Lost at Sea – Lessons from “Chesapeake Shores: Forward to the Past”

“If you really care about something, you don’t walk away from it,” Mick warned Trace near the end of last Sunday’s episode of Chesapeake Shores. Yet, at the very end of the episode, we are left with seven people floating on an island of anger, seeming to emotionally

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“We are left with seven people floating on an island of anger.” PC: Crown Media, LLC

walk away from those they care about because they cannot reconcile themselves to what happened so many years ago.

While I’d love to agree with Mick, and in most cases, I do, what happens when you love someone deeply, but the hurt and fear you’ve experienced are so great that you just can’t face that loved one again?  What if the situation between you has left you floating in the middle of an emotional thunderstorm, and you just cannot seem to do anything but tread water?

Until Bree shared her manuscript with Megan, everyone appeared content with Megan’s new role in the family. They all seemed to be healing and moving forward. Megan was building new bridges with each member of her family. Then, Bree’s truth came out. Her issues with abandonment and her resentment towards a mother who selfishly left the ones she claimed to care about so much acted like molten lava under a pacified ocean. The result? An impending tsunami of hurt, anger, and unanswered questions.

I am a firm believer that the truth will set you free, and that blessing befalls us regardless of our choices – as long as we remember that it all comes down to that one essential lead rope: love.  This is where all of the O’Briens, including Bree, have missed the proverbial boat and set themselves adrift. You see, love covers a multitude of sins. It also motivates us to make some decisions that the rest of the world just doesn’t comprehend.

Real love – the action, not the emotion – is rooted in humility. When we can admit that our perspective is just that – ours – and that someone else might be able to add something that deepens our own truth, we open a door to reconciliation for both ourselves and those we care most about. We don’t have to agree with someone’s perspective to restore harmony with them – we simply need to act in love toward them and trust that they love us in return. In putting her view of the past on paper for the rest of the world to see, Bree failed to take into account the other characters in her story. She focused only on the central figure – herself. That is not an act of humility but a search for personal meaning without all the facts.

We all get hurt. We all get angry. We all make mistakes and make choices and follow paths that impact others – we can’t always protect them (or ourselves) from the pain and “lost-ness” that these circumstances bring.  It is what we do with them that makes all the difference. While Bree needs to work through her own clouded vision of truth, she also needs to humble herself with the others who play into that truth.

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Megan (Barbara Niven) teaches Abby (Meghan Ory) about forgiveness.  PC: Crown Media, LLC

We’ve all been there, sitting next to someone we love with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and all we can do is shake our head in anger and hurt. Tears glaze our eyes and our throats tighten with the torrent of emotion. We just want the other person to understand – to back down and acknowledge that our perspective, our truth, is just as valid as theirs. It is in moments like those that we feel “lost at sea” and cannot see through the rain to the shoreline. Some of us feel like Megan, unable to forgive ourselves for the hurt our choices inflicted. Others of us feel like Bree, justified in our anger as victims of someone else’s choices, shielding ourselves from reliving the pain by building walls of anger.

A dear friend asked this week, “Do we ever really get over stuff?” No, my friend, I don’t believe we do. We just have to put on humility and love and reconcile ourselves to the “stuff” so that we can move on. It changes us. It changes how we deal with life and with people, and how we act out our faith. But we cannot let it change our ability to love. We cannot use that stuff as a reason to walk away from the ones we care about the most.

At some point, we have to be able to forgive ourselves and others for being imperfect – for being fallible humans with real-world struggles and choices. We also have to be okay with others not forgiving us. We have to be okay with others forming their own truths and their own opinions without truly knowing or understanding the whole story.

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“Here’s to being lost at sea.” Kevin (Brendan Penny) and Connor (Andrew Francis) toast the complexities of life and love. PC: Crown Media, LLC

In truth, we have to reconcile ourselves to what once was so that we can move forward into what could be. Our loved ones may choose to remain on the raft, floating on a sea of anger and judgment and hurt, but we just might have to jump overboard and make it to solid ground on our own.

Genius and Dreams – An interview with writer and associate producer Kirsten Hansen

Once in a long while, we happen across another person who motivates us to be better at what we do – to be more passionate, more joyful, and more in awe of the beauty that surrounds us. As we anticipate the final three episodes of Season 3 of Chesapeake Shores many Chessies have discovered one such beautiful soul by the name of Kirsten Hansen. As an associate producer and writer for the show, Kirsten happily joins the Sunday night Twitter parties to share behind-the-scenes tidbits, answer viewers’ questions about plot and character, and engage in a bit of witty banter between fans, actors, and producers. With her writer’s credit for tonight’s episode, it’s a pleasure to share a bit more with you about this incredibly talented and kind kindred spirit.

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Kirsten Hansen, writer and associate producer for Chesapeake Shores, with actress Barbara Niven.         PC: Kirsten Hansen

ATG: You have quite a few credits to your name. What was your very first screenwriting project?

Kirsten: The first time I was hired as a writer was in January 2008.  I was a creative executive at Brightlight Pictures, and I had pitched a passion project that I wanted to option (a book called Old Souls by Tom Shroder.  It’s a true story about children who remember their past lives). Brightlight, Telefilm Canada, and CHUM Television all agreed for me to adapt the book into a movie treatment since I was so passionate about it.  That treatment opened a lot of doors for me as a writer, and the project got a lot of attention from companies such as Imagine Entertainment. That moment when Brightlight put trust in me as a writer changed everything.

To this day, Tom Shroder and I are still working together on it, and it’s such a moving, powerful, true story.  He wrote the script, and I’m producing it. We even have FANTASTIC cast attached… so stay tuned for when I can say more.

Funny story, in 2002, I picked the book for OLD SOULS off the shelf in a bookstore, and showed it to my friend and said to him: “One day I’m going to make this book into a movie.”  It was like something bigger than me was speaking. I hadn’t even read it! But I have kept my word. It has been a long journey, but I believe the world is finally ready for a story of this magnitude.

ATG: Looking back at that project, knowing it was a very decisive moment for you, what have you learned since that point? How have you matured as a writer?

Kirsten: I have learned so much!  I started my journey in 2001 (until 2006) working as a development executive for Keystone Entertainment (now Air Bud Entertainment).  I went back to Keystone in 2008, and because of that experience with Brightlight, they had me writing all of their outlines, and eventually their scripts for them.  I worked hand in hand with Robert Vince (CEO, writer, director, producer) as his writing partner, and script supervisor on set— where I learned how to write FAST — turning script rewrites around in days.  I learned how to write a “production friendly script” rather than a “writer’s draft.” I took classes online or wherever I could find them to learn the deeper crafts like subtext, etc. I wrote 5 days a week for Keystone.  On weekends, I wrote my own projects—finding my own voice as a writer. The more I wrote, the more confident I got as a writer. It takes practice. But once you learn the structure and format to screenwriting, anyone can do it.

ATG: Your practice is certainly paying off. The episodes you write are often the fan favorites. In fact, you’ve been with Chesapeake Shores since season 1. How did you get connected with the show originally? What intrigued you about collaborating with the team?

Kirsten: What a blessing it has been!  I left Air Bud Entertainment in July 2015 to become a freelance writer, with a goal of writing in TV.  On my last Keystone movie, Pup Star, which I co-wrote and script-supervised, I met Matt Drake, who has become a good friend and constant collaborator of mine.  He read my TV pilot, Synergy, so when he was brought on by Dan Paulson to produce Chesapeake Shores, he brought me in to meet with John Tinker, who was the Showrunner of Season 1. Initially I was to be the Script Coordinator (a job I had done for 15 years for other projects), and I was stoked to do it again because of the opportunity to be in TV and the promise that I might get an episode to write in Season 2.  Just two weeks later, John Tinker gave me my first TV episode. Ep 1006: Second Chances. That’s when my whole world changed.

ATG: I love hearing how those doors opened for you. It is clear that you are right where you are supposed to be. What is your role this season? What does it entail?

Kirsten: I’m a writer in the writing room and an Associate Producer.  We have a small writing team and not everyone is able to be with us in the room in Canada—meaning we have to talk story over the phone, etc.  Michael Berns runs the room, and the two of us work together from morning to night, Monday to Sunday. Brian Ross, our Co-Executive Producer, covers set. The cast loves him.  He is there with any in the moment writing changes that happen on set. He’s been such an invaluable addition to the team this year because it was all hands on deck for Michael and I.  We work so well together, and we have been known to finish each other’s sentences. In the writing room, he sets up his computer that connects to the projector, and we see the script on screen. We go through it together – writing, rewriting, until it’s perfect, or until we run out of time, whichever comes first.

ATG: Which episodes did you write this season? Were you given an opportunity to direct?

