Tag Archives: Tell My Bones: The Helen LaFrance Story

Oh, People!

Yes!

Yesterday, I did a final read-through of my theatrical adaptation of Tell My Bones and then sent it off to Sandra .

Yes, you read that right! I finally finished it, after many versions, many drafts, many hours of staring at copious amounts of notes and declaring aloud, “What the hell am I doing!?” (This went on for a couple of years.)

It is done. I am intensely happy with it, gang. And the best part was getting a text from Sandra last evening — a text with many exclamation points (!!!) saying how much she loved it.

So, we will either do it in Florida, or go directly to NYC with it. I still don’t know for sure, but it is done. And I am just so thrilled.

Today, I need to really, really, really update the show bible for my CLEVELAND TV pilot, so that I can safely put it on the back burner without forgetting all the many changes I made to the plot, and then I want to focus on one of the new works-in-progress. Whichever one speaks loudest to me right now:

The Hurley Falls Mysteries: Down to the Meadows of Sleep
Blessed By Light
Girl in the Night: Erotic Love Letters to the Muse

We shall see, gang! We shall see. I still have 3 other TV projects I’m developing, and 2 more plays with Sandra that we’re developing, and then a play I’m writing that can’t involve Sandra because it’s a one-man play. But all of that can wait.

I hope this finds you gearing up for a perfect Friday, wherever you are in the world! Thanks for visiting. I love you, gang. See ya!

Quite a precious day!

Yes!!! It snowed heavily during the night and it will remain well below freezing for the next 2 days. Yay!!

All I have to do is sit here in my snuggly (very) old house and write!

My backyard at around 7 AM this morning. These 2 snowed-over slabs of concrete in the foreground are covering up the original well, back before the house had running water.

Plus, I am almost done with my stage adaptation of Tell My Bones, my script about the life of the folk artist, Helen LaFrance. I am really, really happy with it, gang. Finally. It is almost finished.  And I am just so happy with it. It’s only the 5th version… But you know, you gotta just keep on going until it clicks.

Well, the Conversations with Nick Cave  that have been going on in Australia and New Zealand this month are almost over.  The reviews have just been so good — and I’m talking mostly about the people posting on Instagram who have been to see the actual shows.

(I know, all you Americans out there are going, “What the fuck are you talking about?? And why do I want to know this??”)

I’m only bringing it up because I sure wish that I could have a conversation with Nick Cave… I’m just sayin’… Oh well. Such is life in Crazyland, Ohio, where nothing happens but snow… But I will settle for that for now!

I am gonna go back to my writing now. Thanks for stopping in on this snowy Sunday in the Hinterlands! I leave you with this bit of awesomeness!!  (God, I love this song! I could listen to it all day. And sometimes I actually do…) Okay! I love you, gang! See ya!!

Yeah, well

Just when I thought I was finally taking my time, working on all my various stuff-in-progress at leisure…

Loyal readers of this lofty blog will no doubt recall that from April through September of 2018, I was hard at work down at my kitchen table, trying to revise, re-fashion, reform, adapt my (award-winning!!) screenplay  Tell My Bones, about the life of folk painter Helen LaFrance, into a stage play for Sandra Caldwell.

I set it aside, momentarily, because I suddenly, out of the clear blue sky, began writing a novel called Blessed By Light.

I then had to set that aside in order to do extensive revisions to my CLEVELAND TV pilot before going to LA.

Came back from LA, was in the throes of falling in love, went thoroughly and completely insane instead, contemplated the value of attempting suicide, decided I preferred writing & being in love to the prospects of being damned for eternity or whatever would have happened there, and then a couple of days ago, I began yet another undertaking, Girl in the Night: Erotic Love Letters to the Muse (sort of an erotic memoir in letter form), wrote the first “Letter,” when suddenly and without warning,  Sandra Face-Timed me and I had not washed my hair in days…. !!!!! (People! Please! Do not Face-Time me without giving me much advance notice so that I can wash my hair!! You truly DO NOT want to see me the way I usually look!!)

Anyway.

She Face-Timed me and said that she wants to do the Helen LaFrance play now, possibly in Florida, before we do The Guide to Being Fabulous, which was supposed to go into staged readings in NYC, like, really right now, but hasn’t.

I hemmed, people, and I hawed. And she said, with a little alarm: “You’ve got it, right? It’s ready, right?”

