of characters working within a balance of the individual and society. Maybe something to discuss at next year’s Festival of Books.

Volunteering for 826LA

This week is Spring Break. Students have the week off from the public school system, and I have a week off from a volunteer mission I began two months ago. Late in January, I was walking up to pick up dinner from my favorite neighborhood Chinese take-out and passed by what appeared to be a new store next door. Outside the new storefront, a young woman was writing up a request for volunteers on a chalkboard two-sided sign. It turned out that the “new store” was in actuality the new location for an 826LA tutor center. As I discovered, the 826 organization, founded in San Francisco, have started up volunteer centers in cities across the country to provide free afterschool tutoring, in-school tutoring and projects, and field trip/workshops focusing on literary creativity for students. Los Angeles is the only city to have two locations and one had just moved into my neighborhood. For me, education is a core tenet in my charitable activities. It is a basic foundation for growth, discovery and success. Based on my current time availability, I signed up as a volunteer, making myself available on Tuesdays and Thursdays for three hours to provide afterschool tutoring to elementary students at the local center.

The basic procedure for the afterschool tutoring is to focus on the student completing his/her homework first, then to encourage the student to find something to read and/or write a story. A theme or project is posted on a blackboard to give the students direction on what to write, but if a student wants to write in another direction, he/she is not discouraged in doing so. The key is to encourage creative writing in general. When a student writes a story, he/she takes it to the coordinator for approval. If approved (based on whether the tutor has directed and corrected grammar and spelling errors), the effort is announced to the entire group, and the student puts the paper in a publishing box and gets to ring a bell to celebratory applause. The stories are collected over a period of time and published in a small volume that is sold in the volunteer center storefronts to support the programs of 826LA. Whenever a book is published, a book party is held at the center with the student authors reading their stories to fellow students, tutors and parents. Last week, we held one for the newest book of stories, “A Fireplace with Cold Fire in It,” focused mainly on Denver, whose central zip code is 80206.

Of course, the ideal is better than the reality. The student/tutor ratio could be 5 to 1 on some days with the students coming from different schools and grades, so a tutor often has to shift from first grade spelling to fifth grade social studies on to third grade math. Many students would rather be playing than doing homework and are easily distracted, so it might take the full three hours just to get a student to complete homework. I would not doubt that a few of the parents who take advantage of the free tutoring for their children are seeking an extra three hours of free daycare, but they are definitely in the minority. Like any job, volunteering is challenging work, but the rewards are different. Yes, it is heartening to see the light in a student’s eyes when they get it or to feel the joy when you have made a difference in someone else’s life. However, there is a selfish satisfaction in knowing that in a small way, I am improving the social and environmental structure around me that will improve my life and society in general.

For more information about the 826 organization, you can go to 826national.org. Los Angeles residents can check on the happenings of the two local centers by going to 826la.org.

Biking Along the Venice Beach Boardwalk – Part 2

In my previous posting, I had described my fairly regular bike ride to Venice Beach up to the central Windward Plaza. The trip continues…

Beyond the main plaza, the bike path wavers near the boardwalk north until it reaches a unique attraction, the Venice Beach Freakshow housed within an extended patio building. On weekends and in season, a loud speaker announces in barker fashion the various wonders visitors will see for a nominal admission price. Occasionally, I have seen a fire-eater performing on the patio to bring customers in to see the show. This freak show is currently the focus of a new AMC reality program, so it is attracting more tourists to the boardwalk. I must admit that as of this writing, I have not tuned in to see the series. Nor have I stopped on my bike rides to see the show itself.

