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There are some truisms we can’t get away from, especially the one about history repeating itself and people never changing. After seeing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri those two and a few others come to smirking life. It’s a movie that slaps you in the face, a wake-up call like no other I’ve seen this year.

If a film has Frances McDormand in it, I go see it. The same when it comes to Sam Rockwell, who is vastly under-acknowledged. My favorite of his is the expendable crew/cast member from Galaxy Quest, since I’m a fan of the quirky, but now it’s the brutal and conflicted Dixon,  a brilliant piece of acting. No, there’s got to be a better description, because Rockwell mines every aspect and wart of man on the edge with a subtle and unnerving portrayal of violence about to go haywire.

The McDormand and Rockwell characters blast off the screen right into your face. I usually gush about ensemble acting but there is very little, if none, to be seen in this movie. The characters are all too self-involved and emotionally blinded, incapable of seeing/interfacing with others, unless venting anger and retribution. Everyone in the cast is astonishing, and each one crazy self-interested. It’s mesmerizing, like watching a car crash of the freeway pile-up order. The story flies along and there’s no escaping the wrecks about to happen.

On a side note, Mildred satisfies an urge we all wish we could realize, because she’s reached the point where there’s no turning back. She no longer cares what anyone else thinks, excepting her son. She’s become a reckless, avenging machine, and when two teens fling a mess on her car’s windscreen, she reacts to the schoolyard/high school fascism incident in a way we can only dream of doing. Go Mildred.

This is essentially Martin McDonagh’s sendup of how we are products of our environments and the vagaries of life. A lot of this script would fall flat and merely come off as vulgar, the messages lost, without the right delivery. IMHO, he is a better director than writer in this instance. There are a few ambiguous bits, the greasy burn smudges in the grass by the billboards that suggest the raped and burned girl had seen her end at that location, and the aggressive creep in the gift shop scene, who does and doesn’t commit to the murder.

After all is said, done, and acted, it’s just as Sheriff Willoughby (a polished performance by Woody Harrleson) summarizes in a letter to Dixon. It comes down to love, to forgiveness, to paying attention to another’s pain. Peter Dinklage’s sad-eyed James is the only citizen of Ebbing who has a clue, but kind as he may be, he also has an agenda. Having learned so many of life’s inescapable lessons, James doesn’t jump to conclusions and is ready to empathize, providing the moral of McDonagh’s theme. I believe every viewer will have a different take on this movie. For me it’s—what’s the point of living if we can’t learn to forgive others and ourselves?

Tis the season, so check out the freebies on 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway:

M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)
Follow on Twitter @RigdonML













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Some memories remain clear and never forgotten. One is of my father running through a jumble of cars to get to a fire. Sightseers had blocked the path, but the firetruck had gotten through. The other is from 9/11, firefighters running up steps into a building. Everything inside me knew they would never get out, and I was just as sure that they knew the same and still ran as fast they could.

I come from a family of firefighters; dad, uncles, cousins and a nephew. Dad volunteered when I was a child and later professionally with ordinance and flammables. When my family moved to So. California, he worked for Rocketdyne and Jet Propulsion Lab. Before he got those jobs, I asked him why he never accepted a fire chief position offered to him. He replied that he didn’t know enough about forest fires. I didn’t fully understand that reply until I’d been threatened by three and survived one. Fire doesn’t frighten me, but it should. Two movies I’ve recently seen have fire as a main component—two completely different genres.

Only the Brave is a movie that will stay with me forever. There aren’t many films about fires. Backdraft and Always are easy to remember, but most scenes in films with fires are unrealistic, even dangerous, giving viewers the idea that it’s okay to risk going into a building in flames.

(Two things to remember: there is NO AIR to breath. The fire is eating it, and it’s usually pitch black inside. Crawling along the floor, following a baseboard is the only chance of finding the way out. Scenes are lit bright red for movies, not the actual event.)

Only the Brave isn’t just about fighting forest fires, which is a visually spectacular component. It’s also about the people who do it to save others, how their families are impacted. Saving people is the primary goal, but also the forests. With climate change comes increased unpredictability and the problem of towns and cities that were once marginally safe now at high risk. This film isn’t only a cautionary tale, it’s wonderfully acted by a diverse cast. Some may think the portrayal of the firefighters a bit juvenile at times, but I’ve worked in high stress conditions in the ER and know that it’s one way to combat the stress. The laughter and silly-crazy stuff helps to compartmentalize the immense pressure of the work.

