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(Venice, Italy) Al Pacino looks and acts like the legendary movie star he is. Pacino is 74-years-old, but has the energy of someone 30 years younger. One of the things that makes Al Pacino so unique is that he is a movie star from New York, not Hollywood. During one of his two press conferences today, when he was asked to comment on Hollywood, he said, "I don't know and I never did know what Hollywood is." He said he had a relationship with Hollywood that was not unfriendly, but not really clear. He said the people who were running the studios these days were different -- not better or worse, just different, and that times had changed. He said he had even gone to see an action figure flick (I forget which one) with one of his kids, and really enjoyed it.
Al Pacino & Chris Messina (Photo: David Azia)
Al Pacino likes to talk. He gives even the simplest questions long, complex answers, winding paths through a forest of riches, which is fascinating to experience firsthand. It is like going to the theater.
Greta Gerwig & Al Pacino in The Humbling
Pacino is here in Venice with two films this year, David Gordon Green's MANGLEHORN and THE HUMBLING, directed by another legend, Barry Levinson, based on the Philip Roth novel. The storyline is:
"Simon Axler is a famed stage actor who becomes depressed then suicidal when he suddenly and inexplicably loses his gift. In an attempt to get his mojo back, he has an affair with a lesbian woman half his age. Before long, the relationship causes chaos as people from the romantic duo's pasts resurface in their lives."
The character, Simon Axler, has isolated himself in the country, and someone asked if Pacino had based the character on his own life. Pacino said, "Of course it's based on my life. Once you're famous anonymity goes up in value."
Barry Levinson said it was it was literally like making a home movie because they shot the movie in 20 days in and around his Connecticut home. I thought the film was terrific, and that Pacino hasn't been in such fine form in years. I pretty much agree with the review in Variety, which said: "Pacino, who seemed to have awakened from a long acting coma when he played Dr. Jack Kevorkian in Levinson’s 2010 HBO movie, “You Don’t Know Jack,” seems similarly rejuvenated here, in what’s easily his best bigscreen performance since Christopher Nolan’s “Insomnia” in 2002."
Simon Axler may have lost his mojo, but Al Pacino most definitely has not.
Strike: the farm workers fight for their rights
By Larry Dane Brimmer
Calkins Creek. October 2014
Grades 9 thru 12
I used an ARC given by the publisher to write this review.
In 1965, a group of Filipino and Chicano farm workers, unhappy
with their deplorable working conditions and substandard wages organized a
strike against the grape industry. The strike, which
Imagine that you’re watching a movie. You’re fully enjoying the thrill of different emotions, unexpected changes, and promising developments in the plot. All of a sudden, the projection is abruptly halted with no explanation whatsoever. You’re unable to learn how things unfold. You can’t see the end of the movie and you’re left with a sense of incompleteness you won’t ever be able to overcome.
Now imagine that movie is the existence of a human being which, out of the blue, is interrupted. Enforced disappearance cuts the life-flow of a person and it’s often impossible to discover how it truly ends. The secrecy that shrouds the fate of the disappeared is the distinctive element of this heinous practice and differentiates it from other crimes. All that you can imagine is that the end is not likely to be a happy one, but you will never give up hope. The impossibility to unveil the truth paralyses also the life of family members, friends, colleagues, and, to a certain extent, of society at large. If you don’t see the end, you’re unable to move on. You can’t grieve. You can’t rejoice. You’re trapped between hope and despair.
Today is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Besides commemorating thousands of human beings who have been subjected to enforced disappearance throughout the world and honouring the memory of brave family members and human rights defenders who continue to combat against this scourge, is there anything to celebrate?
While the UN General Assembly decided to observe this Day beginning in 2011, associations of relatives of disappeared persons in Latin America had been doing so since 1981.
Over more than 30 years much has been done to eradicate enforced disappearance, both at domestic and international levels. Specific human rights bodies, such as the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) have been established. Legal instruments, both of international human rights law and of international criminal law, deal with this crime in-depth and establish detailed obligations and severe sanctions. Regional human rights courts and UN Treaty Bodies have developed a rich, although not always coherent, jurisprudence. Domestic courts have delivered some landmark sentences, holding perpetrators accountable.