Kirsten: I officially wrote episodes 3008 and 3009 (which was co-written with Michael Berns).  Since we do a lot of writing together anyway, it was really fun to do it officially where we split up the storylines and then wrote it together.  They are two of the most dramatic episodes of the season, and I’m so grateful to be part of telling those long-awaited storylines.

As far as directing, I haven’t yet, but maybe one day!  I was fortunate to shadow Martin Wood in Season 1, and Andy Mikita in Season 2 (not to mention Terry Ingram, Peter Howitt, and Robert Vince many times).  Directing is something I will start transitioning to when the timing is right.

ATG: It sounds like much of your success is all about timing – and a lot of hard work. Writers claim to “write what they know.” We have already seen a couple of references in Chesapeake Shores to pop culture films and classic stories. What is another iconic moments from film or story you would like to reference? Why?

Kirsten: Oh, we totally do!  I used to have to emotionally connect with each character to write them.  Over time, I have learned how to just let the character to speak through me, to say what they need to say.  I love giving homages to movies and TV that have inspired me— Richard Curtis has been a big inspiration to my writing and my life.  More than once I have referenced Notting Hill and Bridget Jones… and another Hugh Grant movie, About A Boy.  I used to watch those movies on repeat every night before bed.  To write that clever banter was a dream and a goal. Richard Curtis is a genius, and so is Aaron Sorkin.  I can’t even. His dialogue is so rich and so smart.

ATG: You, too, have a talent for creating witty banter and deep character arcs, but when you find yourself at a loss, or simply looking for cinematic inspiration, what are your tried-and-true movies or shows for getting your own writing voice back on track?

Kirsten: I love TV.  I love getting lost in the world of characters… and I have too many favorites to mention.  But I definitely turn on different shows/movies when I have time (which isn’t often) and they will inspire different parts of my voice… but honestly, music.  It is always music. When I put on a song with the right kind of melody that opens my heart, my fingers can’t keep up with the words flowing through me.

ATG: Trace Riley’s music has been featured quite a bit this season. Do you have input into those songs? How does the writing team approach the inclusion of a song and who creates the lyrics? Do the words and music come from the writing team? From Jesse Metcalfe?

Kirsten: Yes. Yes. Yes.  All of the above. Jesse is so uber-talented, and has a lot of input into the music, as well as writing a bunch of the songs.  We also have a phenomenal music supervisor who brings us options. We have found a lot of fantastic songs from local artists, and they fit the sound of the Trace Riley Band.  Then, depending on the scene, episode, or moment, we have music meetings, and Michael and I will pitch what songs we feel might be a good fit for the moment, as well as the director, producers, and Jesse.  It’s a huge collaboration, and I’m really proud of the Trace Riley Band. I would honestly buy their music as a genuine fan.

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Kirsten with the Trace Riley Band, behind the scenes of Season 3.        PC: courtesy of Kirsten Hansen

ATG: You’re not the only one. Many fans have voiced their desire to purchase an album by Trace and his band. Now, you proclaimed yourself a “Bree” in a recent Tweet on social media. What of yourself do you see in Bree?

Kirsten: I really connected with Bree in Season One.  That’s when I was finding my legs and voice as a writer, and she was literally in the same place in her life.  It was a mirror in so many ways. I also resonated with her journey with Jess and David. That episode I wrote (1006) was inspired from my own journey with my sister, who is one of my best friends.  You write what you know, as they say. I used to really connect with Bree—but she has grown.  have grown. And neither of us are the same as we were. Her voice has evolved through Michael Berns and Emilie Ullerup.  But at the heart, we are both blond (me sort of), the middle child of three daughters, love yoga, can be awkward in expressing ourselves and use words or banter as a safety, and are professional writers.  So that’s a lot of similarities if I do say so myself!

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Kirsten with With Oliver Rice and Emilie Ullerup during Season 2.       PC: Kirsten Hansen

ATG: That bit about using witty banter seems to echo a recent conversation between Bree and Simon. I’m a bit of a Bree, too, but I also have a deep fondness for Jess. As I shared in my own blog, I remember a time in high school where I was giddy and ecstatic in response to a boy’s interest in me. When have you reacted in a way that was more free-spirited and in-the-moment, like Jess?

Kirsten: Ha, good for you!  And I hear you. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and get pretty enthusiastic about everything, including matters of the heart.  I’m a hopeful romantic, as they say. So who hasn’t?!

ATG: That being said, which other Chesapeake Shores character have you wished to be at times?

Kirsten: Connor, when he’s kicking butt, Abby, when she’s kicking butt, and Trace Riley— when he’s rocking out on stage.  I’m not much of a singer, but I’ll win an airband contest any day!

ATG: Those characters to tend to kick butt regularly – even on stage, line-dancing. They all have softer sides, too, and we are seeing quite a bit of character development for them this season, especially with Bree, Jess, and David. Which element do you feel is more important to a story, plot points or character development?

Kirsten: Good question!  I used to be all about the plot.  I love mysteries and puzzle pieces, and shows that are moved forward with big “UH OH” moments.  I love shows like Scandal.  But, that is not the essence of Chesapeake Shores.  It is about the characters.  Their truth. Their reality. And writing for Hallmark has been such a gift in learning to listen to the characters, and knowing that nothing huge has to be happening in order to drive the story forward emotionally.  Substance is so much stronger than flare.

ATG: In addition to screenwriting, you’ve also been directing and producing. What fascinates you about those aspects of storytelling?

Kirsten: Writing is very special to me. I will always write.  It’s a spiritual practice for me, but there is something about ensuring that the way you wrote it, and envision it, comes across on screen. I see in pictures.  I originally went into film to be a director, and writing was something I was thrown into, but by the grace of God, I’m sure not by coincidence. I just never believed in myself as a young writer because I didn’t have the tools, just the imagination and a need to write words.  I have a lot of projects that are near and dear to me—and sometimes you just gotta be the one to make them. Only you can tell the story as it’s intended.

ATG: For you, how are those roles different from screenwriting?

Kirsten: Writing is staring at a blank page.  There is nothing to direct or produce without a script.  Writing is an introverted experience. Directing is an extroverted collaboration.  It’s giving voice to the words. And taking the pictures that the writer imagines, and bringing them to the screen.  All are necessary and key to telling stories.

ATG: Creating a script can be a very time-consuming and emotional process. When you really want to dive into a script, where do you go? What atmosphere works best for you as a writer?

Kirsten: When I was writing Old Souls, I was nervous I would procrastinate (out of fear of not doing it right) so I went to the Starbucks across the street from my apartment to make sure I could write.  That I would do it. It was really noisy, so I put my headphones into my ears, and turned up my music to drown out the sound and focus. Who knew that would create my official practice?  Now, that is always how I write. Sometimes at Starbucks (my favorite coffee shop for the ambience and chai), but now that I’ve been writing a lot, under very strict timelines, I find that writing comfortably from my home (couch or bed) is the best way to stay inspired and focused for long hours at a time.

ATG: Funny. I write from my bed, too, with a bunch of fluffy pillow supporting me and the sunlight streaming through the window. If you were to surround yourself with objects that inspire you to be better at your craft, what objects would you choose?

Kirsten: Crystals.  They clear the energy and promote creativity, focus, inspiration, and confidence.  When I really need it, I put them on my lap. I use salt crystal lamps, too – anything to keep the energy and vibration high, so that I know that I am in a really clear space to write. No negativity.  Only light. I also keep a journal nearby in case there is any emotional Drain-o (personal writing) that I need to do in order to clear my head, and better hear the words, and characters wanting to come through.

ATG: That phrase “emotional Drain-o” really fits. You have to get beyond yourself to really get into the characters. You also maintain a personal blog as another writing outlet. Maybe that was part of your early “emotional Drain-o”? What led you to start it?

Kirsten: Ah, yes.  I was inspired to start my blog back in 2010 when I was embarking on my side career as an intuitive healer.  I used to put out newsletters along with my blog. This was all when I was looking for new juice as a writer, and needed a creative outlet, but wasn’t finding any success in my own projects.  I was guided to just “write from my heart” and honestly, those blog posts helped me find my writing voice. To have confidence sharing my words with people the way I heard them. I haven’t written a blog post in quite a few years, but I guess my Instagram serves as that now.  My website/blog is still up for anyone looking for a little inspiration.

ATG:My two little boys have found inspiration in some of your other projects, including Air Bud and Santa Buddies. Those obviously appeal to very different audiences than Chesapeake Shores and Love on the Slopes. How do you write for these diverse audiences? What must a writer keep in mind when developing a script for children versus a script for adults?

