By DOROTHEA BENTON FRANK
For Montclair Local
Dot’s Desk” looks at life from the point-of-view of a bestselling author. Dorothea Benton Frank has written 18 books that have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. Her
first novel, “Sullivan’s Island,” published in 2000, debuted on the New York Times list at number nine and went back to press over 25 times.
Frank was born and raised on Sullivans Island, SC. She divides her time between the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Montclair. Past board service includes The Montclair Art Museum, Whole Theater Company, The Drumthwacket Foundation, The NJ State Council on the Arts and The NJ Cultural Trust.
Call me crazy, but Hallmark movies are making me fat, which we’ll get to in a moment. You see, writers, novelists in particular, live in their heads to a far greater extent than normal people. Oh sure, we have an outside face we put on when we have to interact with other humans and even animals, but basically our minds are somewhere else, placing you in a story. Someplace you shouldn’t be, with someone you shouldn’t be with, doing something you shouldn’t be doing. This may be one reason we seem to be smirking all the time.
As a general rule, I binge watch the Food Network, HGTV and the news from as many different sources as I can find. While I can wax eloquent about the unbelievable housing bargains to be found in Belize, or what to do with an InstaPot to dazzle your family at dinner, I am not allowed to have a political opinion in any public forum on the planet, including my personal Facebook page. The minute I utter anything that sounds remotely political, trolls and haters appear like an army, swearing to never buy my books again. I got death threats when I commented on the confederate flag being removed from the State house in Columbia, SC. I’ve been told to shut up, stick with writing girl fiction and not to come back to my home state. And I’m not getting special treatment. My pals who write commercial fiction get hammered on a regular basis as well — by hammered I mean attacked by haters, not hammered as a result of being overserved. But they might be because after reading their hate mail that leaves them breathless, over-imbibing holds an inviting appeal. So, when I get the mic, I stick with softer topics. Unless you ask.
But back to Hallmark? This time of year, Hallmark ramps up their (not one) but two networks of holiday programming and by golly, it’s my guilty pleasure. Maybe it’s because I want to relive falling in love. Maybe it’s because I need a puppy. But I can’t stop watching. All that happiness! It’s so wonderful! So perfect!
Which leads me to the food part. I sit there watching one fabulous schmaltzy Christmas movie after another and I get so into it I scare myself. If they’re drinking hot cocoa, so am I. If they’re eating Christmas cookies, I’m going to twitch myself into a frenzy until I find some in the back of my pantry from last year. I am completely mesmerized by happy endings and joyful lives. I don’t care if the plot is a: a stranger came to town, b: the pretty girl’s car broke down in Sugarville and she learns the true meaning of Christmas, c: a little child whose Mommy is watching from Heaven leads the stranger in Sugarville to fall in love with the town’s mechanic who’s fixing the car or d: the workaholic big city girl winds up in Colorado in a snowstorm and can’t see the forest for the trees. She dumps her judgmental big city fiancé and marries the owner of the local B & B and the garage. It doesn’t matter what the plot is, somehow there is always holiday food on screen and pretty soon I’m eating cupcakes. This has to stop and stop now.
Many people ask me why not one of my 19 NYT bestselling novels has ever found its way to the big screen or the small screen. I do not know the answer. One possible reason might be that Hallmark’s viewing audience is a highly moral, extremely disciplined one that would never envision anyone someplace they’re not supposed to be, doing something they shouldn’t be doing with someone they shouldn’t be with. Who knows? But if Hallmark honchos comes knocking, I’ll have the cookies ready. Let’s see them try to resist.