However, much remains to be done. First, the phenomenon has evolved: once mainly perpetrated in the context of military dictatorships, nowadays it is committed also under supposedly democratic regimes, and is being used to counter terrorism, to fight organised crime, or to suppress legitimate movements of civil protest. Enforced disappearance is practiced in a widespread and systematic manner in complex situations of internal armed conflict, as highlighted, among others, in the recent report “Without a Trace” concerning enforced disappearances in Syria.
During its latest session, held in February 2014, the WGEID transmitted 87 newly reported cases of enforced disappearance to 11 states. More than 43,000 cases, committed in a total of 84 states, remain under the WGEID’s active consideration.
Against this discouraging scenario, less than 15 states have codified enforced disappearance as an autonomous offence under their criminal legislation and thus lack the adequate legal framework to tackle this crime. Only a handful of states have adopted specific measures to regulate the legal situation of disappeared persons in field such as welfare, financial matters, family law and property rights. This causes additional anguish to the relatives of the disappeared and may also hamper investigation and prosecution. Amnesty laws or similar measures that have the effect of exempting perpetrators from any criminal proceedings or sanctions are in force in various countries and are in the process of being adopted in others. Recourse to military tribunals is often used to grant impunity.
States do not seem to be proactive in engaging in a serious struggle against enforced disappearance at the international level either. Opened for signature in February 2007, the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance has so far been ratified by 43 states, out of which only 18 have recognized the competence of the CED to receive and examine individual and inter-state communications.
Furthermore, states often fail to cooperate with international human rights mechanisms, hindering the fact-finding process, and proving reluctant in the enforcement of judgments. On their part, some of these international mechanisms, such as the European Court of Human Rights, narrowed their jurisprudence on enforced disappearance, undertaking a particularly restrictive approach when assessing their competence ratione temporis, when evaluating states’ compliance with their positive obligations to investigate on cases of disappearance, prosecute and sanction those responsible, and when awarding measures of redress and reparation.
One may wonder why 30 August was chosen by relatives of disappeared persons as the International Day against this crime. Purportedly, they picked a random date. They didn’t want it to be related to the enforced disappearance of anyone in particular: anyone can be subjected to enforced disappearance, anytime, and anywhere.
That was the idea back in 1981. Sadly, it still seems to be the case in 2014. It’s about time the obligations set forth in international treaties on enforced disappearance are duly implemented, domestic legal frameworks are strengthened, and legislative or procedural obstacles to investigation and prosecution are removed. It’s time to see the end of the movie. The end of enforced disappearance.
Since the outbreak of the First World War just over one hundred years ago, the debate concerning the conflict’s causes has been shaped by political preoccupations as well as historical research. Wartime mobilization of societies required governments to explain the justice of their cause, the “war guilt” clause of the treaty of Versailles became a focal point of German revisionist foreign policy in the 1920s, and the Fischer debate in West Germany in the 1960s took place against a backdrop of the Cold War and the efforts of German society to come to terms with the Nazi past. More recently critics of Sir Edward Grey’s foreign policy, such as Niall Ferguson and John Charmley, are writing in the context of intense debates about Britain’s relationship with Europe, while accounts that emphasise the strength of the great power peace before 1914 are informed in part by contemporary discussions of globalization and the improbability of a war between the world’s leading powers today – the conflict in the Ukraine notwithstanding.
The persistent political backdrop to debates about the origins of the war is evident in the reception of Christopher Clark’s best-selling work, The Sleepwalkers, particularly its resonance within Germany. Clark’s references to the Euro-crisis, 9/11, and the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, dotted throughout the book, nod to the contemporary relevance of the collapse of the international system in 1914.
While Clark seeks to eschew debates about war guilt or responsibility, preferring to concentrate on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’, his conclusion contends that leaders in the capitals of the five Great Powers and in Belgrade bear somewhat equal responsibility for the war. This thesis has attracted considerable attention in Germany, where the last major public reckoning over the origins of the war took place in the 1960s, when Fritz Fischer’s thesis that German leaders planned for war from December 1912 and therefore bore the largest responsibility for its outbreak was the subject of intense and often vindictive debate. Fischer carried the day in the 1960s, but now Clark’s argument, comparative in a way that Fischer did not claim to be, has overturned what appeared to be a publicly accepted orthodoxy.