ATG: I’m so happy your boys love the Air Bud movies.  Have they seen Russell Madness, Monkey Up and Pup Star?  All three of those movies are fun, funny, and super sweet.  I’m so proud of them. Everything I write has heart, comedy and a family element.  I’ve been very lucky that the family films were an excellent foundation for Hallmark movies.  There was a real freedom in writing comedy at Keystone, which I’m really grateful for. Talking animals?  I mean come on, can’t be more fun than that! But I always loved rom-coms and that was my natural instinct, so it’s a dream come true.  Writing for kids, though, is an art form. It’s not as easy as you would think. It can’t be too complicated, and for them physical comedy always wins. I think if you have a strong universal theme of family, hope, love, and possibility, with loveable characters, and a journey of some kind of self-discovery, triumph of the spirit, then you’ve got a winning combination.

ATG: Last winter’s Love on the Slopes definitely contained that “winning combination.” It garnered 2.8 million viewers, which was one of the highest viewerships for the WinterFest movie premieres on Hallmark Channel. Did you anticipate its success?

Kirsten: Wow.  No, I didn’t.  That’s so fantastic.  We knew we had something special on our hands from the start, as it was a magical collaboration of a great story, fantastic cast, crew, locations and all that, but it was very unique for Hallmark, so it was a risk.  I’m so glad that it was such a big success, and it has been so loved and embraced. As my first Hallmark movie, it means the world.

ATG: My family certainly enjoyed it. Now, Love under the Rainbow finished production. What can you share about this new movie? Did you write the script? Direct?

Kirsten: I wrote the script for Love under the Rainbow in December last year ,and by Feb 2018, we were filming it.  It’s now complete and waiting on its release date. Since it has a bit of a Spring feel, I imagine it will air in the Spring on Hallmark.  This is a movie about hope and believing that your dreams will come true. You just have to have faith. It’s a really touching story, and it was such an easy one to write.  It just poured onto the page. We have a great cast, and there is some really fun banter in this one! Oh, I can’t wait to finally see it!

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Kirsten with the cast of Love under the Rainbow.          PC: Kirsten Hansen

ATG: Viewers can definitely count on you for delivering witty banter and heartfelt emotion in tandem. We’ve seen a bit of that on Twitter.  You are very active on social media on Sunday nights. What is your favorite part about interacting with fans on Twitter and Instagram? How has their involvement influenced your approach to writing, producing, and directing a show?

Kirsten: I love our #Chessies.  It has been a real honor to interact with the fans, and to know that they care so deeply about the projects we are creating and putting out into the world.  To know that what we do is touching people, making them laugh, inspiring them, and to hear firsthand how it is impacting them—well, it’s just a dream isn’t it?!  I wish I had more time to interact with the fans, but I always seem to be writing!

Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do, if we didn’t have you guys.  So THANK YOU! From the bottom of my HEART.

ATG: One major way you have impacted me and other viewers is by encouraging others to pursue their passions and dreams. For those who want to share their own stories – written or otherwise- what are your words of advice?

Kirsten: Write.  (Or whatever your creative outlet if it’s not writing.)  Do it. You just gotta do it. Write a blog. Write via your instagram.  Write in a journal. Just keep writing until you find your voice. The words that can only come through you.  Then, if it’s a craft like screenwriting or novel writing that you want to do – and you’re like me, and need practical knowledge before you have confidence — then take classes.  There are so many online, such as Screenwriting University and Master Classes. Search online and see what resonates with you.

I remember when the thought of writing a whole 110 page screenplay seemed incredibly daunting.  I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I had stories in me that only I could tell, but I had zero confidence.  So, I committed to writing in my journal every day for 40 days until writing became not just a dream but a practice and a habit.  I had to write.  Now it’s as normal to me as breathing. I think, most importantly, trust your process.  I’m no spring chicken. Some people have a short path. Some win writing contests and make it big after their first script.  But some of us have to work VERY HARD for 17-plus years before we start to see some success. The thing about writing — you can be 80 and publish your first work.  It’s never too late. If you have something in you to say, some story that only you can tell, then you have to tell it. As Wayne Dyer used to say, “Don’t die with the music still inside you.”  I know I won’t.

ATG: Tonight, you’re sharing a bit of your own “music” with us in the form of episode 3008 With just two additional episodes to go after tonight, how would you complete this sentence for the Chessies: This season is our best ever. Be sure to watch out for….

Kirsten: Episodes 3008, 3009, and 3010.  They will change the O’Briens and Trace. The end of Season 3 is unlike anything we’ve experienced in Chesapeake Shores, and I can barely write these words without crying.  We will go deep. We will face issues and give answers to long awaited questions… questions you’ve been waiting 3 seasons for. It might not always be pretty, but have faith.  At the end of the day, Chesapeake Shores is about HOPE.  And Family. And second chances.

Kirsten a delight to know. Her path to success has been one we all should seek to imitate. Hard work, study, and a routine of practice do pay off. As Thomas Edison so aptly stated, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” As humble as she is, Kirsten would never call herself a genius, but her work proves otherwise. Whether traveling abroad in search of soul-inspiration and food for the imagination, or holed up in the writer’s room for days on end, she shines a light wherever she goes. She pours the best of herself into her writing, and its more than apparent to viewers of her various projects. Check out tonight’s episode of Chesapeake Shores to see just how she brings the O’Brien family to life, and be on the lookout for her other projects.

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The cast of Return to Christmas Creek, Kirsten’s next screenwriting project for Hallmark, airs November 18 on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.

For a dose of inspiration with a touch of humor, be sure to follow Kirsten on Twitter (@K_ear_sten) and Instagram (@kearstegram).

 

Being Bree – Lessons from “Chesapeake Shores”

Today, I’m Bree – I closed the door on the past, but I hung onto the key. Tonight, I’ll open that door and step right back through, back into a period of four years that still makes my knees shake and my hands grow cold.

We know a bit about what’s coming in tomorrow night’s episode of Chesapeake Shores. After all, Nell told Megan that she needs to read Bree’s book, and Nell is our little fountain of wisdom, isn’t she? It seems perfectly natural that Megan will heed Nell’s advice and settle in with Bree’s manuscript only to rediscover all the hurts and wounds that surrounded her departure from the O’Brien family.

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Trace Riley (Jesse Metcalfe) struggles over how to handle The Bridge and being on the road with his band.    PC: Crown Media, LLC 2018

In these past two episodes, many of the characters from Chesapeake Shores have been acting as if those the doors to the past have been shut and locked, as though they have reconciled with the challenges of their youth and are determined to “build something different” instead of trying to rebuild old bridges. Connor warns Trace that he will not go up against his father again. “We’re good,” he says. Are they really? They never did hash out their issues – they just said, “I’m sorry” and kept moving forward. Trace pretends to be enjoying his time on the road, honing his music and building his fan base, but the audience sees the hurt and disappointment on his face as he realizes that pursuing his dream means potentially closing the doors on two others: his live-music venue, The Bridge, where he  and a relationship with Abby and the girls.  Even David’s sister Alex sees what others may not, “My family excels at ‘seeming’ but we are never even close to okay.”

Then we have Bree, our bundle of insecurity who has learned that “sometimes it’s easier being invisible.” When you are invisible, you don’t have to handle the “what now” while dealing with the “what once was.” You just tuck your head inside your shell and plod along, scratching out your little mark on the world without disturbing your personal universe…until you realize that the key to the door you pretended to shut and lock is still hanging around your neck, weighing you down like an albatross. The past has now become the present.

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Bree O’Brien (Emilie Ullerup) is all smiles around her family, but her manuscript promises to makes some not-so-friendly waves. PC: Crown Media, LLC 2018

Be it a novel that stems from the recesses of your mind, one that you pretend is not about your family when it really is, a heart-to-heart that should have been, or the imminent 20-year high school reunion that is mere hours away, there is something about opening that door to the past that brings out all of the insecurities you thought you’d outgrown.

Just last week, I sent in my payment for a ticket to my 20-year reunion. It took me three months to decide to attend. Only a handful of my close friends are joining me while the rest of the group will be made up of the people who weren’t part of my personal universe, but who were part of my story. Until last week, until the moment I determined to turn that key in the lock, I was great. I am great. I have a beautiful family, a loving and supportive  husband, a comfortable house in the country, a solid career, and an extended group of family and friends who see me through the day-to-day struggles of being a wife, a mom, a teacher, and woman on a mission to write out her dreams. I have a glorious village and I’m happy.

Then I turned that key, and now I feel like 15-16-17-year-old me. The lanky, skinny girl who was teased about being anorexic (which was so not the case). The awkward teen with translucently white skin who turned red like a tomato when she stepped into the sun. The brainiac who lived on words and books and who would have done almost anything to fit in, but for whom “almost anything” never seemed to work. The one who would then shrug off the “not fitting in” and stick with those 4 true friends who didn’t care about clothes, or make-up, or what it meant to be popular. I remember walking by groups of girls at lunch, imagining they were laughing at me if they happened to giggle as I walked by. Ah, those insecurities wrap around me like a wet wool blanket on a rainy day in February. They make me itch with uncertainty and cough with anxiety.