At this point, the bike path snakes outward and around a series of grassy palm tree patches. Visitors and homeless alike gather on these knolls to view the waves coming in to the shore. My goal is reached when the bike path slides back to within a foot or two of the boardwalk, two short blocks away from the Santa Monica border. I get off my bike and walk it across the short sand strip to the red-stripped “no vendor” entry area on the boardwalk. Then I cross the pedestrian traffic to a small store called N’ice Cream on the north side of Thornton Court. The store sells gelatos and sorbets, made fresh every morning in their main shop on Abbott Kinney Boulevard, just blocks away. I choose one of the four fat-free sorbet flavors of the day and get two scoops in a cup. I enjoy the watermelon flavor when available and thought the champagne flavor during New Years was very creative. I take my cup and sit in one of their chairs to enjoy the broad variety of visitors walking along the boardwalk.

I mentioned the “red-stripped” no vendor area on the beach side of the walk. This provides an open entry area to the beach within the marked spots all along the beach side of the boardwalk where artists, musicians and small vendors can license a position to set up a canopy and pitch small souvenirs and artwork to visitors. At N’ice Cream, these spots are taken up by an artist selling colorful framed paintings, a small vendor selling marijuana design t-shirts, and Tom the photographer selling a small selection of 8×10 souvenir prints of Venice. It has only been a few cold and quiet weekdays when I have noticed their spots to be empty.

It is during this time of people watching that I realize just how famous worldwide this stretch of beach and storefronts truly is. I have heard just about every language and accent pass by me – German, Japanese, Spanish and more. Winter appears to be the season for European tourists, while summer is perfect for Aussie tourists. However, the bohemian flavor of Venice attracts a broader flavor of travelers, those seeking to explore the wilder side of human nature and enjoy the starving street performers populating the boardwalk. I was amused recently by one nattily dressed pedestrian who was walking his dog down the boardwalk. The dog was leashed per the law, but the man had trained the dog to carry the other end of the leash in his mouth, scolding the eager pup whenever the leash was dropped. A dog walking himself! I just had to shake my head.

Having finished my sorbet, I toss my cup into the ice cream cone-designed trash bin and walk my bike back over to the bike path. It’s time to head home by backtracking my trail and re-navigating the bike path with fellow bikers, Segway renters, skaters and seagulls. The bike path is posted as being for bikes only, no pedestrians, but many visitors find the concrete path to be a lovely walk on the beach without the sand or crowds. There would be no issue passing a group of walkers going single file along the right side, but many tend to bunch into conversation groups or pair up as couples holding hands in double wide formation. If they are called out for being on and blocking the bicycle lane, they have no problem glaring back or giving out a not-so-mild invective even as they stand on the large white bike icon painted regularly along the trail. All I can say is that it is just part of the challenge and experience of keeping fit and enjoying this world famous location.

Biking Along the Venice Beach Boardwalk – Part 1

I have been lucky to travel and see many amazing places in the US and Europe, but my recent unemployment has reminded me of an old truism – one often forgets to visit the wonders in one’s own backyard. Shortly after I had purchased my townhome on the westside of Los Angeles over a decade ago, I purchased a bike to enjoy an occasional ride to the beach, but I allowed my job to turn that occasion into an annual or biennial event on the Fourth of July or Labor Day weekend. When I was laid off over a year ago, I suddenly had extra time on my hands which I used to write and publish a novel as well as get myself into better shape by riding my bike two or three times a week down to Venice Beach. Just off the boardwalk, a concrete, two-way bike path snakes it way from Washington Boulevard to the Santa Monica pier and beyond towards Malibu. I found that I could head down Venice Boulevard straight to the bike path, turn and bike up to the northern end of the Venice boardwalk, take a pause and head back home all within an hour. Add an extra half hour and I could add the Santa Monica Pier to the round trip.

The boardwalk basically begins at Venice Boulevard North on the south side. The pedestrian strip does extend farther south to Washington Boulevard, but the adjoining buildings are all residential, out of sync with the eclectic vibe from the stores and sights to the north. A stark indication of this vibe is the first store at the Venice corner, a medical marijuana dispensary whose clerks come out into the boardwalk in green scrubs announcing, “The doctor is in.” The bike path at this location is separated from the boardwalk by a city parking lot. During mild weekdays in the winter, parking is a reasonable five dollars and readily available. Film and TV crews will often take up half the lot during these off season periods. During mild weekends in the winter, the parking rate doubles as traffic backs up on Venice. When the weather really warms up, the lot full sign pops up and the backup traffic is forced to turn around and find a way out of the jam. I wave to them as I navigate my bike through the traffic into the lot to the bike path entryway on the other side.