The centenary debate has also coincided with a particular moment in German political and cultural debate. The post-unification economic slowdown has now given way to a booming economy, while much of the rest of Europe is mired in austerity. In tandem with economic prosperity, German elites are displaying growing political confidence as Europe’s dominant state.
In this context Clark’s thesis about shared responsibility for the war has been read in two ways. One group, whose most notable advocates include Thomas Weber (Aberdeen/Harvard) and Dominik Geppert (Bonn), argue that the ongoing belief in German ‘war guilt’ is an historic fiction that damages both German and European politics. It has contributed to the unwillingness of successive German governments to take on greater leadership within Europe. The marginalization of the German national interest after 1945, they claim, is partly the product of a misinformed reading of history that holds the pursuit of the German national interest as responsible for two catastrophic global conflicts. This has resulted in a damaging approach to European politics, which holds that the national is inherently opposed to the European interest. By neglecting the national interest German leaders are creating instability within Europe and alienating many German citizens from participating in a European project that must take account of national diversity. Hence they welcome Clark’s book and the enormous public interest it has aroused in Germany.
However Clark’s thesis has not met with universal approval. Leading critics include Gerd Krumeich and John Röhl, both representatives of a generation of historians who came to the fore during and soon after the Fischer debate. They criticize Clark for downplaying the responsibility of German political and military leaders for the war, both by stressing the comparatively restrained character of German foreign policy up to the July crisis and by his criticisms of the aggressive nature of Russian, French, and British foreign policy before 1914. Not only do they take issue with Clark’s arguments, they also express concern that the ‘relativizing’ of German responsibility for the outbreak of the war will lead to a recrudescence of a more assertive German nationalism, undoing the successful integration of the Federal Republic into a community of democratic, European nations. From their perspective, a more assertive German nationalism, freed from the historic burden of war guilt, constitutes a potential danger.
The debate blends divergent generational perspectives on German national identity and European politics, as well as different interpretations of the sources and methodological approaches to studying the origins of the war. For the record, this author finds Clark’s account persuasive. On balance there is a greater risk in Germany not playing a leading role in European politics than there is of a re-assertion of a muscular German national interest and identity. Yet both groups may overestimate the significance of the “war guilt” in shaping perspectives in German and European politics. While the centenary has created a privileged space for the first world war in public discussion, the politics of history within Germany remain firmly fixed on the crimes of the Third Reich. When Europeans today think of Germany’s historical burden, they think primarily of the Nazi past. After all, disaffected protesters in countries hit by austerity after 2008 compared current German policies to those of the Third Reich, not the Kaiserreich. Grotesque and unfounded as the comparison was, it was striking that protesters did not think about Wilhelm II. While historians may revise their views of German responsibility for the First World War, no serious historian disputes the primacy of the Hitler’s regime in starting a genocidal war in Europe in 1939.
Updates have been spotty at OC this past week because we're experiencing laptop woes here at Chez Gauthier. My laptop didn't actually start smoking earlier in the week, but the noise it was making and the message that appeared on the screen suggested that it could happen. It has gone off to my computer guy's computer guy. This is one of these deals where Computer Guy #2 must be contacted in some mysterious way and then have the laptop passed on to him by Computer Guy #1 with great amounts of e-mailing and computer talk following.
I've always tried to blog after my workday was over to avoid using creative day time for blogging/marketing. (This is like a Time Management Tuesday post, but different.) Since I've had my laptop, I've fallen into blogging in the evenings while sitting in front of the TV. So last night I tried to work with another family member's laptop. I spent half an hour or so just trying to get on-line and to Blogger. I wonder if Computer Guy #2 gives discounts?
While I am a TV viewer and don't care who knows it, I rarely just watch TV. What, you may wonder, is Gail going to do if she can't find a laptop to use in the living room to blog and read blogs and articles? Well, last night I hemmed pants for one of the elders.
What am I working on now? We have a number of desktops in various stages of life. I don't believe we have any dead ones, anymore.