Why am I putting myself through this? Why did I decide to go? Because, just like Bree needed to find just the right words to tell her story so that she could see the truth and what it meant for her (hence the 8 different drafts), so I need to discover who I am now, in the context of what once was. Maybe if we both face our pasts and whatever insecurities stem from those years, we will be able to not only shut the door and lock it, but we will be able to throw the key into the rushing waters under the new bridges we are building.

So, off I go…

Making Purple – Lessons from “Chesapeake Shores”

You know that feeling you get when you gobble down a giant bowl of vanilla ice cream at a party and then wash it down with a tall glass of ice cold lemonade? Yuck ! I don’t either, but I can imagine that it would make my stomach churn as my body attacks the curdled, sour milk like a sworn enemy. At the very least, I’m sure the combination would cause a bit of nausea and some clammy skin. You know, the very same way we feel when someone says, “Uh…we need to talk.”

I hear those words, and I immediately feel sick to my stomach. Maybe it is the introvert or the people-pleaser in me, but I rarely think anything good will come of having a heart-to-heart with someone who “needs to talk” with me. And the closer that person is to me – the more they know my innermost weaknesses and struggles – the more nauseous I feel. I think What did I do wrong this time? How did I mess up again?!

As a young adult at a church retreat, I distinctly recall my pastor warning the boys and the girls about the dormitory rules. “Girls are pink,”  he said, “and boys are blue. No making purple!” We all laughed a bit, but we took the message to heart. This same idea about “making purple” resurfaced when my husband and I studied a fantastic book about marriage called Love and Respect. Author Dr. Emerson Eggerichs set forth the idea that men talk in blue and hear in blue while women talk in pink and hear in pink. Thus, when we attempt to have one of those “need to talk” conversations, we “make purple” and our communication becomes dangerously flawed. In fact, this concept applies to any relationship and to any conversation.

To guard against this, Eggerichs suggests that we remember one very important truth: our loved one only wants the best for us. While we might feel unloved by our spouse’s words or actions, the intention in communicating one-on-one is nothing but good. And you know what? Keeping that truth at the forefront of my mind during these anxiety-ridden conversations, whether with my spouse or with another important person in my life, has taught me so much more. By trusting that these friends are truly speaking in love, their words and actions no longer become threats, remonstrances, or degrading finger-pointing moments. In fact, I am able to humble myself and use their words to transform my own thoughts and actions.

Think about it this way: In Chesapeake Shores’ “Once Upon Ever After,” Jess girlishly tosses tennis balls at David’s window to get his attention. While we as an audience know that she simply misses him and wants a bit of his time, if we put ourselves in David’s shoes, we know it would be easy to become irritated and frustrated with her interruption. I can see myself muttering under my breath, “You’re going to break the window…I said I’d be down when I’m finished.” However, with that attitude, I would be missing out on the message Jess really intended to share – and losing a wonderful opportunity to connect with a very special person.

By slowing down our thoughts and reactions when someone “needs to talk” with us, we open up an opportunity for personal growth and transformation. Often, others see things that we do not. By remaining open to their perspective and trusting that their love for us is their motivation, we can see the truth in their words – even if those words don’t sound pleasing to us.

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When the paparazzi invade Abby (Meghan Ory) and Trace’s (Jesse Metcalfe) privacy, only a heart-to-heart talk will clear the air.    PC: Crown Media, LLC 2018

When Trace and Abby’s idyllic romance hit a rough patch because of the paparazzi snapping photos of the girls, Trace was so busy that he didn’t really have time to discuss the issue. When he didn’t know how to react or respond to Abby’s concern, we could see how distraught Abby became, questioning Trace’s ability to protect and love her. When, in last week’s episode, Trace hopped on a plane to speak with Abby face-to-face, their talk transformed them both. Comfort and understanding replaced Trace’s loneliness and longing for Abby, and Abby went from feeling hopeless to hopeful about their relationship. Abby could have remained distant and upset that Trace hadn’t made time for her at the moment she felt she needed it, but instead she chose to believe he wanted the best for her and she listened to him.

After her injury at work, Sarah wrapped herself in a wave of euphoria, riding it out by running and skydiving. She really didn’t want to talk with Kevin for fear that opening up her bottled emotions would hurt too much. Kevin knew, however, that he could see something she couldn’t. In slowing down her actions and stopping to truly listen to Kevin’s heartfelt words to her, Sarah began running towards love instead of running away from death.

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A few well-placed words and a humbled heart open the door to forgiveness for Mick (Treat Williams) and his son, Connor (Andrew Francis).   PC: Crown Media, LLC 2018

Even Connor, the character who seems the least likely to open up and share his feelings, experienced a small amount of transformation in his relationship with his father. When most of their talks have always been discolored and murky, Connor clears the air simply by reminding Mick that no one was around to teach him about sailing. While not a deep conversation by any means, a few simple words of “No one was there to teach me” and “I’m sorry” allowed Connor to stop feeding the fire of anger. By trusting that Mick truly was sorry, and that he really did want to restore their relationship, Connor was able to share just a morsel of forgiveness.

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Grandma Nell (Diane Ladd) reminds us that love needs tender nurturing. PC: Crown Media, LLC 2018

Yes, although these characters are fictional and live in an idyllic town surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in creation, they are still constructed of similar ideals and flaws as the people we encounter every day. Perhaps, if we can learn to stop “making purple” out of the words we hear from those we love – if we can trust that their love is true and their intentions are good – we can experience our own little bit of transformation, too. After all, as Nell reminded us, “Love is a spark that creates a fire – you have to tend it, nurture it, give it room to grow.” That means trusting that the love is there, whether the words reflect it or not.

 

Wings of Anticipation – Lessons from “Chesapeake Shores: The Rock Is Going to Roll”

“When I think something nice is going to happen I seem to fly right up on the wings of anticipation; and then the first thing I realize I drop down to earth with a thud. But really, Marilla, the flying part is glorious as long as it lasts…it’s like soaring through a sunset. I think it almost pays for the thud, ” Anne confided to Marilla after yet another dream had been shattered in L. M. Montgomery’s novel Anne of Avonlea. Marilla then suggests that it is better to “walk calmly along and do without both flying and thud.”

I imagine Jess O’ Brien is quite a bit like the impetuous Anne Shirley. In last Sunday’s installment of Chesapeake Shores, when she received the invitation to visit her boyfriend David, Jess jumped in a cab and raced to track down her sister Bree. Even before exiting the cab at the bookstore, Jess squealed in excitement and almost unintelligible relief that David still cared for her. Then, at the first sight of David, Jess flew directly into his arms, didn’t she? She had been anticipating her reunion with David for months. Through months of waiting, Jess’ built in her mind the exquisite joy she would feel when she could be with David again, and she demonstrated it in an unrestrained and unashamed way by throwing her arms wide to her joy – and to David.  Jess was completely present in the moment, without a thought for the implications such a greeting might have to David’s family. Her delight in seeing David made me giggle and pulled me back in time about 23 years. She reminded my of my own teenage self when the boy I’d liked for a year agreed to go to a dance with me. After school, I hurried home and left a sentimental note for my mom (who was my best friend), sharing the wonderful news with her.

Now, I also imagine that Bree would agree more with Marilla’s perspective on “flying on the wings of anticipation.” Having bottled up her hurts, she has developed a tendency to keep others at arm’s length and to anticipate the possible consequences of becoming too attached, too excited, too in love with the moment. She tries to see all the sides of every situation – her reason overcomes her emotion. As an adult, I often do this with my own kids. I find myself warning them about how someone might not come to their birthday party (even though he promised to be there) or how “plans change” and they need to “roll with it.”

What is the right balance of wisdom and impulsiveness, of keeping your feet firmly planted in reason or relinquishing the reason to the euphoria of what could be? Perhaps we need to realize that both sound reason and unencumbered joy bring their own fog that clouds our vision and distorts reality.

After David’s sister, Alex, warns Bree that David’s parents aren’t really intending to “get to know Jess,” Bree’s defenses come up, and she attempts to draw Jess into the safety of her walls. However, Jess refuses to let anything mar her reunion with David, arguing that “not everyone is capable of backstabbing betrayal.”

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Jess (Laci J. Mailey) and David (Carlo Marks) recreate the iconic scene from Sixteen Candles.           PC: Crown Media, LLC 2018

Jess continues her dance of joy by recreating the famed Sixteen Candles scene. What woman hasn’t dreamed of her significant other re-enacting the best romantic scenes from television with her? After all, that is why we watch those sappy romantic comedies, isn’t it? Yet, as Jess is soon to learn, romance in real life doesn’t play out like it does on the movie screen. In fact, the fog of uncertainty descends more quickly than I think any of us really like. Jess’ entire focus and pursuit is of a relationship with David, yet the differences between their families and their backgrounds begin to create a fog that obscures her focus. Just as tears blur her vision and she runs to Bree for comfort, Jess stumbles into a dense haze of doubt. In this case, Bree is the one to help lift the fog by reminding her sister of the truth she knows: love knows no bounds.

