The Hidden Hearts

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If you look very closely, there’s a cutout in the sky and reflection. Can you find them?

On a wonderful vacation recently I started seeing things. No, really. First, after swimming with the turtles, I was resting and taking photos when I felt one in particular might be special. Get it this direction, a little voice whispered. After I peeked at the frame, I saw why. As you gaze into the pool of water as it reflects the sky, you’ll see a shape. A heart. And its twin smiled at me through the windswept clouds as a slight drizzle began.

Two hearts.

The next day, on a boat tour around the island, a lush landscape came into view set off by high mountains and sheer cliffs carved by volcanoes and weathered over the centuries. The orange-brown hues offset the seemingly endless shades of greens. I know some cultures have thirty words for green. This must be a place touched by each one, held in a historic time-delay for us to see. As we pulled into full view, the waves kept leaping higher. I held tight to the railing and, voila, another large heart in a grove of treetops in a contrasting shade of green appeared. Then, as the boat drifted further in, another valley appeared with still another heart grove of trees.

Two hearts.

Then I was playing mini-golf with our family, my son scored his first hole in one. It grew hot and we moved slowly as the palm fronds and bucolic greens swayed in a refreshing breeze. I managed to keep, ahem, most of my balls on target and out of the water features. The urge for perfectionism and mild sibling rivalry slipped away as one carefully plotted his swing. Then, the other just hit for the fun of it all. Like the character Tigger would play golf. I smiled at my husband and I swept dampness from my forehead. I removed my hat, looking at the skyline. I gasped slightly. My husband asked why. A large, white heart-shaped cloud was nestled, and interlocked, with a light gray one.

Two hearts.

I was seeing hearts in various forms all over the island. What was going on? Was there a hidden message within, like a secret code I needed to uncover? Was there some elusive blessing, just awaiting the right moment?

Even the plants I saw held heart like features.

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Then I started thinking in twos. I’ve been blogging here for two years. We have two wonderful boys and, of course, there’s the natural thoughts of love and fidelity with my wonderful husband. All many blessings, indeed.

But I want to stay attuned for the other hearts knocking. The little nuances that dance in front of me like the ocean swells or light tropical breezes. Just waiting for me to enjoy them and notice their importance.

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Design Your Own Land

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Disney’s TOMORROWLAND Conceptual Art look at Tomorrowland ©Disney 2015

Recently my son had an interesting history assignment: Design your own land and put elements of it in a box to share with the class. The whole class considered all kinds of variables, like transportation, government, systems, food, fun, family activities and more. You were allowed to choose a favorite land and enhance it.

My son Jonathan chose Tomorrowland, like in the Disney movie. But he stepped it up a notch. Junk food became healthy. People invented things for the betterment of everyone’s life, nothing bad happened. Music had lots of applications. It made me think, what if I could create my own real land? Have you ever wondered what would be in your box?

 

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Jonathan modeled his land after Tomorrowland, but stepped it up a notch. What would you put in your box?

Would you choose a fantasy setup with a castle, white horses, ladies in long dresses and gentlemen in old fashioned clothing? Or would clothing be the main form of transport, bringing you whatever you were hungry for or wherever you wanted to go? Would evil exist or would today’s problems be in the past? What would problems be like there or is it an idyllic existence? The questions that arise tell you about your scope for adventure. Are there creatures like in our world, or entirely new ones? Does everyone walk upside-down? Is surfing the main mode of transport? The possibilities are endless.

I know what I want in my box. Possibility. Hope. Endurance. Beauty. Music. Room to breathe. Room to take my breath away.

What’s in your box?

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

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It’s been a full time lately, with big challenges, and neat opportunities, too. But it’s very tiring. And we’ve been battling the spring colds. Now, I’m finding such refreshment in the simple things. Walks in the park, blossoms on trees, cool breezes with bike rides. Flying a kite. Sometimes during a hectic season, it’s nice to slow down and enjoy the moment. It takes a settled soul to look for that pause, and leave room for reflection.

Some of my favorite moments lately:

  • Smelling the flowers at gorgeous gardens

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  • Sipping wine with my favorite guy

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  • Silly moments with games

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  • Stepping into history
  • Smiling with my son on stage

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  • Sharing my writing with kids

Here’s wishing you moments to cast off the cares, if only for a short while, and pick up laughter, love, encouragement, and fun.

And maybe a breeze to go fly a kite! We did!

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What is a Teen Book Festival?

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Last week I attended my first Teen Book Festival in Ontario, CA and I was so very impressed, I’ve created a VLOG (short video blog) for you! It was thrilling to hear from and meet amazing authors like Jay Asher, Marissa Meyer, Nicole Maggi, Andrew Smith, and Jessica Brody. I got to see San Diego author Stephanie Diaz again and loved her comments, too. And my friend Mary Weber was there and I finally have a wonderful signed set of her Storm Siren Trilogy to keep me company when I’m writing.

If you’ve ever considered going, I highly recommend it. I tried everything, even the “speed dating” and it was so fun. I giggled with the high school girls at my table when I met Marissa Meyer, and was humbled (and laughed a lot at his great jokes) when I met Jay Asher. I still need to thank him for writing such a hard book (Thirteen Reasons Why, about suicide) for such a needy audience. Whether you’re a writer or have an avid reader in the family, you’ll love the experience.