As I bike north on the path, I catch glimpses of the open-air gym of Muscle Beach, the handball and basketball courts, and the children’s playground grouped north of the parking lot. The bike path curves in just past the police station and then curves back north between Windward Plaza and the skateboard park. This is the busiest area of Venice Beach as Windward Plaza is the beach side’s extension of the open area plaza signifying the central entry point to Venice Beach and its boardwalk. Next to the skateboard park, a modern art sculpture of five iron bars stands vigil over two flat-top concrete cones and a couple of concrete walls painted over with graffiti art. Navigating through the pedestrian crosswalk and skateboarders can be tricky at this point even during light off-season days.

Past this point, the bike path curves in toward the boardwalk, turning back north to snake along in close proximity. Near this point in the boardwalk, there is an open air restaurant with a faded red-and-white canopy over the eating area that extends over the entry of a small independent bookstore, Small World Books. I pitched them to carry my book in their store as a local author, but the owner let me know that the store is too small to carry unknown books on consignment. One day, I hope to sell enough books to entice them to stock a few copies of Legacy Discovered on their shelves.

To be continued…

Modernizing Sheet Music

Last week, my neighbor invited me to enjoy a night of chamber music with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It was my first time within the iconic structure, built nearly ten years ago, and it gave me a chance to actually hear whether the acoustics were as good as the design of the building. I can honestly state the acoustics were wonderful, especially since the performances were mainly from four string instruments with the added exception of a guest oboe for Darius Milhaud’s The Dreams of Jacob. It made me yearn for a chance to hear a full orchestra within the theater.

It was during the final quartet piece, Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, that a small incident occurred which got me thinking heresy. In the middle of the performance, as the intensity of the music built within a movement, a short violin pause gave one of the violinists a quick moment to turn her page music, but the page did not turn fully and drooped on her. The violinist was superbly practiced and was able to power through with a less than perfect view of the music. At one point, during an even shorter pause, she made a quick stab at the page with her bow to straighten it, a valiant attempt that failed. Still, if I had not been looking at her at the time, I never would have known about her music sheet malfunction as the performance was played flawlessly. Yet it had to be frustrating to this violinist to try and read her sheet music in this drooping position. The heretical thought began to germinate in my mind.

I know that the artistry of music has been recorded and performed with the language of notes and bars printed on sheets for centuries, but it would seem that the newly modern technology of the tablet computer could easily relieve the musician of the gyrations of turning his or her own music during a performance. It isn’t just that the touch screen would be easier to shift screens of music, but a computer programmer could help relieve the musician of needing to even touch the screen during the performance by setting the musical score to scroll on the screen at a pace with the music. The tablets in front of all of the musicians can be synced to start at the same time remotely with the conductor’s signal for a full orchestra or from a selected member’s signal from a smaller quartet. Of course, allowing modern technology to intrude on classic orchestral music would upset the traditions of symphonies around the world, but why should they be immune to the forces that has already affected bookstores, art and postal services. Just a thought.

Valentine’s Day

It is Valentine’s Day and for the second year in a row, I have not been able to carry out a personal tradition of mine to celebrate the day. When I first graduated from college, I got a job driving a messenger route for a title insurance office. I got to know many of the receptionists and representatives in the escrow offices well on my route, so on Valentine’s Day, I would buy a couple of dozen carnations and hand out single carnations to the women along the route. When I finally found a job with ABC Television and later transitioned into the publicity department, I carried the tradition over to my female co-workers in the office. Every year, I would bring in two or three dozen carnations in mixed colors and allow each woman to choose one from the batch as I brought them around. The only year I knowingly passed on my tradition while working for ABC and Disney ABC was in 1994 when Valentine’s Day came less than a month after the Northridge earthquake. Instead, I sent all of the women a message that instead of flowers that year, a donation was being made to the Los Angeles Food Bank to assist victims of the disaster.