Oh yeah, yeah. Sure.  I’ve got it right where you want it! Just let me tweak it a bit…

So anyway, that’s where we stand. I must seriously complete the Helen LaFrance adaptation and get it to Sandra, and so I now have about zippo time for writing on the blog!!

So please forgive my sporadic posts at this point in time.  I will endeavor to, you know, just write a whole heck of a bunch of stuff, including the blog posts, and just throw it on out there as I go zipping past!!

Meanwhile, thank you for visiting! I love you guys. I hope things are going really great in your area of the world. I leave you with this! A synopsis of sorts! Come see the play! You won’t want to miss it! (See it before it wins the Pulitzer and ticket prices go through the roof!! I’m just sayin’…)

Painting by Helen LaFrance

Tell My Bones: The Helen LaFrance Story

A One-Woman Play with Music in One Act
Approximate running time: 90 minutes

Tell My Bones is the true story of how self-taught folk artist, Helen LaFrance, becomes a beloved painter of the rural South while enduring the hardships of Jim Crow-era Kentucky. 

The paintings of Helen LaFrance now hang in galleries around the world, but it took nearly a century of tragedies and sacrifices for that to happen.

Tell My Bones is the life of the indomitable Helen LaFrance, who tells her quite personal story through the magical world of her beloved folk art. Paintings such as “Bringing in the Cotton,” “Tobacco Harvest,” and “Quilts in the Breeze” come alive on screens that recall bedsheets hanging out to dry on clotheslines in a more rustic world. Her paintings unveil the story of a loving, rural family, surmounting hard times in 20th Century Kentucky. Tell My Bones is an uplifting one-woman drama set to the stirring music of specially arranged African-American Spirituals that celebrates the tenacity of the human spirit.

Descended from runaway slaves, Helen LaFrance is born in 1919, on a farm in Graves County, Kentucky, in a log cabin built by her father. When Helen is 3, her mother teaches her how to paint, using berries and laundry bluing as “paints” and twigs for paint brushes. Needed as helpers on the farm, Helen and her 3 sisters receive only one year of formal schooling, with most of their education coming from their parents, who teach them to read and write from the only book they own – the Bible.

Upon the death of her mother, Helen is sent off the farm to earn her living in the nearby town, first as a live-in maid, then as a factory worker. Fostering other people’s children along the way, her five marriages do not bear children of her own. Some of her foster children bring her great joy, while others bedevil her – robbing her and burning her house to the ground. Throughout the trials of life, Helen pursues the chance to paint at every opportunity. She finally achieves success as an artist at the age of 89, but then suffers a paralyzing stroke. Will she teach herself to paint again? Through her unconquerable faith in God, she does. At age 94, now confined to a wheelchair, she receives Kentucky’s highest honor, the Governor’s Award, for her complete body of work: hundreds of paintings that have now sold all over the world.

Helen LaFrance, late 1990s

Good Things!

Yes, 42nd Street was an amazing amount of wonderful dancing feet — tap-dancing feet, no less. And tons of singing. It was really, really fun.

A couple of those songs made me a little misty-eyed for the New York City that I remember from the old days.  (No, I didn’t live there in the 1930s! I meant, when the show first came out in 1980.) But overall, it was just plain fun.

As for those boys of summer (post below), it was really heartbreaking — but in the best way. I want so much to make time stand still, but it can’t be done, gang! (Unless, of course, it’s something torturous and horrible and filled to the brim with hell — high school springs to mind! Then time does indeed stand still…)

But 2 more shows, and then they strike the set for good and go off to have lives.  The one guy in particular that I am really crazy about only has one more show before he’s done for the season. I saw him outside as I was leaving the theater last night. I had the perfect opportunity to speak to him, but all I could think of to say was, “Oh my god! Don’t leave me!! Luckily, I have a working brain filter, so I was able to just keep walking…

When I reached my car, though, I leaned against it for a while and watched him, watched all of them — the whole cast was outside. It was a beautiful, clear night; thousands of stars in the sky; only 67 lovely degrees. And I watched those beautiful young people and wondered about the flow of human beings coming together, dispersing, coming together again.  I know there is an underlying emotional order to all of it, to the flow of life. I can’t explain it in linear sentences, but I feel the emotional order in my heart. And sometimes that flow of human beings is just too beautiful for words.