And I hope you enjoy this preview!

Here’s the Ontario Teen Book Festival site: http://www.ontariotbf.org/

 

Writing Insights from The Oscars – Makeup and Hair

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Part Two of Writing Insights from two pre-Oscar symposiums.

I once heard a speaker say that artists have a unique skill for interpreting their world through the visual medium. It’s how they take in the moments of life. I think the same is true for writers, who need that touch and feel to interpret what’s forming. It’s a screen through which they see life’s trials and challenges and dreams.

At a recent pre-Oscars event discussing Makeup and Hairstyling, I found some similar aspects for the very talented people that are responsible for the physical look and feel of actors. From the type of hair materials used, to how prosthetics transform a person into a 100 year old or a terrible monster, I found it fascinating. I was in a room full of a few hundred people, many with very colorful outfits and inventive hairstyles to begin to picture how their creative efforts begin when a movie is in the planning stages.

From The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window, I learned just what the technicians see in a challenge to age and reverse-age a character. The subtle proportions needed to make someone not just seem older in a static environment but also in eating, sleeping, walking, moving with prosthetics on was fascinating. From understanding how small, delicate facial features bring character insights, to seeing photos of how prosthetics can execute small, subtle transformations was kind of thrilling.

Then I jumped into the terrifying and scary world of Mad Max: Fury Road. The sheer commitment and excellent skills of the technicians who worked on the characters was overwhelming. Considering how they did this in the midst of a desert for over seven months was a bit adventurous and certainly on the edge, just like the film. Understanding how to use products and colors to manipulate an instant reaction from the audience was amazing, as well.

These photos are of a character on whose body was written the history of the civilization, literally! It was fascinating to see her come to life in front of our eyes! From Mad Max: Fury Road.

The details in capturing Leonardo DiCaprio’s lip scars in The Revenant and other body mutilation from the bear was terribly severe and fascinating at the same time. I was deeply impressed with the expert mechanical details of building prosthetics and using products to craft the feeling and emotions in a scene. Powdered sugar on eyebrows looks like snow? Scratches in a shoulder with a plastic prosthetic? I know that none of it’s real. Yet when he breaks out of the dead horse, it FEELS very real and ugly and crunching and vital survival.

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Leonardo Di Caprio’s scars from the bear attach in The Revenant look so real I cringe. But his eyebrows are fringed with white sugar and paraffin wax adorns his beard to make it look like snow. Fascinating process for hair and makeup design!

Takeaways:

Those little tics you give your characters emerge as major important factors on the screen and someone may be set as advisor on the details you conceive. The art and science behind evoking a response to the character, whether gross, severe, or thoughtful will stay with me in developing my characters as well.

In my book, I gave careful thought to my characters’ wardrobe, featuring certain pieces to evoke emotion. This symposium really made me think about facial tics, scars, mannerisms, and more subtle details that I’ll enjoy story boarding for the next book I write, too. It was amazing seeing the challenge first, then their response, their adaptability in different circumstances such as an actor eating pizza with prosthetics on his face, or a windstorm and fight scenes. They were filming in constant sandstorms, or ensuring makeup wouldn’t freeze and just fall off in winter circumstances.

I’ve included additional insights in this YouTube video here:

More Oscar writing insights from the Foreign Language and Director’s Symposium here: https://elizabethvantassel.wordpress.com/blog/.

The pre-events are now up on the Oscar website here:

http://www.oscars.org/events/oscar-week-makeup-and-hairstyling-symposium-0.

 

 

Dancing at The Oscars, Great Insights for Writers

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Earlier this week, author Sandra H. Esch and I traveled to Los Angeles for an intriguing set of pre-Oscar meetings at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. We left very early morning, hoping to glean some insights as writers. Sandi is working on some screenplays, and as a fantasy writer that loves great visuals, I wanted to see things from the Director’s perspective, like learning an intricate dance.

When I was an undergraduate, I took a wonderful cinema course at USC (before I realized I was really a Texan at heart and transferred to Baylor:). I learned to appreciate perspective, shadows, how music and light and wardrobe can build tension or release it, how thrills are built in the undulations of a good story structure, and how to elicit emotion from the audience with iconic images. This course has resonated with me through the years and allowed me to see good things whether or not I like the plot and story line of any movie.

This week, as I traveled to Los Angeles to sample a small tidbit of insight about the movie-making process, I was reminded of that moment, when in Citizen Kane, he mutters his final word, “Rosebud” and I watched in horror as the sled was burned, symbolizing the simple death of his childhood dreams and innocence, and so much more. These visuals have helped me craft a style of writing where I try to balance rich bits of detail along with a creating a tapestry of adventures that compel the reader forward.

I’d hoped to just leave with a few nuggets of insight, and was very curious about how the intricate hair and makeup items were prepared. And thankfully the sessions we attended were free from the political nature of the actual event (which was very disappointing. And where was Star Wars?? But putting this aside…) What I left with was tangible insights about the love of craft the directors have, the great lengths they go to incorporate traditions and small nuances with meaning into important stories, and especially some more specifics about how the details in framing your characters can really come alive on the screen. I’m splitting this into two blogs with thoughts for readers and writers alike.