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Jess (Laci J. Mailey) and Bree (Emilie Ullerup) help each other find balance.   PC: Crown Media, LLC 2018

Maybe that is where we find the balance – in the people who walk with us through times of celebration and times of heartache and confusion. We all need a Bree or a Jess in our lives to celebrate the joyous moments with us and to temper our flights of fantasy with a bit of reality. We need people who are along for the whole ride – the ones like Bree who cry with us but see us as we really are – faults and all – and remind us that we are made for amazing things, and the ones like Jess who see each mountaintop as a moment for unencumbered joy, regardless of the impending reality.

These foggy moments with family and friends are necessary, even if they cause our flying anticipation to result in a thud. Just as the morning fog of a winter afternoon slows our driving and focuses our attention to the road, the fog of life’s shifting momentum makes us pursue our desires carefully and thoughtfully, with renewed focus and purpose. It forces us to pay attention to the road signs steering us around obstacles in our paths – the road signs of reason than help us make the best choices. In those same moments, though, we must hold onto the joy. We must hold onto the promise that resides on the other side of the fog so that we can overtake it and re-claim it as ours.

It may feel like the fog has settled for good and you’re searching far and wide for some elusive fantasy that will never be reality because there are so many confusing and distorting circumstances surrounding you – but you’re not. Like both Jess and Bree, you were made for incredible things.

Your Lead Rope is Still Intact – Chesapeake Shores “The Way We Were”

“Maybe being strong is not who I actually am,” Abby admitted to Jess in a little heart-to-heart during last week’s episode of Chesapeake Shores.  In just that one phrase, we gain incredible insight into Abby and how she views herself. Like so many of us, she hides her insecurities beneath an armor of strength – but those closest to her are bringing out those insecurities, causing her armor to rupture, creating fissures in the solid facade. When Abby discovers the letter she wrote to Trace, the unopened letter that Trace had saved for so many years, her strength wavers. For a few moments, she becomes that scared young woman who didn’t know who she was meant to be. The thing is, we all hide weaknesses and flaws that stem from various choices we’ve made. We are all on a voyage of discovery, and while the past sometimes impacts our present, it doesn’t have to dictate our future.

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Abby (Meghan Ory) “hides her insecurities behind and armor of strength” and is reluctant to tell Trace about the letter.                   PC: Crown Media, LLC 2018

I remember being a teenager and struggling to figure out who I was –  who I was meant to be apart from my parents and my siblings. For a long time, I simply became a poor mirror image of whoever I chose to follow, even when I struggled with some of the choices my role models made. More often, though, I would turn to my journal and my favorite literary heroines to explore my innermost self. Some of my best friends lived on the pages of my books.

In reality, I hid myself behind the cover of a book – just as Abby hides behind her stoic shell. For myself, being sensitive by nature and a self-conscious introvert, I felt safe with friends who couldn’t challenge me or question me. I identified with so many of them – Anne Shirley, Emily of New Moon, even Scarlett O’Hara – and they wouldn’t make fun of me, ignore me, or try to get me to change. Lately, though, I’ve discovered that navigating the rough waters of change and learning to swim even when I feel like I’m losing control and I’m sinking is what makes me who I am.

I love these lines in Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Ring of Endless Light: “When we’re thinking consciously about ourselves, we’re less ourselves than when we are being self-centered….The discoveries don’t come when you are consciously looking for them….They come for some reason when you’ve let go conscious control.” I lived through my favorites stories because they were controlled. There were limits put on the characters – and the ending never changed. No matter how many times I reread them, Anne with an E always married Gilbert Blythe and Scarlett inevitably made her way home to Tara.  In real life, all the twists and turns seem blind for us. We don’t know where the next bend will lead us or just how long the storm will last – but if “we want to walk on water, we have to get out of the boat.”

Sometimes, we bring these unsettling challenges on ourselves with the decisions we make – just as Abby did when she left Chesapeake Shoes and headed to New York to pursue a career. Years down the road, we look backward at those choices and ask ourselves “What if I had….” or “Maybe I should have…” That can be a very dangerous game to play.

The most important things about looking into the past are to learn from those decisions and to discover which doors need to close. There is no point in regretting our past – we cannot change it. In fact, regret keeps us stuck in a holding pattern where we circle our past like a buzzard circles its prey, unable to move forward because all we are doing is looking backward. We can, however, look back at where those choices have brought us and seek to discover how they’ve shaped us and how they are influencing our present situations. If we can stop letting regret control us – if we can learn to roll with the waves and not struggle against the current – we can come out on the other end of the storm a stronger and better person. Then, when we look back at our zig-zagging path, we just might discover that there were incredibly blessings and unexpected joy in the midst of the rain.

You see, every choice we’ve made impacts our own character as well as the character of others close to us. Even in our mistakes and missteps, when we feel as though our sails are useless and the rigging is shot, we can use those moments in our pasts to encourage others. And what we thought were mistakes may just turn into some of our biggest blessings.

Abby may have left Trace and forged a new life with someone completely different, but she has two beautiful girls, a successful career, and is much wiser for the rapids she survived. Now she has the opportunity to close those “What If” doors and see just what the future holds for her. Trace sees this – he knows the possibilities because he’s been there, too – so he tosses that old letter into the fire and slams the door on what once was.

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Mick (Treat Williams) discovers that “the rigging is rotten, but it’s going to be good.”                                   PC: Crown Media, LLC 2018

Now, if we can all realize that our past is just a part of us – and that it doesn’t have to haunt us – we just might discover that our rigging may feel rotten, but the lead rope is still intact,  and it’s all going to be good.

 

“Fav Writer” – An Interview with Screenwriter Derek Thompson

Often called #FavWriter on Twitter by devoted Heartie Donna Cohen – a title he definitely deserves – Derek Thompson has brought some fabulous storylines and complex character development to four seasons of When Calls the Heart. As Season 5 came to a close, Derek graciously agreed to share some of his thoughts about the 4 seasons he has been contributing to When Calls the Heart Team and what he hopes Season 6 will bring.

ATG: Since 2013, you have been working pretty steadily. With credits of writer’s assistant, writer, script coordinator, co-executive producer, supervising producer, story editor, and consulting producer to your name for various series and projects, which title do you currently hold for season 6 of When Calls the Heart? What does your role require of you?

Derek: I’m a writer/co-executive producer… which means I’m part of a team that comes up with stories, communicates with our production team, and writes scripts.  

ATG: As a writer for the show, have you had the opportunity to be on set during filming? How often do the writers find the need to rewrite a scene or adjust the dialogue or storyline?

Derek: I was the writer on set for Seasons 3 and 4.  It was a lot of fun, but also hard work. Writers often work in a bubble, away from production.  But when we’re on set, we become the face of the story department. That tends to come with a lot of questions, meetings, and, as you’ve mentioned, rewrites.  On-set rewrites are a fun challenge but because time is tight, we become on-the-spot problem fixers.  If it’s pouring rain and the scene has to move inside, we have to rewrite the dialogue to make sense.  Or if an actor or director disagrees with the ending of a scene, we try to reach a compromise. It’s a really fun challenge.   

ATG: Now, if I remember correctly, you started on When Calls the Heart in season 2. How did you discover the show? What made you want to write for it?

Derek: I had been working on Cedar Cove (another Hallmark series).  I think that’s how my name was passed along. I’d heard of WCTH but hadn’t seen it at that time.  I enjoyed watching the entire first season without knowing much about the characters or the plot. I instantly understood the appeal and why it was so popular.  

ATG: So you have been involved from very early in the series. Of the past seasons, which storylines have been your favorites?

Derek: It’s hard to pick favorite storylines.  But I think the homestead story stands out (the one where Elizabeth looks after the kids on the farm).  It was my first episode and it seemed to resonate with the fans. It’s hard to disagree with the Hearties.  

ATG: It’s true. The Homestead episode is a fan favorite. It’s also one of my go-to episodes to rewatch. Within Season 5, you had quite a few credits to your name. Which episode(s) from this past season are your favorites?

Derek: My favorite episode of the season (and the series) is the Season 5 finale. I know it was a painful episode for our fans (it was for us, too).  But it was raw and beautiful — and Erin’s performance was perfect.

ATG: Now that you’ve mentioned the finale….Fans were understandably shocked by Daniel Lissing’s departure. What was your initial reaction to having to deal with Jack’s story coming to an end?