Wild flowers | This year I planted a big chunk of my backyard into wild flowers. I highly recommend it. The seeds were a Western wild flower mix. It has been fun to see what comes up. I have more seed to plant this Fall.
You might have seen the great post by Jon Page entitled My Top 10 War Novels. Like most people I was entertained and added more books to my ever growing ‘to be read’ list. I was also thinking about all the great war novels that were missed; in fact I made a mental list of […]
Well, I've given it a bit of thought and to be honest both DC and Marvel -DISNEY Comics are so far beyond redemption it really is no longer worth covering either of them. I was a Marvelite from about 6-7 years old so 50 years later to just look at what has happened....sad.
The thing is, though, I predicted all of this at the time Disney took over "Marvel UK"/Pannini and warned that UK creators would be out of work. No one listened. I demonstrated the history of what Disney does. "Total rubbish!" When all those long faces came up to me with "Marvel UK arent giving us any more work" I could have laughed. But its wrong to laugh at morons.
I actually posted that Disney were buying Marvel MONTHS before it was officially announced and where were those "nay" sayers when it happened as I said it would? Convenient amnesia. When I told everyone that Disney "promised" (did anyone check for crossed fingers?) NOT to interfere in any way with Marvel comics I pointed out the history again and that Disney WOULD be controlling everything from day one...and yet Marvel COULD have purchased Disney. Sheesh.
Disney Comics is a huge cash-cow. Marvel is dead. Long live the memories!
A love of reading, writing and a passion for adventure are the themes of a new competition, with children aged ten and under being asked to put their imagination and creativity into action by writing a story about Lottie and her holiday adventures.
The competition is a chance for one lucky child to win a selection of ten books from the Lottie Pinterest folder ‘Great Books for Girls’ (that boys can read too!), in addition to winning exclusive new Lottie products before they hit the shops.
Entering the competition is very straightforward;
Parents and guardians are asked to download a printable template from the storywriting app on the Lottie dolls Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/lottiedolls so that kids can use this as a starting point for their story. Parents are then required to take a photo of their child’s story and upload it onto the storywriting contest Facebook app and fill in a form to grant parental permission for their child’s entry to be considered for the competition. Full terms and conditions of the competition are to be found at:
I’m so excited to be part of the Southern Sweethearts blog tour! I asked Sandra Hill, Marilyn Pappano, and Laura Drake how they survive the pressure of their deadlines. Check out their answers, and then enter the giveaway below.
Top 5 items in your deadline survival kit
2. Coffee, but no more than two big cups
3. Alarm clock (I usually get up no later than 4:30 a.m.)
4. Ear plugs (I need quiet.)
5. Comfy clothes (usually lounging pj’s)
1. Lots of Diet Dr. Pepper
2. My ancient, tee-tiny computer that I can tuck away and take anywhere
3. Snacks that won’t transfer too much gunk to the keyboard
4. A bathroom (see #1)
5. My husband, who keeps life on track, reminds me to sleep, looks up any and all information I need, and makes food runs
1. A husband who runs interference with everyday things, and doesn’t expect that I’ll remember a conversation we had, just yesterday.
2. Protein. The only thing that satisfies me.
3. Coffee. Unending gallons of it.
4. My bicycle. It’s where I work out all my plot problems!
5. A schedule. I work backwards to figure out how many words I need a day, and I don’t quit until I’ve written them. Sometimes takes 2 hours, sometimes (like yesterday) 15. But I typed ‘The End” this morning! Whew!
SWEET ON YOU by Laura Drake (August 26, 2014; Forever Mass Market; $8.00)
A Love as Bold as a Texas Sunset . . .
Ex-army medic Katya Smith has always healed other people’s pain. Now she has to deal with her own. Taking a job as an athletic trainer on the Pro Bull Riding circuit seems like the perfect escape from her grief-except Katya doesn’t know anything about bulls, and even less about the tough men who ride them. She doesn’t expect to fall for the sport, or for one tantalizing cowboy who tumbles her defenses.
