TOM LAKE… Cherry Time in Traverse City

If you’re a fan of author Ann Patchett and you happen to live in Michigan, you’ll enjoy the backdrop in “Tom Lake,” Patchett’s newest novel that is currently #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. It’s 1980-something, and young Lara is riding high as an aspiring actress in L.A. whose adventure leads her to the leading role of Emily in the play, “Our Town,” being presented in a summer stock theatre on Tom Lake, a small vacation resort located just a short drive from Traverse City. Lara quickly falls for her leading man, who we later learn went on to become a huge Hollywood star.

Ann Patchett discussing “Tom Lake” in Ann Arbor, Michigan

“Tom Lake” bounces back and forth as the now mature Lara, currently living in Traverse City on the grounds of a cherry orchard, tells her story to her three daughters who are grappling with their own lives. While the modern-day storytelling gives a glimpse into what became of Lara and her friends from that summer long ago, the true story in this novel takes place at Tom Lake.

Readers beware: “Tom Lake” is a love letter to the 1938 three-act play, “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder, and knowing the story of Emily in “Our Town” is almost mandatory, for Patchett delights in drawing parallels between the two. If you’ve never read or seen “Our Town,” you can watch the 2003 Broadway production starring Paul Newman on YouTube at

“Tom Lake” is a slow build, and like “Our Town,” it’s all about the Third Act.

In a Barbie World…

A girlfriend of mine recently received an invitation from the Kalamazoo Public Library to a special screening of a movie at the Portage Celebration Cinema. And she knew just the friend who needed to accompany her—a friend who understood the complexity of this thought-provoking serious movie. Or as she put it, “I knew you’d like this, and that I could suffer through it.”

While many adults are hitting the movie theatres for the opening of “Oppenheimer,” a true story about the dark beginnings of nuclear weapons and the atomic age, another dark movie opens on this blockbuster weekend – “Barbie.”

OK, not dark, the most opposite from “dark” a movie can be. Colorful, funny, and with just the right balance of self-deprecation, “Barbie” is part “Toy Story,” part “Wizard of Oz,” and part “The Truman Show.” And like Woody in “Toy Story,” this story follows Barbie, who becomes self-aware and goes in search of her place in Barbieland and in the real world. “Barbie” stars the charming duo of Margo Robbie and Ryan Gosling.

While no one will accuse Barbie of being the new feminist anthem for today’s young women, the message here is a positive one to girls. And it’s fun enough for everyone else. And PINK. If you don’t embrace the color here, you’re taking yourself too seriously. Seriously, seeing the theatre goers embracing their inner and outer pink was as delightful as the movie itself. So, grab your girlfriends and grab your pinkest outfit. It’s all fun.  

The Reality of Being an Audience Member on America’s Got Talent

Back in 2009, reality shows were still a novelty, with Survivor, American Idol and The Bachelor bringing in big ratings. So as my husband and I strolled along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, on vacation with our two teenage sons, and a young man approached us, asking us if we would like to be in the studio audience of America’s Got Talent, I answered with a, “Hell, yes!” (I probably actually said, “That would be very nice, thank you,” but that’s not as fun to write.)

And that’s when we learned firsthand just how “real” reality shows are…

Tickets in-hand, we followed the instructions on the sheet, driving far beyond the city lights out to the suburbs, where we then stood in line for hours as the line slowly grew longer behind us. “We’re going to see real stars, guys,” I said, still not grumpy after the second hour. “And we might be on TV!” Dropping our cell phones into plastic bags on our way into the auditorium, we took our seats and waited for the show to begin.

And waited.

When one participates in the taping of any program, that “one-hour show” takes a half-day to produce. But still undeterred, we waited in anticipation for the rising of the curtain. Finally, a gentleman comes onstage, welcoming us to “AGT Chicago Edition.”   

Wait… what?

“As you all know, we travel throughout the country,” the announcer explained. “Auditioning everyone in cities across nation. But today we’re going to do a little creative editing, so for the sake of this episode, we’re in Chicago. Every time you hear the word, ‘Chicago’ tonight, I need you all to cheer. Let’s practice… Hello Chicago! (We whooped and hollered). Just like that! And we’re now going to practice our cutaway shots, Ready?”

And that’s when we shot take after take of our ‘reactions’ to the performers, when in actuality, the stage was empty. We cheered, booed, and clapped as instructed. Yes, that cutaway shot you see of that young lady’s look of shock or that young man’s cheer is shot ahead of the actual action happening on stage. (I say, “young lady” and “young man” because the young pretty people are seated at the front of the auditorium.) So, while it looks like the audience is gushing over that seven-year-old opera singer, they’re simply gushing on cue.

After our work was done, the judges, David Hasselhoff, Sharon Osbourne, and Piers Morgan finally took their seats, and the real show began, and for a couple of hours we were treated to silly acts, captivating talent and entertainment that only a reality show can churn out. And for the afternoon, we were part of the magic of Hollywood… I mean, Chicago.

  Heidi McCrary is a writer and author of the novel, Chasing North Star – available locally and online wherever books are sold. Follow Heidi at and

Women Talking. Not that one, the other one…

If you had Cable TV anytime during the last twenty years, you no doubt came across Double Jeopardy, a movie that seemed to be playing on as many channels as Pretty Woman. This smart thriller starred Ashley Judd as a woman trying to stay one step ahead of her parole officer, played by Tommy Lee Jones. Not surprisingly, the movie role put Judd on the A List in Hollywood. She followed up with a couple of other movies roles and…


Turns out, Judd didn’t suddenly fall out favor with movie audiences, she fell out favor with Harvey Weinstein, powerful movie mogul and rapist. In what was apparently the worst-kept secret in Hollywood, Weinstein assaulted a multitude of women, from assistants to famous actresses, with over 80 women coming forward after the New York Times broke the story of Weinstein’s criminal activities. With help from a few brave women, including Ashley Judd, Weinstein is now serving a 23-year sentence in prison.

Ashley Judd’s career came to a standstill because she refused Weinstein’s advances. Many others were too scared, young or unable to say, “No.” Ironically (or not), the film detailing the New York Time’s exposé on Weinstein, She Said has been snubbed by every film awards organization, maybe hitting a little too close to home. You can rent She Said now on Amazon Prime for $5.99.

If you think the “Me Too” movement was an overreaction, please educate yourself by revisiting this moment in time when women spoke up and were finally heard. She Said should be required reading or viewing in every high school.