Derek: It’s always hard to lose a cast member who is so important to the show.  WCTH is one big family… so it was sad to see Dan go. But the other writers and I completely understood his reasons for leaving and we wish him nothing but good things.  

ATG: With Dan’s departure in mind, how did you approach Season 5 as a writer and storyteller differently than in previous seasons?

Derek: It wasn’t easy.  We knew it would be delicate and no matter how we handled it, there would be mixed reactions.  Our main concern was that it was done respectfully. Despite the darkness of the funeral and grieving… we wanted to exit the season on a positive note.  I think we found a way to give the fans hope for the upcoming season.

ATG: I can imagine that writing the story of Jack’s death and the subsequent emotional fallout for the town was difficult. Is there a real life situation that you used for inspiration to help create the realism that came across to the audience?

Derek: Since this episode was so important, all of the writers had a hand in the writing.  We wanted to make sure every scene was honest and real. I think we all used losses in our own lives as inspiration.

ATG: Even my two young sons reacted with tears and heartbreak at the loss of Jack. As you wrote these two episodes, what emotions did you find rising to the surface?

Derek: It was very sad.  I felt like I lost a friend.  But by the end of the episode, I felt hopeful.  

ATG: I thought it was interesting that Opal became the focus for the child’s storyline. I had imagined that Cody would have been the child most affected by Jack’s death. What were the motivations behind using Opal’s character as the “kid storyline” instead of Cody (who seems to have looked to Jack as a father figure)? Did it all come down to continuity from episode 9?

Derek: That’s a really good question (and the writers went back and forth on this one).  We felt that Cody was old enough (and had experienced enough loss) to process Jack’s loss more than a younger child, like Opal.  Her grief naturally drew in Elizabeth and, in a way, they healed together.

ATG: That does make sense. Cody dealt with the loss of parents in earlier episodes. He is no stranger to grief. While Brian, Lori, and Erin did touch on this, I am sure Hearties are still wondering what other storylines you considered for accomplishing Jack’s departure. Can you elaborate on that at all?

Derek: This wasn’t a fun process, but we had to figure out a way that worked (logically) but was respectful to everyone involved (especially the fans).  As Brian/Lori/Erin mentioned, there was discussion about having him leave, duty-bound. But we didn’t think we’d earned that. He would never leave her — or she would go with him.  A break-up seemed cruel. A disappearance, even more cruel. Sadly, Jack’s death was the only way to move on from the loss and allow Elizabeth to move on with her life (as we all have to do when we lose someone).  

ATG: From the reactions on social media, I would say that fans certainly experienced quite a range of emotions with the season finale. Throughout the season, in fact, the episodes varied greatly in the amount of depth and emotion to the storylines. These last two episodes went much deeper and followed the inner turmoil of most of the show’s integral characters. Why do you think that is?

Derek: Not since the first season had this show delved into loss like we did in the final two episodes of Season 5.  We wanted to do it right and allow the fans to follow Elizabeth as she grieved. That makes for a very heavy episode (a departure from the norm on this show).  This isn’t the new direction of the show by any means… but it was appropriate in the context of Season 5.

ATG: That being said, the story moved quickly from Jack and Elizabeth’s longed-for wedding to the devastating loss. What were the deciding factors that led to orchestrating the wedding in mid-season and the death at the end of the season? Was moving the wedding earlier in the season a possibility in order to give the newlyweds more time as a married couple?

Derek: The fans deserved a wedding.  I agree, an earlier wedding would have given Elizabeth/Jack more time to enjoy life as newlyweds… but unfortunately, there were factors beyond our control that limited our options.   But we’re very happy how it turned out. It was a special moment.

ATG: As with many shows, fans like to analyze every aspect of the show. The end of episode 9 left many fans feeling that Jack could still return – that he wasn’t dead. They attributed their hopes to the title “In My Dreams” and the fact that the visiting mountie never actually spoke the words. Was the ambiguity intentional?

Derek: I don’t think there was any intention to mislead the audience.  We wanted to give the fans a chance to prepare for what was coming in the finale.

ATG: Despite the tears I shed during the Season 5 ending and the shattering of some of those “dreams” I had for Jack and Elizabeth, I am still intrigued and excited to see what’s next. Storytelling is an artform, and no work of art pleases everyone. How do you handle the “difference of opinions” fans voice about an episode or story arc?

Derek: I respect all opinions about the end of Season 5.  As you’ve said, it’s art and no one will or should completely agree.  Some of the feedback has been negative, but most has been overwhelmingly positive.  We met a difficult situation and we did our best to move past it. I think the fans will see that WCTH is just as entertaining and comforting as it has ever been (hopefully, more so).  

ATG: As everyone moves from Season 5 into anticipation for Season 6, how will you incorporate more of the grieving process for Elizabeth and the others, even in small ways, to acknowledge Jack’s legacy in Hope Valley?

Derek: I don’t think Jack will ever be forgotten.  He can’t be. But we also don’t want to dwell on the past.  Instead, Elizabeth and others will find their own ways of remembering Jack, fondly, as life continues in Hope Valley.  

ATG: “Remembering Jack” sounds like a great episode title, don’t you think? But with season 6 filming already underway, I’m sure you are past developing titles. What do you hope to create for the fans this season? Brian and Lori have mentioned a sort of “rebirth” for Elizabeth and the rest of the town. How do you see that coming to fruition?

Derek: Rebirth is a great way to describe it.  Jack won’t be forgotten, but life will go on.  Change is a constant in a small frontier town… and there’ll be plenty of change (good change) in Hope Valley.  Opportunities/challenges. New characters maybe? I’m very excited about what we have in store for the fans.

ATG: Other than her romance with Jack Thornton, Elizabeth’s role as a teacher in this frontier town is a centerpoint of the story. What are some possible storylines that you would like to explore for the kids in future episodes?

Derek: Without giving anything away, I think the children will be even more important and central to Elizabeth this season.  As we teased at the end of the finale, BIG changes are coming for Elizabeth, but her students will always be a high priority in her life.  We try to choose stories for the kids that somehow reflect or compliment what the adults are going through.

ATG: I can imagine that establishing continuity within those storylines is a challenge. Before the advent of Netflix and Amazon streaming services, viewers weren’t really able to “binge-watch” a show. How does the streaming avenue for viewers to watch the WCTH impact how you approach the story? With fans able to rewatch episode after episode, what challenges does this present that weren’t present when the audience had to wait for “reruns?”

Derek: I think it has advantages and drawbacks.  The ability to binge watch tends to bring new viewers to the show.  People who missed the first few seasons can watch them quickly and catch up.  But this means we have to be very diligent with the storytelling. When fans watch episodes back to back, they can more easily find plot holes or logic gaps.  It was easier to get away with little mistakes when episodes were only aired one week apart with no recording.

I personally like binge-watching.  It helps the fan become immersed in the world.

ATG: I love to binge-watch, too. In fact, I binged the first two seasons of WCTH in about two weeks. I think I was so immersed that I didn’t notice many gaps.

As a writer, how often do you refer to previous scripts and seasons to ensure continuity in a storyline or overall seasonal story arc? What are some aspects of television production that hinder a writer’s ability to create cohesion from one season to another?

Derek: We’re constantly going back and looking at episodes or reading scripts to make sure our continuity is accurate.  The writers, directors, editors, etc. do everything we can to make sure the story tracks. I think our show is really good at catching mistakes that sneak through, but it’s a long road from script to final product and scenes are dropped, dialogue changes, or stories are tweaked… and occasionally, our dedicated fans will notice that something doesn’t add up.  It happens on all shows – even blockbuster movies. As a fan, I like finding them. It makes me feel sneaky.

ATG: Filming began in July for the new season, and plans for HFR4 are in full swing, as well. Will you be attending this year? Perhaps leading a tour group?

Derek: I would love to!  I promise I won’t lose people on my tours like I did last time.  

ATG: I’m sure you are aware of the When Hope Calls spin-off. Are you involved in the story development? If so, what can you add to “tease” Hearties and help them anticipate the new series even more?

Derek: We’re all very excited about the spin-off series.  And yes, I’ve been involved in the early stages of development.  I think the Hearties will love this new series. The spinoff will deliver the same kind of heartwarming stories that WCTH delivers, week after week (and we’re hoping the two series will cross over from time to time).  We’re in the very early stages, so I won’t say much more… but it’s a fun world with loveable characters.

ATG: Other than When Calls the Heart, what other projects are you currently developing? How can Hearties support you?

Derek: The Hearties are amazing and do more than I deserve.  They support us every time they watch.

Other than WCTH, I’m working on a few Hallmark projects (MOW’s) and developing a series of my own.  It’s something completely different, but something I’m excited about. I can’t say much about it, just yet… but hopefully soon.