This is a film worth seeing, if for no other reason than to honor those who put their lives on the line. We honor our service people, but firefighters are sometimes neglected. If I had more than two thumbs, they’d all be pointed up for this movie.

On the other side of the genre spectrum is Thor: Ragnarok. OK, I did something throughout this flick that I never expected, laughed and laughed and laughed. Now, I knew it would be a hoot to watch Jeff Goldblum, but I didn’t expect the hilarious script and comedic timing of Chris Hemsworth. He does it with such ease, and comedy ain’t easy, folks. It’s the most difficult to perfect in an actor’s toolbox. Most don’t attempt it. (And look for cameo appearances.)

My usual gripes about the action film genre usually originate with graphics and music. No bellyaching this time. The graphics sparkle with splashes of color or majestic beauty. The charge of the Valkyrie is stunning, and the music lead-in clever—just a few Wagnerian notes to announce what’s coming. I liked this movie so much I’m going to see it again with a mythology buff. She’d already warned me that the movie didn’t follow the myths, but I don’t know how anyone can gripe about Cate Blanchett’s snarky Hela (aka Hel, Norse myth. Sort of). Some have panned Blanchett and this character, but I thought she was delicious. And Jeez, give it a break. This is a movie that’s supposed to be FUN, and finally, for the Marvel franchise, it is.

So, you’re asking how these two movies are alike? Forest fire devastation, the conflagration of Asgard, and life-and-death choices made with courage of conviction.

Shameless plug portion of the blog: my newest release—totally unlike the above genres except for a little violence here and there—Avenue to Heaven, written as Julia Donner.

M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)







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There are those who long for a fairy godmother. As I’ve mentioned before, I had a fey aunt, Marie Louise Duerrstein, and tagged after her in fascination with how her mind and imagination worked. It wasn’t until a few months before she could no longer speak clearly from a stroke that I realized that whenever she told me her ideas, I saw them exactly as she created them in her mind.

As a girl, it never occurred to me not to do what Aunt Marie said. There were some chores I didn’t like doing, but then there were the times when she told me to audition for a play. The thought of saying no or that I couldn’t do it never entered my head. I was her living mannequin for newspapers, magazines, and in first grade, a documentary I’d forgotten about until my sister, Sarah, saw it in a history class.

Aunt Marie put together parades and pageants, reenactments and Santa Claus Houses. She’d hand me a paint brush and tell me to paint a horse because she wasn’t good at that. She once told me to make an elephant after she erected its frame, which got stuffed with newspaper, covered in burlap, and painted gray. Later, she told me to make a much larger one for a Republican Party event.

She amassed her own museum, The Old General Store, what she called: A Step into the past. And it was, and so convincing Ingmar Bergman used it in his film, The Emigrants. Until becoming a curator, she made a living as a seamstress and selling bits of this and that of her artwork. She got artifacts for the museum with her wily sense of acquiring what she needed for nothing or next to nothing. Her motto was: Never pay for advertising. She didn’t, and yet her museum was known all over the world and in major magazines from National Geographic to Good Housekeeping.

Galena, Illinois was one of the first boomtowns of the West. In the 1820’s, Illinois was considered the edge of the world. By the 1840s, Galena’s Main Street was lined with four and five story brick and stone buildings (still intact) that survived spring floods from the Mississippi backing up the Galena River, filling the first floors with muddy water. Businesses moved merchandise to the top floors. And forgot about a lot of it. Aunt Marie didn’t. She knew the town’s history and went to store owners in the early 1950s. She said she’d clean out their attics if she could keep what she found. The items ended up in her museum, like-new boxes never opened, some from prior to the civil war.

When she opened her museum in 1957, she dressed me in a costume she’d sewn and in high- button shoes seventy years old. I worked in the museum, as did most of my family, after learning local history from Aunt Marie, who learned it directly from old timers. One was a woman in her nineties, who remembered sitting perched on her father’s shoulder to listen to Lincoln speaking from a Desoto Hotel balcony.

To this day, the 1800’s seem more comfortable to me than the present. Nine of my formative years had been spent surrounded by the past. That’s how it became easy to write in the time period. I know how to trim lamp wicks, fill them with kerosene, and clean the chimneys. I still use a coffee mill from that time. My home has antiques from her collection and the maternal side of my family. I know I will never taste anything as exquisite as the crispy lightness of a waffle made on the range with a waffle maker of cast iron. And that’s how I could write a story about a woman moving from Chicago in 1891 to a cabin in Colorado. So maybe there is something to the adage about writing about what you know.