When I finally got in my car, I checked my phone and discovered a text from the Mormon missionaries! They received permission to still take that trip up to Kirtland next week to see the temple with me. What great news!

Also, yesterday, I had the conference call with Peitor Angell (see post below from a couple days ago) regarding my needing help with the re-structuring of the stage adaptation of Tell My Bones.

He’s out of the country right now; on a  whole different time zone, 3 hours behind me. But he got up at 6 AM in order to find a quiet place, as well as a place where his cell phone could get reception, so that he could talk to me uninterrupted by life.

That is a true friend, isn’t it? To get up at 6 AM when you’re on vacation in another country, just to help a friend figure something out.

He gave me the most amazing, detailed advice for how I could find a better way in to the story. I could barely keep up, I was taking so many notes.

I said, “Is this a process you already do, or something? It is so detailed and so well thought out.”

He said, “No, I’m just coming up with it now. I’m trying to intuitively tap into the whole project and help bring out the artist in you.”

Well, it worked. It was staggering, really — how helpful he was. I am really just so blessed.

And so, on that note, I have to get down to the kitchen table, spread out a bunch of papers and notes and re-think my whole script.

Have a really great Thursday, wherever you are and with whatever you’re doing, gang. Keep looking for those miracles, they’re probably right in front of you. Thanks for visiting. See ya.

42nd Street, Weathervane Playhouse

 

 

 

 

Life, Re-writes, Love, & the Muse

Happy as I am with the new direction I’ve taken the past couple weeks with the Hurley Falls Mysteries, I am also still dealing with the theatrical adaptation of my screenplay, Tell My Bones, the life story of the Outsider Artist, Helen LaFrance. I’m adapting it for the stage specifically for Sandra Caldwell.

When I first wrote the screenplay, things like #BlackLivesMatter hadn’t happened yet, although it was getting ready to. And even while the screenplay was well received at film festivals and among producers, the climate Off-Broadway for plays about African-American lives has changed considerably in just a couple of years. So, even while I’m okay with how I’m staging the play, how I’m presenting the music, the sets and the characters, I’m finding that the entire way I present Helen’s life has to seriously be re-framed to fit the tone people want to experience now.

5 years ago, when I went to Kentucky and met with Helen, she was already in her 90s, in a nursing home, and in a wheelchair due to a paralyzing stroke. I walked into the day room of the nursing home, where she sat in front of a canvas, preparing to paint (she’d taught herself to paint with her left hand because the stroke had left her paralyzed down her right side), and I said hello.

She barely looked at me. She knew I had come because I wanted to write a screenplay about her life.  Still, she was not impressed, and her greeting to me, after I’d driven 12 hours to meet her, was: “What do you want?”

After a couple hours of talking, she warmed up and ended the conversation by giving me the rights to write her life story, and after that, I had access to all her paintings, her interviews, and even her private diaries.  In all the research I did, while it was clear she had to contend with racism and the unfairness of how blacks were treated in Kentucky, her art, her diaries, and her conversation were focused more on simply being a woman who was always trying to find enough time and money to do her art.

There was so much beauty in how she saw her life. Just so much beauty. A lot of heartbreak that centered on the people she loved who had died, but not very much about having to rise above oppression.  Just needing enough time & money to paint. And so I told her life story in a very particular way, which now has to be re-framed. Same life, but I have to focus on it in a different way.

My seriously long-time, good friend in L.A., producer/composer Peitor Angell,  is eventually going to be helping me with the musical arrangements for the show, but yesterday he agreed to help me try to re-think the telling of the story, too. So I feel excited about that project again.  You know, the energy of one good friend can turn your whole world around.

I don’t need to have this adaptation done until the end of this year, since Sandra and I will be focused on doing the staged reading of her one-woman musical in NYC this fall. Still it has bogged me down emotionally that I couldn’t make better progress with Tell My Bones, so it feels good to feel encouraged again.

The other thing that has taken me unaware, that is also a really incredibly wonderful thing, is that the Muse has come back into my life! [Muse – noun – a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.]

After having been blessed all my life with the beneficence of a Muse, I haven’t had the energy of the Muse in my world for several years now. It has been depressing. Even though I can still write without a Muse, it’s more laborious, a lot less joyful from moment to moment. And when I least expected it, and had pretty much given up on ever feeling that energy again, in he walked. Right into my field of vision.