Hearties, we have many exciting stories coming our way from this talented writer, starting with Season 6 of When Calls the Heart. Continue to tune in starting with the When Calls the Heart Christmas special in December. To find out what Derek is up to and to stay “in the know” on his current and upcoming projects, you can follow him on Twitter at @derekw_thompson.

Where the Heart Wants to Go – “Chesapeake Shores: An Open Book”

The balmy August air enveloped us like a blanket in winter as the four of us lay out on our top deck, faces fixed on the darkness above us while meteors occasionally streaked across the night sky. That was our very first star-gazing experience as a family. Just a year prior, we’d been living in the suburbs where streetlights doused all but the brightest stars, making the glory of the night skies nearly invisible.

In the next few days, astronomers say, we will be able to experience the best meteor shower of the year: the Perseids. Will my hubby and I keep the boys awake, drag our sleeping bags out of the overhead storage in the garage, and do it all again this year? I’m not sure yet…after all, the peak of the meteor shower is around 2am and I am not a night owl. One thing is for certain, those minutes we spent last year were some of the best spent of the whole year, so maybe another sleep-deprived, star-gazing night is worth it.

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Gran (Diane Ladd) delivers another nugget of wisdom to Abby (Meghan Ory).                                         PC: Crown Media, LLC 2018

When you were a kid, did you wish on a shooting star? Or perhaps you wished on the “first star” you saw each night? As Gran shared with her clan in Monday’s season premiere of Chesapeake Shores, “Wishing is where the heart wants to go, and doing makes dreams come true.” It takes more than a wish on a star to realize a dream. As I prepare for the boys’ first day back at school this fall, I think about dreams and time – and how easy it is to lose track of both if we’re not careful. I think about the tears I cried when I held my firstborn son the night before I went back to work after maternity leave. He was four months old. Now, he is a nine-year-old 4th grader  – and those tears still simmer just beneath the surface as I type.  You know what I wish about tonight, what I dream about? I wish to be a better mom – a mom who has more time to play, more time to cuddle…more time, period. No matter what I do, I’m alway sacrificing something because there isn’t enough time.

This summer was the shortest since I became a teacher. With just 8 weeks to enjoy, I still felt we began this summer with an abundance of time. Sixty days to spend together – to soak in each others’ presence. Just like Abby had planned a list full of special outings and activities for her time with Trace during his three-week break in Sunday’s season premiere of Chesapeake Shores, I made a mental list of all I wanted to do with my family. Sure, the list included chores like “take old clothes to Goodwill” and “hang pictures on the walls,” but my primary focus was my family.

As a teacher, my time is often not my own during the school year. Between lesson-planning and grading essays, department meetings and after-school supervision, there never seems to be enough time to do what I really want to do. So, I try to make up for it all summer. This time around, my mom and I worked through a DVD series on screenwriting that we’ve been putting off for a long time. My sons and I spent a whole week together, growing in our faith. The four of us, hubby included, spent time in Disneyland with friends, making many precious memories. We swam daily (until the outside air became unsafe to breathe). We played with friends two and three times a week. We painted, drew pictures, built Legos, read stories, and spent as many minutes together as we could. You see, it isn’t about “how much time we have. It’s about what we do with it.” Together, the four of us in our family made memories that we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

Grandpa

Mick O’Brien (Treat Williams) enjoys time with his granddaughters, Caitlyn and Carrie Winters (Abbie and Kayden Magnuson).    PC: Crown Media, LLC 2018

As I watched the last few scenes of Sunday’s episode where Abby’s daughters snapped selfies and photos of their family during the Oyster Festival on the beach, my mind instantly began flashing back to images of my own summer. While I didn’t walk on the beach, holding hands with my husband, or sit around a campfire with my boys, snapping silly photos, I did make some of my very favorite memories this summer right here, in our own house, on our own couch, where I curled up with my boys who are growing way too fast – where we watched goofy kids’ shows and giggled together.

Then, my mind floods with other images: towering piles of clean laundry that wait to be folded, a sink full of stinky, dirty dishes that won’t wash themselves, and the messy stacks of paper on my desk that need sorted. And I wonder, where are those images for Abby, and Jess, and Bree? In between the fun and memories, where is the dirt and grime of daily life? We all know it must be there because that’s what life and love and family is: a beautiful, sweet, glorious mess.

I push those irritating images of obligation to the most distant compartment in my mind and whisper a cross-stitch saying that my own mother kept on her wall during my growing-up years:

Cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,

For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.

So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust, go to sleep.

I’m rocking my baby. Babies don’t keep.

As it turns out, these four profound lines of verse were penned by another mother who face the same challenges. Ruth Hulburt Hamilton’s poem “Song for a Fifth Child” was published in Ladies Home Journal in 1958. She wrote it as a reflection about her own motherhood with her “fifth child.” Sixty years later, her words echo in my heart and mind.

And so, without either of my boys noticing, I often closed my eyes this summer as we watched television. I rested my cheek to the tops of their heads, and slowed the moments down in my mind. Because, as Trace said to the magazine reporter, “I don’t take a single moment for granted because it could all be gone in a heartbeat.” As we all know, the sink full of dishes and the baskets of laundry will not magically disappear, no matter how many times we wish on a star that they will. And no matter how many times we wish and dream for a little ones to stay little, they won’t.

“Heading Home” – An Interview with Executive Producer Michael Berns

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Michael Berns, Executive Producer            PC: IMDB

At the recommendation of a friend, I binge-watched the first season of Hallmark Channel’s Chesapeake Shores just in time to catch Season Two last fall, and I was hooked. As summer winds down, the production team of Chesapeake Shores is gearing up for the new season, which premieres this weekend. In between flights to Vancouver, BC to edit future episodes, Show Runner Michael Berns set aside some time to share a few insights with us about what it means to be a part of this dynamic series.

ATG: Thank you again for this opportunity. I have to say, I found most of the the story lines for Season Two very intriguing. They took the characters in new directions and really developed the backstories of the main players. I’m excited to see how dynamics shift this season.

As you entered filming of Season Two of Chesapeake Shores, you mentioned in another interview that “This is the first time I’ve worked with any of the actors or members of the crew, all of whom were very generous and welcoming since I was the “new kid” for the second season.” You aren’t the “new kid” this time around. Did having a very successful season of the show under your belt affect your approach to the new season?

Michael: Absolutely, it was great not being the “new kid”!  With some time under my belt and with Season Two’s story lines already in place, it was easier to develop larger, more complex arcs and really delve into some of the more personal O’Brien moments.  With a full season behind all of us, I think it allowed both cast, crew and myself to take some more chances. I think all of us are really proud of the new season.

ATG: I know fans are extremely excited to be back with the O’Brien family this Sunday. While I know you enjoy developing the O’Briens’ stories for us, I also know your own family is a priority in your life. How has your relationship with your family impacted how you balance your personal time with your work?

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PC: Michael Berns

One of the favorite parts of the O’Brien family is that regardless of personal issues, they’re always there for one another.  Certainly, it’s hard to not see my family (and my dog) for close to four months, but my wife and children understand the difficulties and sacrifices involved in my profession.  When we’re in production on Chesapeake Shores, sadly, there is no balancing between personal time and family time for me, but my family and I try to remain close through billions of phone calls and texts.  With all three of my children in college (two will be seniors this year, one a junior), we’re accustomed to staying in touch electronically, but I do miss our summers together.  Since production ended July 16th, I’m now on my second trip back to Vancouver, so, in between work trips, I squeezed a quick trip to Washington DC and the real Chesapeake Bay to visit my daughter who has a summer internship in the city.  

ATG: I remember you mentioning in Season Two of Chesapeake Shores that David’s story about sending a girl a love letter and having it returned to him was founded in reality. Can you elaborate on that?

Michael: Yes, the love letter was loosely based on a real incident.  My first year in college was at Claremont McKenna College, a small school in Southern California.  Midway through the year, I decided to “take the plunge” and transfer to UCLA with the hope of entering film school as a junior.  In my excitement, I wrote a letter (yes, an actual letter) to an old high school girlfriend, describing my decision. A month later, I received it back, fully graded, with spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes noted.  It was pretty brutal. While it wasn’t a love letter, and we were no longer going out, I was pretty devastated and spent the next two days blasting the Eagles song, “Already Gone” in my dorm room as loud as I could. It was my version of a purge (which we also did last season on the show).  Honestly, I don’t know if it helped, and I have no idea where the woman is now, but every time I hear that song, I’m transported back to a small dorm room with very big speakers singing at the top of my lungs.

ATG: Isn’t it incredible how music can spark such emotional memories for us? As I re-watched Season Two, I found myself grinning while the theme song played. Already, some very special personal moments for me are associated with that opening sequence. In what other ways have your personal life experiences influenced the story lines of the show?