I truly believe that a little act of acknowledgement makes a bigger difference than a grandiose display. It does not create a heavy sense of gratitude debt or imply a hidden agenda. It simply says I notice you make a difference, a message spread evenly to all of my female co-workers. As for my fellow male compatriots, there never were any jealous reactions – either in not receiving their own acknowledgement or in the momentary interest I presented to each woman. Instead, I helped represent the male side of the staff, gave a lift to the female side of the staff and helped raise a more pleasant interactive atmosphere to all members of the staff.

However, this will be the second year that I have not had a job on Valentine’s Day, so there has not been a group to distribute flowers. Instead, I have had to be content sending out a virtual acknowledgement to my Facebook friends. Still, the message is the same in acknowledging that they make a difference in my life.

An Accent on Perspective

In September of 2007, I was selected as part of the support team sent to London to handle the publicity events promoting the launch of High School Musical 2 in Europe. The week of press events led up to a “blue carpet” premiere screening at the O2 Arena. During this event, I was stationed next to the stanchion and rope holding back the throng of British teens and tweens hoping to see Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens walk down the carpet. Just before the cast was scheduled to arrive, I was handed a stash of posters to hand out to the fans. I started to pass them out, occasionally waving a poster and calling out, “I have posters for you. Get a poster here!” Suddenly, I heard a plaintive admiring cry from the back of the crowd, “Oh! He’s American!” As if on cue, a young lass looked up at me and said with a sweet English inflection, “I just love your accent.” Maintaining my composure, I politely thanked the young woman for her compliment and continued to hand out posters. However, inside, I was floored.

I had grown up in Jacksonville, Florida, but my parents were from upstate New York and we lived in a suburb next to a naval air station, so my speech never picked up a distinctive Southern drawl. It blended to match closer to a Midwestern tone that later fit in perfectly with my fellow classmates at UCLA. I did not consider myself to be much of a speaker or conversationalist and felt my voice and speaking style was somewhat bland. The way I saw it, my voice did not carry the interesting proper tone of the British Isles, the romantic flair of Paris or the playful lilt of the Italian peninsula. It was just a straightforward work-a-day way of speaking. Yet here I was in front of a group of English teens who were enraptured by my American accent. What was it that enthralled them?

Perhaps the standard American accent presents an egalitarian confidence, presenting information in a uncomplicated classless manner. Of course, maybe this is how I expect the rest of the world to hear and admire the American accent. Perhaps the unique tones of my American accent conjured up images of a foreign land separated from these girls by a major ocean, but seen often on television and publications as a country sharing a common mother tongue and a connected history. It is possible my voice identified me as a person who has personally experienced the skyscrapers of New York, the beaches of Southern California or the ability to drive a car for days over a vast landscape without crossing an international border. These are wonderfully wild conjectures on my part, but there is one thing I now know for sure – everyone who speaks on this Earth has an accent that someone else in this world will find fascinating, if only the world gets small enough for them to meet.

The Mastery of Agatha Christie

When I was in high school, I bought a sixty-cent paperback of Agatha Christie’s The A.B.C. Murders, perhaps intrigued after seeing the 1965 movie version, The Alphabet Murders, on TV. The movie did not take the story seriously and can be easily dismissed, but the original book was a revelation into the classic world of the murder mystery as presented by Dame Christie. I followed up by purchasing the sixty-cent paperbacks of Murder in the Calais Coach (more famously known as Murder on the Orient Express) and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I was amazed at how the revelation of the truth made perfect sense even though I had been fooled like millions of readers before me. I was hooked on the Christie style which presented the suspects and provided the clues fairly, but still misdirected me in trying to outsmart the detective in the story. I started adding to my paperback collection and now have all of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels in paperback in my library, all of them bought well over thirty years ago. There are a few of her short stories that did not appear in the collections I purchased, but I did add a collection of her plays which included The Mousetrap, a play that continues to be performed in London’s West End.