For rodeo champion Cam Cahill, fifteen years of bucking bulls have taken their toll on his body. Before he retires, he wants a final chance at the world title-and he doesn’t need some New Age gypsy telling him how to do his job. But when the stunning trainer with the magical hands repairs more than his worn muscles, everything changes. Soon Cam finds himself trying to persuade Katya to forgive her past so she can build a future . . . with him.
Laura Drake grew up in the suburbs outside Detroit, though her stories are set in the west. A tomboy, she’s always loved the outdoors and adventure. In 1980 she and her sister packed everything they owned into Pintos and moved to California. There she met and married a motorcycling, bleed-maroon Texas Aggie and her love affair with the West was born. Laura rides motorcycles: Elvis, a 1985 BMW Mystic, and Sting, a 1999 BMW R1100.
In Texas, Laura was introduced to her first rodeo, and fell in love. She’s an avid fan of Pro Bull Riding (PBR,) attending any event within driving distance, including two PBR National finals. She is hard at work at her next novel.
SNOW ON THE BAYOU by Sandra Hill (August 26, 2014; Forever Mass Market; $8.00)
THE BAYOU’S BADDEST BAD BOY IS BACK!
Joining the Navy was the second best thing that ever happened to Justin “Cage” LeBlanc, the rebel son of a no-account convict. The first was Emelie Gaudet, the love of his life . . . until he was forced to leave town and swore there would be snow on the bayou before he ever returned. Now, only his mortally ill grandma can bring the injured Navy SEAL back to Terrebone Parrish, where he must face his past-and Emelie, who’s even more beautiful than she was all those years ago.
Bourbon Street blues singer Emelie is once bitten, twice shy. When she learns that Justin is back in town, she wants nothing to do with the once wild Cajun teenager who fled with the law on his tail-and broke her heart. But she can’t deny the red-hot attraction between them . . . or his efforts to prove he’s finally changed his hell-raising ways. Can she trust that this time the bad boy of the bayou will be the best man for her?
Sandra Hill is a graduate of Penn State and worked for more than 10 years as a features writer and education editor for publications in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Writing about serious issues taught her the merits of seeking the lighter side of even the darkest stories. She is the wife of a stockbroker and the mother of four sons.
A LOVE TO CALL HER OWN by Marilyn Pappano (August 26, 2014; Forever Mass Market; $ )
It’s been two years since Jessy Lawrence lost her husband in Afghanistan, and she’s never fully recovered. Drowning her sorrows didn’t help, and neither did the job she’d hoped would give her a sense of purpose. Now trying to rebuild her life, she finds solace in her best friends, fellow military wives who understand what it’s like to love-and lose-a man in uniform . . . and the memory of one stolen night that makes her dream of a second chance at love.
Dalton Smith has known more than his fair share of grief. Since his wife’s death, he revels in the solitude of his cattle ranch. But try as he might, he can’t stop thinking about the stunning redhead and the reckless, passionate night they shared. He wasn’t ready before, but Dalton sees now that Jessy is the only woman who can mend his broken heart. So how will he convince her to take a chance on him?
Known for her intensely emotional stories, Marilyn Pappano is the USA Today bestselling author of nearly eighty books. She has made regular appearances on bestseller lists and has received recognition for her work in the form of numerous awards. Though her husband’s Navy career took them across the United States, he and Ms. Pappano now live in Oklahoma high on a hill that overlooks her hometown. They have one son and daughter-in-law, an adorable grandson, and a pack of mischievous dogs.
"How about a story? Spin us a yarn,” says Grams. And so Sharon Creech does in Walk Two Moons. And it’s a thumpingly good one, as the main character Sal would say.
Writers should read, we’ve been told that. They should be literary carnivores. According to author Roz Morris, “reading—the good and the bad—inspires you. It develops your palate for all the tricks that writers have invented over the years. …there’s no substitute for discovering for yourself how a writer pulls off a trick. Then that becomes part of your experience.”
Elmore Leonard says writers should decide which books they like and study that author’s style. Then, you should take that author’s book or story and “break it down to see how he put it together.” The thought was echoed by Jennifer Nielsen at a recent 2014 Professional Writer’s Series event at the Pleasant Grove Library.