I felt like Bill & Ted in their excellent adventure:

I don’t know him at all, although I’ve now seen him a few times. Yet suddenly life in my inner world is 360% not the same. So beautiful. I am so, so blessed. My inner world now is a deluge of inspiration, keen feelings, intensely beautiful images that my mind & heart respond to. And all of that makes its way to the page, to benefit you, gentle reader!

That is simply the very best way to write. And on that note, I’m going to go… get some lunch!! Yay! Have a super Saturday, gang, wherever the Muse takes you. Thanks for visiting. See ya.

 

Updates on Happiness, Raccoons, Writing & More!

It’s a stunning morning here in the Hinterlands! Hard to believe it’s supposed to be raining, yet again, by this evening.  I guess we’ll see. The only thing I don’t like about the rain, is that I have to go around and close all 22 of the windows I had already opened.

Since I last posted here, there have been all sorts of interesting things going on. For starters, my friend Diane came out to the Hinterlands and helped me FINALLY get my main barn door OPEN.

Yes! That means I was finally able to get into the main section of my barn. The part where the horse was kept long, long ago. The other section, the part where the buggy was kept, was really easy to get into from day one. And inside that section was the half-door for feeding the long-ago horse once  kept in the stall side, so I could at least look into that side of the barn. But what a cool feeling to actually be able to get into the other side and look at all the ancient stuff that’s still in there.

For one thing, we discovered that the barn had a front addition built onto it at some distant point in the long ago past. So the current (really old) front of the barn (pictured above) has perfectly preserved the original old front of the barn that was built in 1910.

I was going to get you photos of all this, but as it happened, at the last minute, a friend needed a place to store his 1965 VW camper van as he headed out to Yellowstone National Park for the summer. Since I can’t really afford to do the thousands of dollars worth of work that the barn needs right now, I offered him the use of the barn since we were finally able to get the door open, and now a great big VW camper van is taking up the entire space for the next few months…

Not this one — but this is a very reasonable facsimile!

 

There is enough room left along one side of the inside of the barn to kind of get one of the side doors of the camper open a smidge. So my friend generously offered that anytime I wanted to just hang out inside  the camper, I could!

Well, that was too cute! While it is often really fun to hang out inside those old VW camper vans, I have an entire new house to hang out in, as well as a really cool porch! But I did appreciate the offer, nevertheless.

My porch, by the way, is wonderful. Quite a few friends have already come by my new 117-year-old house in the Hinterlands  and they all immediately head for a chair on the side porch, plop down and get comfortable.  Not only is the porch really welcoming, but the screen door also opens right onto the kitchen, where the fridge is always stocked with beer. (Not the kind of beer that I drink, btw. Everybody around here seems to like Bud Light. Whereas, loyal readers of this lofty blog will no doubt recall that I like Newcastle Brown Ale — a far cry from Bud Light. My guy-friend was over the other day to say farewell before heading off to Alaska for a big fishing tournament, and he accidentally helped himself to my one and only bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale. He said, “What the hell is this??!!” And I replied, “It’s MINE!!!” and I grabbed it away from him. My hostessing politeness only extends so far…)

Anyhow.  Not only is it so cool to finally have a great porch of my own that people actually stop by and hang out on, regardless of how deep into the Hinterlands I have gotten, but it is also cool that neighbors drive by — neighbors that I have not met yet — and they all smile and wave.

I don’t know, gang; I think I somehow ended up in Mayberry…

Mayberry — The Andy Griffith Show TV town

Yes, I am so happy here.

And for those of you waiting with bated breath on any updates regarding my raccoon… Ah yes. The dear little thing is indeed a female, and already has a pack of little cubs down inside the hollow of the tree.

No not these kinds of raccoon cubs…

These kind!!

And these kind get up onto the roof and create havoc a lot more frequently than the other kind do… Well, we’ll see how it goes as the unbelievably cute destructiveness pervades the upcoming summer months.

Meanwhile, I have been getting literally tons of inspiration for both of the mystery books I’ve had on the back burner for nearly 2 years (The Tea Cozy Murder Club: A Murder at Parsons Ridge (also a TV pilot), and The Miracle Cats: The Case of the Purloined Passport).  I just need to get some breathing room from the theater projects and the Cleveland’s Burning TV pilot. However, all of those projects are looking so incredibly promising right now, that they all seem to need my attention before I can get back to writing novels.