I cannot say that every one of her novels reaches the standard of a five star classic, but there is not a one that I did not wind up liking and the number of her novels that did reach the five star level far exceeded her contemporaries and the many that have since followed her. Her plots generally followed a set path, but this did not keep her from upending convention. The novel that made her famous, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, demonstrates this perfectly by subverting the Dr. Watson storytelling convention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (For those few who have not read this book, I will not go any further on this point.) In general, the reader is introduced to a set of characters within an environment where a murder takes place. These characters may have quirks but they are never one-dimensional which makes us care for them throughout the story. There is a balance between characters who feel the seriousness of the situation and characters who comically accept the situation as a puzzle to be solved. This is a delicate balance at which I find many modern mystery writers fail. In The Body in the Library, a young blonde woman is found dead in the library of Colonel and Mrs. Bantry’s estate. Instead of having a lot of anguish and dread about the dead woman in her home, Mrs. Bantry quickly gets her friend, Miss Marple, to come over before the detectives arrive to show her how “unreal” the body appears. Readers eventually come to learn about the young woman and how she unknowingly became the object of greed and jealousy, but they are not dragged down by heavy emotional introspection as Miss Marple helps the police solve the case.

Perhaps the most interesting theme within Agatha Christie’s mysteries is her sense of justice and its value to social order. Two of her most famous novels reveal how she believes in justice – Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None. In Murder on the Orient Express, a man is murdered in his cabin in the end railway coach of the Orient Express. Because the train was trapped by a snow drift, it becomes obvious to Hercule Poirot that the murderer was one of the twelve other passengers on the coach, but he also discovers that the victim was responsible for a child kidnapping and murder in America, yet avoided justice. When Poirot gives his dissertation about his investigation at the end of the book, he provides two solutions to the Orient Express manager and suspects – one true and one simplistically false. Since readers realize that the true motive for the murder is appropriate justice, they accept that the eventual authorities will be given the simple but false solution. In And Then There Were None, ten people are invited to an island for a weekend retreat and discover that one of them is out to kill the others one at a time. A recording that plays to them on the first night informs them that they have all committed murder which is why they have been sentenced to death over the course of the weekend. In the original novel, no one survives. A letter to the authorities later reveals who was responsible. (I find it interesting that Christie herself had to change the ending allowing survivors in order to adapt the story to the stage, which is the plotline seen in all of the movie versions.) The basic concept seems to be that murder in the role of justice was a valid concept to Agatha Christie, and considering some of the crimes with which her victims were accused in And Then There Were None, the level of culpability to be eligible for the death penalty was very low.

eHarmony – The Business of Online Dating

In August, I had a friend who felt I was “too good a person” not to have found a partner in my life and pretty much strong-armed me to join eHarmony. I completed the complex personality questionnaire with her at my shoulder and then balked at paying the sixty dollar monthly subscription fee, considering my current employment situation. After all, the ads do promise that I can see my matches for free. However, what was available to be seen was just words, the descriptive answers in the member’s profile, as photos are blocked as well as the ability to communicate with the matched members. Even though eHarmony’s advertising is not very upfront about this, it seemed reasonable in order to justify the subscription fee for full membership. Then some of the women reached out to me, sending me a smile or a selection of five questions to initiate contact. I felt it was only proper to respond, but discovered that no communication included responses. Naively, I expected at the time that these paying members would receive some indication that I would not be able to respond at the time since I was not a paying member.

During the next few weeks, I kept receiving daily notifications of new matches, averaging five to seven a day. Then, I received a promotional e-mail offering a three-month-for-one deal. I signed up for the deal and started to go through the 100+ matches I had already accumulated. I felt compelled to start by responding to the women who had reached out to me with initial five questions. This led to five meet-and-greet dates over the next several weeks, providing me with a couple of new Facebook friends, but the “One” was not in these dates. Among the initial group of women who had reached out to me, I was disappointed that the guided communication with the most promising match suddenly stopped in process without reaching the meet-and-greet stage. I was still getting the daily five to seven new matches during this time and now had well over 200 matches. It was time for me to choose from this group and reach out to a few of these matches. There was no way that I could even consider sending a smile to every match in the ever growing pool, but I suddenly had no luck in getting any response from the few I chose to send a smile or an initial set of five questions.