Avenue to Heaven was released 11/01/17. It’s the first book in the Westward Bound series, stories about women who make new lives for themselves on the other side of the Mississippi, women of courage and determination. The ones who actually accomplished this are our past and our heritage.


Below is one of the ”living mannequin” moments. I was twelve at the time and can’t remember what it was for, magazine or newspaper. The background is the museum and mannequins she made to “dress” the store.

me 11-2nd


And Aunt Marie as a stand-in for the movie Gaily, Gaily

Marie Gaily Gaily


M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

Follow on Twitter @RigdonML




3 Films in 3 Days


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Ok, I admit it. I’m a movie junkie. There’s very little that I don’t like when it comes to films. I wish I could watch horror flicks, but the chicken-factor in me is off the chart in a darkened room. Out in the light or in real life, not so much. In real-time, it takes a lot to shake me up. This means I miss out on a lot of good stuff. Years after Jaws came out, I got up the courage to watch it and loved its humor. But I’ve strayed a bit. Back to the 3 day event.

Monday, The Mountain Between Us. Hadn’t planned to see this flick but went with a group of once-a-week movie buddies, and so glad I did. Some would say it was another bi-racial hook-up thing, but I didn’t get that anywhere in the story. Excellent script and screenplay. Superb and subtle acting. Magnificent scenic views of the remote majesty of winter-clad mountains in contrast to a profoundly intimate struggle for survival. This was a study in interior and exterior battles—two gifted people who are forced to change everything they thought they knew about themselves, to endure in the face of impossible odds. This film was so much more that I expected, and it has a wonderful dog!

Tuesday, Blade Runner 2049. Who hasn’t seen the original? Hold up your hands, I mean, hand. (I loved the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip Dick) There is no way to NOT contrast the former movie from this one. This version is more atmospheric, more artsy and stylish, but there is none of the personal investment in the story. I didn’t connect with anyone, nothing like the first one with its eerie tension and fear for the fate of the original Rachel. This second version has gorgeous art production and lighting but lacks  momentum. The slow pacing allows time to enjoy the brilliant artistry but gets a bit too slow in too many spots. The only character I could connect with was the police captain, Joshi, (Robin Wright), who balances her career, professional intentions, and an inappropriate attraction for her Blade Runner. Sykvia Hoeks “Luv” was scary but not as terrifying as Rutger Hauer’s relentless desperation to live. But in this one, the seasoned actor in Ford expressed volumes when he simply and brilliantly said, “Her eyes were green.” The unfortunate sountrack was repetitive, distracting and too loud in spots. Finally, certain aspects of the story were unnecessarily obscure and the ending unsatisfying.

Wednesday, Victoria & Abdul. We automatically expect fine acting in Brit films that are perfectly casted like this one is. No need to go there. Production-wise, the weird contrasts of the austerity and abundance of the Victorian/Edwardian eras are bluntly typified, especially the nasty racial-verses-aristocratic attitudes. Edward, eventual king, was accurately portrayed as the sleaze he was, absolutely no tribute to his amazing parents. Some have labeled this as another Mrs. Brown romance, but I didn’t see that. Victoria uses Abdul to uplift her loneliness, revive her flagging spirits, but she views him as a son. What mother wouldn’t with a schlub like Bertie for a first-born.

Ergo, my first pick would be The Mountain Between Us. Second comes Victoria & Abdul, and third, Blade Runner, which is really kind of sad since I’d had such hopes for it.

Feebies on Kindle:

Prophecy Denied (free 10-22 thru 10-24) Book One of the Seasons of Time fantasy:

The Rake and the Bishop’s Daughter (free 10-24 thru 10-28) historical regency

Newest Julia Donner release on November 1st, Avenue to Heaven, first book in the Westward Bound series about adventurous women heading west to realize their dreams. On pre-sale now:

M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

Follow on Twitter @RigdonML





#Amreading UNWIND…When Books are More Than a Story

When we are blessed with teachers with integrity and courage:

Finding Faeries

Years and years ago, after picking up a few books at the library, I discovered the author Neal Shusterman. I first read his Dark Fusion books and loved them.