Fine, I’ll do that. Since I want to write like Carol Lynch Williams, Matthew J. Kirby, and Sharon Creech, placing Walk Two Moons under the microscope is a good place to start.
What works so well in this story? Quite simply, everything.
Creech has plot, two of them in fact.Sal is traveling with her grandparents to Lewiston, Idaho to learn why her mother abandoned the family and went there. Along the way, she shares a story of her friend, Phoebe, whose mother also has disappeared. Sal admits that uncovering Phoebe’s story was a lot like discovering her own. The road trip to find her mother becomes a journey of acceptance and understanding for Sal.
Plot involves characters. Creech delivers not just Phoebe and Sal, but a multitude of others, each richly drawn, each deserving of a book of their own. Sal’s mother had her reasons for leaving. Phoebe’s mother is multi-layered with a lot of stuff going on. Other memorable people include Sal’s father, Mrs. Cadaver, Mrs. Partridge, Ben, and Grams and Gramps. Creech seamlessly weaves all of them into the story without any sense of it being clunky. It’s most definitely a character-driven plot. But there is so much else going on in this book.
The title is from the Indian saying about not judging another man until you walk two moons in their moccasins and the metaphor is used effectively. Creech layers numerous subplots. Inspirational, secret messages, including the one about the moccasins are left on Phoebe’s doorstep and come into play throughout the story. Phoebe’s wild imagination conjures up lunatics and ax murderers. There is a kiss just waiting to happen. Creech twists and turns the story arc over upon itself revealing the multiple layers. She wraps up every loose thread and ties it with a bow. And she keeps you guessing, keeps you hoping, even though she drops hints along the way. It is masterfully told.
To better understand the craft, I revisited this story over the summer. I read it as a writer but still managed to get choked up about it, even after sharing it multiple times with students when I was teaching.
Huzzah! Huzzah! The story works on so many levels.
What works have inspired you?
(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)
Bluebird is a beautiful and unusually illustrated children's book. The illustrations are done in a sparse, yet delicate style with the bluebird being one of a few featured colors on each page. The occasional flowery typeface and the collaged images add a touch of whimsy to the whole look. The bluebird is in search of his friend the wind, without whom he's convinced he can't fly. He looks high and low around the city and country encountering dandelion seeds, kites and scarves who also can't fly without the wind. In his search, he realizes that he's flown to the tallest building without his friend the wind. At the end of the book his friend returns, but the bluebird now knows he can also fly alone.
This week, Donna Gephart stops by to talk about her latest novel, DEATH BY TOILET PAPER! I'm just going to leave this one to her...
We Make Our Own Luck
We were so broke growing up in Northeast Philadelphia that my mom bought my sister and me sneakers from the “So Ugly They’re Cheap” rack, powdered milk was our drink du jour and our toilet paper sometimes had the consistency of gray party streamers. Our weekly entertainment came from treasured trips to the Northeast Regional Library, where I relished my time exploring the shelves. The characters in favorite library books like The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes and Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Florence and Richard Atwater became my companions during an otherwise lonely childhood. In response to our eternal lack of money, I entered contests, hoping to win what we needed. But all I ever won was $1.98 from a radio call-in talent show set up like The Gong Show and tickets to Great Adventure Amusement Park in New Jersey. The biggest prize I remember winning was a $200 savings bond from a writing contest. My sister, Ellen, was the real contest queen. Her persistence through the years with contests and sweepstakes netted her a million free air miles, a full-paid trip to New York City for her and her son, a week-long vacation to the island of her choice with her husband and many gift cards, movie tickets, etc. But all those winnings couldn’t compare to what happened to my sister on The Price is Right. Twenty-five years ago, Ellen was a contestant on The Price is Right when Bob Barker hosted the show. She won a bunch of prizes and the big showcase at the end. Having had so much fun, Ellen was determined to get on the show again. So she did! Ellen recently won a trip to L.A. for a movie premiere. It had nothing to do with The Price is Right, but while she was out there, she got tickets for her and her friend, Val, to sit in the audience. Three hundred people fill the audience. Nine of those are chosen to come up and play. My sister was called to Contestant’s Row . . . exactly twenty-five years after her first appearance on the show. But this time it seemed her luck didn’t hold. She couldn’t guess the right price to get up on stage. Someone else won every time. Drew Carey finally announced, “This is the last item up for bids.” Ellen bid and she came closest, charging up on stage and hugging the life out of Drew Carey. Then, in a matter of minutes, Ellen guessed the first two and last two digits in the price of a brand new Toyota Corolla. And she won the car! I’d never seen her so excited. On the way home to Philadelphia, Ellen worried about how she’d pay the taxes on the car. Back home, she played their hotel room number on a lottery ticket and won enough to pay the taxes. Some people say my sister is lucky, but I know the truth. She’s incredibly persistent. She enters thousands of contests and sweepstakes to win the ones she does. She subscribes to the SweepSheet newsletter and works consistently at her hobby. Donna's favorite writing spot.