After getting several new matches from profiles that had not been active for over a month, plus a few that were obviously phony, I realized that a portion of my matches were with non-paying members who would never be able to communicate with me. I also realized that no profile contained any indication to a paying member on whether that profile was open to communication or not. I went back to the profile of the promising match that suddenly ended and realized that all of her communication to me occurred during the Labor Day weekend which had been promoted as a free communication period for all members. As soon as the promotion ended, her communication ended with me. This meant she was likely a non-paying member, perhaps a new member signing up for a free trial. Even though I was now paying for the service of finding and connecting with women, I was cut off from completing a connection with a very positive match because she was not a paying member and we could not complete the guided communication over a three day free weekend.

What I began to wonder was what percentage of my matches were members who had just signed up for free or had gone inactive. There was no way to determine this, but the sudden inability to get any responses from my initial communications made it seem likely that this percentage was substantial. I felt like I was part of a roulette game which had been partially rigged by the House. There was no way I could put a chip on every number on the table, but many of the numbers were already foregone losers. The point is I was paying expressly for a service that was being undercut by the business model. I was paying more to be an ad for eHarmony than to find that special connection. I truly suspect that the best ratio of paying communicable matches was when I first joined for free and decreased gradually up to the time my three month reduced fee subscription ended. Since I determined not to extend my subscription, I wanted to be sure that my profile would not be used to bait-and-switch another trial member. I changed my membership settings to not receive any more new matches and then added in the additional information section of my profile for my current matches that I was no longer a paying subscriber able to communicate or respond to any initial outreach. I did add that if anyone wanted to know more about me, I could be found by searching for Legacy Discovered on Amazon.com. If I was being used to promote eHarmony to others, I felt I should be able to put in a little self-promotion of my own.

The Gathering – A Christmas Favorite

Every Christmas season, I make time for an annual viewing of movie holiday classics among the multitude of new offerings presented by Lifetime, ABC Family and Hallmark Channel. Many would recognize the classics in my DVD collection – It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, The Apartment. However, I have one favorite standard in my collection that may not be as well-known, The Gathering. For years, I had to be content with watching it on the VHS recording I had made when it aired on PBS over twenty years ago. Last year, it was finally released on DVD and I was able to retire the VHS tape to the recycle bin.

The Gathering was a 1977 TV holiday movie that won the Emmy for Outstanding Special. Edward Asner stars as Adam Thornton, a gruff, stubborn business owner who is separated from his wife and estranged from his four grown-up children. As the movie opens, he has just been informed that he has only weeks to live. He realizes that he needs to rebuild the relationships with his children, so he goes to see his wife, Kate, portrayed by Maureen Stapleton, to get their addresses or some means of communicating with them. Despite his attempt to display normalcy, she instantly realizes that something is wrong and confronts him, forcing him to confess his medical condition. She declares that they together will invite the children back home for a Thornton family Christmas. Will they come and give their father a chance at redemption and reconciliation? Since this is a warm holiday movie, we already know the answer to this, but it goes to the power of the story that we become so emotionally invested in the process.

During my years with Disney ABC, I was fortunate to meet and interact with many well-known actors and television personalities while producing satellite interview tours and interview junkets. It was during one of these satellite tours that I had a chance to meet Ed Asner. I told him that The Gathering was one of my favorite Christmas movies and his first response was “Great script by James Poe.” His comment went to the essence of what makes this movie so great. This was a writer’s vehicle, a well-structured story with wonderful dialogue. It weaves the individual tales of each relationship into a redemptive drama about the rebuilding of a family.