Then I found Downsiders…

and became a Neal Shusterman fan. I searched the library for his books, reading all they had. Here are some… go find more here. Have I read all of his books? Nope. But I am working on it.

All of them are fantastic! Don’t forget Bruiser…or Scythe. Have you read them? WHY NOT?

When I came across Unwind…


Seriously. So many feels. So many thoughts. So many mind altering ideas.

Well, it’s the first in a series…so I set out to read the rest, but the rest hadn’t been written, so I set them aside because I WANT TO READ THEM ALL IN A ROW.

I have four…however, there is a fifth I have to buy…waiting…

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The Crazy Wonderfulness of #SonofaPitch

An example of how writers need to support one another:

Finding Faeries

Last week I participated in the writing event/contest Son of a Pitch. People submitted their entries, including their query and first page. This blog was a host for ten of them! Go #TeamRarity! I read and critiqued 51 entries. I read and critiqued I have no idea how many revisions. It took a long time. I enjoyed every moment.

Let’s talk for a moment about feedback. For Son of a Pitch, everyone gets some. Maybe one person dropped by your entry or five…but there was some. Better than none.

Aside: We, the feedback-givers, don’t have a set amount we have to critique. Some of the critiquers have more time to so this than others. Some people feel comfortable looking at certain categories or genres. We do the best we can.

We are leaving our opinions. Not directions. Not even answers. We comment, hoping one of those ideas will spark inspiration…

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Le Moulin du Roc, French Hotel Dating from the Seventeenth Century

How I imagine heaven, but with horses.

Charly W. Karl

This charming French country side hotel – Le Moulin du Roc, built on the site of a seventeenth century stone mill, has some marvelous gardens, pathways, footbridges, and romantic staircases, which seem like something taken out of a fairy tale.

Le Moulin du Roc

Le Moulin du Roc

Le Moulin du Roc

Le Moulin du Roc

Le Moulin du Roc

Le Moulin du Roc

Le Moulin du Roc

They’re so beautiful that they don’t seem real, and yet they are, and a good thing too, as they are one of the most important and attractive features of this hotel. It is located on the banks of the Dronne River, in Dordogne, France.

Web: Le Moulin Du Roc – Home

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In 1973, I visited the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Lame Deer, MO, drawn there by a character in a story I was writing who was half Cheyenne. Forty years later, after endless rewrites and title changes, Avenue to Heaven is finished. Back then, I’d thought I’d done a lot of research but learned within moments of stepping inside the reservation trading post how phenomenally ignorant I was.

A lady behind the counter greeted me without words. Her stance was familiar from all I’d read about Native Ameican cultures. (A teacher at the grim parochial schools Indian children were forced to attend wrote of how disturbing it was to speak to a classroom of the tops of bowed heads.) I accepted that I was wicaśaśni, one of the takers, and a stranger on her land, and browsed, bought a lovely wristband, and mentioned that I loved the book on display, Cheyenne Memories by John Stand in Timber. She warmed a bit and pointed at a newspaper with a headline about the AIM movement at Wounded Knee, worry apparent in her subtle gesture.

I couldn’t stop myself from asking why the tribal council had allowed the harvesting of the surrounding hills. Trees had been completely scraped from the hillsides; the exposed red soil looked like a bloody wound. She answered that the government never asks. They come and take. That was when I discovered the vastness of my ignorance.

Indian nations were told they owned reservation lands but the fact is, they are leased, can be pillaged and left polluted, like the uranium mining on Navajo lands in WWII. The problem is that most Americans are too self-satisfied and bent on “affirmative bias” to accept reality, blissfully unwillng to acknowledge that what we’ve done to our native peoples is almost as heinous as the Nazi solution for Jews.

Fortunately, there are some who are gifted at getting the point across without stepping on ego-fragile toes. Wind River is a beautifully crafted film with satisfying twists at its end. It was a delight to see so many of my favorite Native American and Canadian actors in the cast, especially the delicious Gil Birmingham, the jovial snarkiness of Graham Greene, and always intriguing Tantoo Cardinal. Taylor Sheridan, who wrote the screenplay and directs, created a story to bring attention to missing Native American women—the TV series Longmire did an episode about forced sterilizations—and Sheridan gets his message across without sermonizing his theme. The winter setting is a perfect choice, bleak and beautiful, stark in its reality.