Foreign Language Films and Director’s Insights

It felt like a bath of luscious details watching the international take on film as the Foreign Language Film nominees revealed their insights about how they made decisions about film vs. digital methods, whether to use native or professional actors and a host of other decisions. My favorite thing was seeing the passion the directors had for finding the best way to convey the look and feel of each movie.

Whether it was the black and white, coarse texture like old photos of the early explorers for the movie about indigenous natives in Colombia in Embrace of the Serpent, or the horrifying pain and thoughtless loss of life in the Holocaust in Son of Saul shot through a smaller lens like a series of photos, the directors highlighted their process. It was fascinating to learn one director in Afghanistan, in the movie A War, used actual refugees so their reactions would be authentic and preferred digital film so he could just let them react without being scripted.

Each director put tender, careful detail into how the audience would:

  • Feel and sense the texture of the look of visuals
  • Take the authenticity of the moment to heart
  • Settle into the location’s aspects, whether urban, run-down, in the amazon rain forests or in the desert
  • Be sensitive to local customs and insights
  • Be immersed in the time period in which the events took place

Dance steps and takeaways:

The crisp and clever details of setting lend so much to the whole experience of story, much like the kind of film or digital imagery used convey different looks and feel for a movie. Where you place the action in the scene is almost as important as what’s happening in that scene. If you say, for example, it’s a jungle scene, are you near a river or tangled up in vines? What animals, smells, and life is teeming in the background? Even if you don’t write in those details, soaking in them as the writer will lift your story to another level. Ciro Guera, whose story takes place in the wilds of Colombia, said “There are 30 different words for ‘green’ there.” His passion for connecting with the needs of the indigenous people was so convicting. It makes me want to be very authentic in representing international locations in my books, and also the magical locations I craft as well.

The directors were fearless about portraying the realities of death, but my favorites also brought beauty out with the severity, side by side, the contrast making the story even more poignant. In my stories, I want to have both sides of life, rather than bathing solely in the hearts and flowers, or in the dark corners. Contrast adds tension and always seems to peel away the veneer of the urge to either protect the reader, or remain in the utter darkness permanently. Next week will be part two, hair and makeup and what they taught me about dancing with the Oscars.

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For more information, check the Oscars links here.

Turning Up The Fun Meter In Your Life

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Part three of the Stress Knock-Out Series

You’re still juggling a lot and need another route to de-stress rather than watching the television or eating something you shouldn’t. To find that smile again, try turning up the fun-meter in your life.

Sometimes it’s okay to completely alter your personality for a day and push pause on the responsibilities, even if only for a short while. You can totally reset the gauges that measure stress and healthfulness in your life with setting out a path to have more fun.

Kids don’t mind asking for it, so why, when we grow up, do we suddenly forget to include fun in our daily agenda?

Here’s some great ideas to amp up the fun in your life:

  1. Get out of your comfort zone. I mean, it’s time to dial in some ridiculous. I have writing friends that dye the end of their hair different colors to feel like their main characters. I know others that visit different doughnut shops and rate the products. Another friend hosts American Girl parties for her daughters. Press the edge a bit and find a new avenue of joy.
  2. Get ridiculous. To venture into the ridiculous, you’ll need to pull the ripcord on being completely safe. You may need to don a tiara or let your kitchen get covered in ingredients that will bring a smile to a weary neighbor or friends. In our family, we try to plan quarterly outings to museums to learn some thing new about art or culture. Whether it’s riding a roller coaster or something else that tickles your inner child, get it out and wear that crazy hat or play a childish tune on the piano.
  3. Get messy. Yep, it’s time to pull out the paints or whatever you enjoyed as a child. I’ve recently started painting again and really, whether or not anyone ever sees my work, just mixing the colors is a lot of fun for me. My kids notice the change in me, too, and want to paint together. I also recently got some bubbles on sale at the store. I’m waiting for that dull afternoon to pull them out and get everyone laughing. Whether it’s at the gardening store, or taking a class, invest in creativity to help amp up the sanity in your life.
  4. Get down low. Like the song, “Say, Geronimo!” you may need to jump into something new. If you have little ones get down on the floor and play games with them. Pull out old board games or cards and revive the fun of the past. Invite some friends over for appetizers and pull out the games. I love seeing different aspects of personalities come alive in this context. It uses a different part of the brain and helps me loosen up a bit, too.
  5. Get musical. Whether it’s putting on music in your home or ordering a soundtrack to a fun movie you’ve enjoyed, music can lift your spirits right away. Recently we took our boys to the symphony and they loved the upbeat jazz tunes too. Music is attainable for everyone and ushes in a renewed perspective with a new tune.

 

Hope these tips will inspire new thoughts about having more fun this week! Let me know what worked for you, too!

For more tips about reducing stress, try these posts here:

10 Stress Knock-Outs For The New Year

Magic Potions

Give, Pray, Laugh

Image courtesy of coward_lion at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.