I can’t go into detail on the blog right now re: the one-woman musical I’m working on with Sandra Caldwell in NYC, but it is a really exciting development connected with the workshop/staged reading of the show. And it continues to bode really, really well for the stage adaptation I’m working on of  Tell My Bones, the play about Helen LaFrance that I’m writing as a vehicle for Sandra.

However, regarding my TV pilot, once titled Cleveland’s Burning but now known more affectionately as Untitled Cleveland Drama, I can say here that we have had interest in the project from several places within the last few days, including OWN, ABC-Disney, and Act 4 Entertainment. This is all just initial interest, gang, but it still excites me beyond belief.  I came so close to simply shelving the project forever, after working with several other producers who wound up not really sharing my vision for it and who completely exasperated me. But after I hooked up with the EVP of Development at Bohemia Group (for the Tea Cozy Murder Club pilot),  things with Cleveland’s Burning came back to life with them, specifically with the EVP’s all-out enthusiasm for the Cleveland project.

Well, as usual, the morning has now pretty much evaporated while I’ve been sitting here blogging at the computer! I must scurry, gang, and get some other stuff done.

Hope you have a terrific Monday that leads into a really amazing week, wherever you are! Thanks for visiting, gang.  See ya!

“That’s all, folks!”

 

 

Getting to be that splendid time of year!

Yes, as this picture illustrates, it’s the time of year where I go for a ride on my bike, with my terrier tagging along, while I wear what was once referred to as a “coolie hat.” Now the word “coolie” is politically incorrect in most parts of the world and we’re supposed to refer to it as a “conical Asian hat.” However, it doesn’t quite trip off the tongue in the same vivid way. So we need a new word.

I guess we could call it my “cool” hat.  Which would not be a lie, but neither would it give you any accurate idea of what type of hat I’m really wearing, and if you were “visionally challenged” (or “blind”, in the old 20th-Century version of English), you’d be strictly on your own as far as understanding what comprised a “cool” hat. (Although if you’d been visionally challenged since birth, the whole concept of a hat would be in the realm of the somewhat fantastical altogether.) (By the way — do not use the word “visionally” out in public or at a party where you’re trying to attract the attention of someone “cool.” It is not, in fact, a word. I’m making it up.)

Anyway. I digress. I don’t actually have a bike, or a terrier, or any type of hat whatsoever.

However. Yes, autumn is beginning to arrive! My favorite time of year! The heatwave broke on Wednesday evening. The temperatures are down where I like them best: around 70 during the day and way down in the lower50s-upper40s at night. My cats are friskier than ever, since I leave some of the windows open until it really, really gets cold outside. And the cats are so darn cute when they’re being frisky. And cute cats make me happy.

Things are looking good on all fronts. Including revisions of my theatrical adaptation of my script, Tell My Bones. So I’m happy.  I’m still waiting to find out the amount I’m pre-approved for on my mortgage, though, so that’s making me a little antsy. I don’t like that limbo feeling.  But I’m guessing I will find out one day next week.

James Tabor has announced the itinerary for his 2018 Tour of the Holy Land. Each year, I tell myself that “next year, I’ll be able to afford to go.” And then I keep hoping that he’ll, in fact, have a tour the following year. These are not theological tours of Israel, by the way,  but archeological/biblical/historical tours. They hit all the places I would truly love to see with my own eyes, with none of the dogma.

Even though the tour is actually really affordable considering what it offers, I still can’t imagine — what, with getting ready to buy a new house, and all — that I can afford to go in 2018.

That is why I direct your attention to the link at the top right-hand corner of this blog! (Top-right, if you are facing the blog; top-left, if you have somehow managed to get inside the blog and are looking out…) Yes, that’s right. All you need do is buy me about two thousand cups of coffee (anonymously, if you prefer), which in turn puts $3 per cup into my Paypal account, and then I will finally be able to take that trip with James Tabor to the Holy Land.

James Tabor in Ceasaria

I’m officially thanking you in advance for all that coffee: Thanks, gang! You guys are the best! I’ll be sure to send plenty of postcards!

Okay! I gotta scoot. Gotta get back to the revisions of Tell My Bones. Thanks for visiting, gang! Have a terrific Friday, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. See ya!