Michael: From friendships to relationships to family, you write what you know.  From moments as silly as a nautical quote (my dad still raises his glass at family gatherings to belt out, “To the ship, to the crew, to the blue lady of the skies”), to how O’Brien sisters and brothers interact, it’s all based on moments in life that you remember or moments you wish happened.  A personal favorite of mine is some of the sailing stories that are threaded through this season. Midway through Season Two, Treat Williams and I sat down and started to talk about our misspent youths, and we realized that both of us had spent a good deal of time on the water. One thing led to another, and so this season… well…  

ATG: It must be incredible to see memories like those replayed on screen. You know, many creative thinkers like to say that “art imitates life,” but we also know that we can learn from what we see on screen. What do you hope viewers learn from the upcoming season?

Michael: Considering your eloquently written posts, I’m hoping that they read your blog since you do a beautiful job finding meaning in our episodes.  Short of that, as simple as it sounds, the O’Briens are poster children for the idea that love can conquer all. Regardless of how much the O’Briens fight, they love one another enough to always find a way to forgive.

ATG: Wow! Thank you so much for your kind words. I’ll certainly keep tuning in, as I hope others do, to watch the O’Briens put love and kindness first, no matter their differences. One reason that theme comes through is because of the way the individuals of Chesapeake Shores work as an ensemble: each role adds a significant layer to the depth of the story, delving into more complex emotions. Off all the characters, which intrigue you the most? Why?

Michael: I know this sounds like a cop out, but I’m not sure if one character really stands out as either a favorite or as most intriguing.  When I’m writing or working in an editing room, the storyline or the character that matters is the one that’s in front of me. Since you insert yourself in every character, there’s a part of Jess in me, a part of Bree, a part of Mick, a part of Trace.   So, short of a decent answer to your question, let’s just say I’m still intrigued by Axel, Trace’s dog, who started life as a golden retriever and magically transformed into a German Shepherd.

ATG: That’s hilarious! I haven’t caught that – I suppose that means I have another excuse to binge-watch.

Season Two ended with many relationships “up in the air,” so to speak, and the Season Three premiere airs on Sunday, August 5. Can you describe a little about what viewers can expect? How will the premiere pick up where Season Two left off?

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PC: Michael Berns

Without giving anything away, many people (Trace, David and Simon) left at the end of the season and, no surprise here, it’s pretty likely we’ll see all of them again.  The biggest loose thread from last season is Bree’s manuscript and that will play a huge role in the coming season. If it’s any help, the new seasons begins a number of months after Season Two ended.

ATG: That is good for viewers to know, especially as they take to social media this weekend. With the Chessies hashtag and interaction with fans on social media over the past two seasons growing significantly, those little clues are important to keep us on track. You seem to enjoy interacting with fans and responding to as many as you can. What do you like most about interacting with Chessies?

I love the interactions on social media!  Besides getting to meet people from all over the world, I truly enjoy the back and forth of getting to know our fans.  As a writer, it certainly helps getting to know your audience better, and it’s wonderful chatting online with people that I’m sure I’d enjoy chatting with in real life.

ATG: Many devoted fans have taken to social media to express their desire for a “Chessies Reunion.” After Season Two ended, there was discussion of hosting a fan convention for Chesapeake Shores on beautiful Vancouver Island, where the show is filmed. Is this still in the works?

Michael: I hope we can do it… maybe for Season Three?  I’m really not the person to contact, but the idea sounds like fun!

ATG: It would be fun! We will have to keep it in mind as we watch this season. If you had to give fans one word to hold onto throughout Season Two what would it be?

Michael: Hope.

Chessies, head home to Chesapeake Shores this Sunday, August 5 at 9/8 Central on Hallmark Channel to discover just what Michael means by “hope.” If you haven’t followed Michael on social media, you are missing out. His kindness, sense of humor, and graciousness in sharing with fans has already been a blessing to many who interact with him online, myself included. You can follow him at @michaelbernsTV on Twitter, @michaelbernstv on Instagram, and @michaelberns on Facebook. Hope to see you all at the Shores!

 

Poolside Epiphany

It is midsummer here in northern California. More often that not, that means afternoons spent lounging on the couch while the AC blasts cool air into the living room. Between curling up with the boys on the couch to watch their favorite Netflix show, I do the dishes, make lunch, or fold laundry. On special days, we even add in a trip to grandma’s house for a swim in her pool or a morning playdate with friends.

MagicKingdomThis past month, though, brought incredible experiences for our family. Through the generosity of family and friends, we spent three days enjoying the mid-summer heat in southern California, via a whirlwind trip to the Magic Kingdom. We enjoyed rides that had us Soaring around the World and traveling at warp speed through various galaxies. We relaxed on a park bench and gobbled down cinnamon-sweet churros. We “oohed” and “aahed” at the fantastic displays of lights and fireworks. In a nutshell, we had the trip of every child’s dreams.

Ironically, though, as I look back over those three incredibly fast-paced days, it is our time relaxing by the hotel pool on the 4th of July that speaks to me most. In those few hours of soaking in the summer sunshine and splashing in the pool with my little boys, God decided to deliver a subtle wake-up call to me.

Do you ever feel like you are always one step (if not one hundred steps) behind God, as though the light in your brain doesn’t go on until much later than it should? This was one of those days…

PoolWhile I’ve learned some incredible truths about myself over the past 30-odd years of self-discovery, true understanding of my introverted personality did not really sink in until I found myself sitting, clothed in my dripping-wet swimsuit, on a lounge chair in the shade beside the pool. My husband reclined in the chair next to me, sipping on an iced coffee and relaxing with some new friends who had joined us at the pool. While I wanted to contribute to their chat, say something witty or profound, I couldn’t. Instead, I focused on my sweet nine-year-old little boy reading in the sun only a few feet away, laying on his stomach, with his book clutched in his hands. Oblivious to the world, he devoured the words on the page.

“Go swim. Go socialize.” These phrases echoed in my head as I attempted to conjure some of that powerful Force my son is always claiming he can use.

Before my eyes, one of our new friends casually attempted to engage my son in conversation.

“What are you reading?” he asked gently, drawing my son out of his book-induced trance.

“Percy Jackson. It’s the last one,” my son replied before turning his eyes back to the page.

“I think I saw one of those movies. What’s the book about? Do you like it?” This friend kindly pulled my son a bit more out of himself.

My son’s eyes lit up, and he began describing the characters and a bit about the challenges they faced. After a couple of minutes, he returned to his book. I walked over to him. In an attempt to get him joining our group a bit more, I suggested he go back in the water and make another trip down the waterslide, but he was content to lay in the sun and read.

I went back to my thoughts, my silent imploring that my son join the group and open up. “What will these friends think? Will my husband think our son is being rude by sitting off by himself and not joining the group? How can I get him to put his book down and come over?”

As these questions and concerns whirled in my head, this new friend looked at me and said,” I love that he is so into that book. It’s so rare to see kids reading real books anymore.”

And there you have it. God speaking to me about my 9-year-old while I was busy trying to figure out ways to get my son to be something other than what God created him to be. My son is an introvert and a bookworm, just like me. Social situations with new people are stressful and awkward for him. He had spent time in the pool with the other kids, but he needed time to be alone – time to re-energize and relax. In that instance, I saw my son as God sees him: a precious little boy who loves a good story. I had been so concerned about what others would think that I was missing a beautiful moment that illustrated exactly who God created my son to be. I was projecting my own social anxiety onto my son.

Tonight, as I studied the story of Zacchaeus climbing a sycamore tree to see who “this Jesus was,”(Luke 19:1-10) I began to formulate some questions about Zaccheaus: Did he disregard his attire, his status, and the others around him, in reverence for the King? How often do I let the world or those around me dictate my actions? How often do I temper my response to God because I don’t want to look foolish in front of the world? Why don’t I run ahead with expectancy for what Jesus will do and instead always end up steps behind him, discovering his truth after the fact?

Just as Jesus knew exactly who Zacchaeus was and even called him by name, God sees us for who we are. He doesn’t place impossible expectations on us or judge us if we make a slight social faux pas. He is not concerned with the formalities of this world. In fact, more often than not, He guides us to work against them, to be ourselves as He designed us to be. Jesus saw Zacchaeus, the chief tax-collector, peering down from the branch of a tree as it extended over the road. Instead of accusing Zacchaeus of being a “sinner” as others were doing, Jesus praised him by requesting to join Zacchaeus at his home and pronouncing him “forgiven.”

So, through this short tale in the Bible and a friend’s simple words to me during a vacation by the pool, I have learned to celebrate who I am (and who my son is) just a bit more: introverts who devour real books the way others devour breakfast cereal. And, while it is still a good idea to join in the fun and games when you can to build your social acuity, curling up on a lounge chair with a good book that takes you on an adventure is okay, too.