My sister so inspired me that when I wrote my new book, DEATH BY TOILET PAPER, I gave my character my sister’s determined spirit and love for contests and sweepstakes. Twelve-year-old Benjamin Epstein enters the Royal-T Toilet Tissue slogan contest in hopes of winning $10,000 to save his recently widowed mom and himself from eviction. Ben’s determination to help his mom is inspiring, the way my sister’s determination inspired me. If you read the book’s dedication, you’ll notice a familiar name. I still enter contests occasionally. A few years ago, I wrote an entry for a contest to celebrate Whole Foods’ 30th anniversary. My husband and I were among thirty pairs of winners treated to a weekend in Austin, TX with dinners out and special events. But most of my creative energy goes into writing books for children. Books about kids who enter contests. Books about kids who become famous on YouTube with their pet hamster. Books about kids who get on Jeopardy! And books about kids whose mom is running for president. But each of the books is about something more, something deeper, like dealing with the loss of a parent, being bullied at school or feeling desperately alone. And I felt like I’d won the biggest contest of all when I discovered the books I’d written now sit on the shelves of the Northeast Regional Library, waiting to inspire a young person, who like I did all those years ago, seeks companionship and hope.
GIVEAWAY! Donna has graciously agreed to send a free, signed copy of DEATH BY TOILET PAPER along with some bookmarks to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US to win - enter below.
Karla Mialynne makes realistic renderings of animals using colored pencils and markers, and photographs them with the tools she uses to create them. The photos give us an intriguing hint of scale and process.
As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story.
Aaron Brinker, Creative Commons
Description: “Reading people” is the ability to size others up quickly and accurately. People with this skill are able to see through misdirection and outright deceit to correctly identify a person’s character or motives in many different situations.
Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: being a good listener, being able to think clearly and in an organized fashion
Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: observant, perceptive, extroverted (other-focused), discerning, objective, decisive, focused, sensible, empathetic
Required Resources and Training: While some people are inherently good at reading others, there are some things that can be done to improve one’s discernment in this area.
There’s a kind of science to lying, with certain tells that reveal deceit. Paul Ekman studied this in great detail and shares his findings in his book Telling Lies; studying these tells and the micro expressions that people use when they’re not being truthful can improve one’s ability to identify truth from falsehood in others.
Much of what we know about others, we learn by observation. Anyone who wants to read people better can do so by simply studying them. Paying close attention to people, listening intently to them, and engaging with them will result in a better understanding of people in general and will eventually help us to recognize patterns.
Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: Con-artists, detectives, gamblers, psychics, and empaths are often portrayed as being able to read others well. While it’s a positive skill to have, it often has a negative connotation, being used by people to manipulate and take advantage of others. The other stereotype is that of the shy and under-valued but highly perceptive sidekick or peripheral character. This person keeps to the background and doesn’t seem to have much purpose until, at a pivotal moment in the story, he/she reveals some great truth about the hero or villain that everyone else has missed.
Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:
when someone with power or influence is not who they appear to be
when a dangerous person is about to do something deadly
when someone is suicidal and is hiding their desperation
when a friend is in an abusive relationship
when someone is being conned
when a famous or highly regarded person needs to know his true friends from those who would use him
when trying to get to the bottom of an argument or long-lasting feud
when a police officer is interviewing a subject
when a con-artist or criminal is looking for a mark
You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.