It is never too late for truth. We must jettison past romanticism of the West, look beyond the slop of government rhetoric and lies. If our leaders are culpable, so are we. The loathsome Andrew Jackson murdered the southeastern tribes with the Trail of Tears, and did it after the Cherokee helped him win in battle. His plan to eradicate Native Americans and steal everything they owned is alive and well today. The raping of the Indian cultures and lands goes on. The Northern Cheyenne have had to move legally to stop the Trump administration from coal mining on reservation land, adding to the travesty of a pipeline for fossil fuels we will no longer be using in the future. Makes no sense, so it must be political.

Sorry this was not an uplifting blog, but here is something that is. My books are always HEA. No release date yet and it’s is part of a Kindle Scout campaign.

(WARNING, you are approaching the shameless plug portion of this blogpost.)

Please click on the link below and vote in the blue box for Avenue to Heaven, a book dedicated to Marlane Sturm, who saw a need for her friends at Bear Creek and supplied it, not out of charity, but by the call of her faith.

Please visit my website:

Twitter: @RigdonML



Farewell My Love


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I saw Bullitt so long ago it was at a Southern California drive-in. I distinctly remember jamming my foot on imaginary brakes on the car’s floorboard throughout the car chase sequences. Baby Driver may put Bullitt to rest when it comes to breakneck driving but will never (be still my beating heart) remove my adoration for a Mustang GT. Alas, the stunt driving in in Baby Driver may have nudged Bullitt from its top spot.

Time to gladly eat my words. I’ve complained about films with distracting loud soundtracks, but Baby Driver makes it work in overdrive and—dare I say it—with synchronized perfection. Magnificent sound editing. Can’t see how any film could beat it come awards time. The only issue I had happened at the opening, the first bank robbery, when the robbers didn’t put masks on until they got to the bank door. That didn’t make sense with security cameras everywhere nowadays. The other issue I had was driving stolen cars to the meeting site after the robbery. That didn’t fit the slickness of these operators. Maybe it was some sort of statement about their arrogance and confidence, but it seemed sloppy to me.

I know other reviewers are raving about this flick as a “car chase action” film, but I have to take issue with that. I watched the entire movie seeing it as a beautifully written, exquisitely realized character-driven story enhanced by excellent direction. I decided to see it because of the marvelous cast and was not disappointed. The music, pacing and controlled violence will hopefully not distract from the cast’s superb ensemble work. The characters are clear-cut and diverse, ranging from the sweetness of youthful romance to the bizarrely sociopathic. The final topping on this delicious flick was the credits rolling to a fabulous rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s Baby Driver.

The driving scenes brought back memories, things done that I’d never tell my mom about, (like burying the needle on the Hollywood Freeway in the middle of the night in a Mustang, of course), and made me long for the days of the gearshift on the floor. So, if you have one, slide it into fourth and go see this film.



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High in the Mongolian mountains, a girl name Aisholpan breaks a tradition centuries old. With the help of supportive parents, an especially patient and loving father, this thirteen-year-old girl demonstrates courage, diligence, and a character we can only hope our own children will emulate.

The dynamic cover of THE EAGLE HUNTRESS caught my eye at the library. Took it home, watched it, and was utterly entranced throughout. I next bought it and sent it to my sister, whose background is in political science, American government, and Asian studies. This documentary would appeal to her, due to her understanding of the social challenges Asian girls endure, its unique story, and the spectacular cinematography. The entire film is a masterpiece of filmmaking achieved under difficult environmental and financial circumstances.

Yes, it’s a documentary, (swallow that derisive yawn), but it’s more exciting and spellbinding than any action feature film I’ve seen in years. Today’s action/ adventure movies are overburdened by graphics. Audiences are becoming inured to the mayhem. Millions are spent on saturating/ bombarding the viewer, and yet none of them—and I’ve seen almost all of them—evoked the excitement of this story. There was no big money backing this work. No options for a second take. A drone, a crane and a few cameras and almost all of it done in one-shot filming. The landscape, action, storyline, all of it, is breath-catching in its beauty, simplicity, and most especially the bravery of a girl who would not give up on her dream.

Societies and cultures are crumbling, values such as honesty and integrity negated and ignored. This film soars above all the unpleasantness of our present failings, the vulgarity, apathy and overindulgence, illustrating the substance of honor and the determination to excel in the face of all opposition.


M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

Follow on Twitter @RigdonML