Painting it Black: How to create the most vile, evil, wicked, no-good, dirty villain

(I wrote this article several years ago. It first appeared in Writers Digest's annual magazine Writing Popular Fiction. And then reran in two other magazines. )

It's a shameful fact, but I encounter no difficulty in writing about evil. What that says about my psyche, I don't even want to know. But the simple truth is, I find it frighteningly easy and enjoyable to create the blackest of villains. Give me any plot and I can think of a plausible and truly menacing bad guy to go with it.

Maybe part of the reason I am adept at developing evil characters is because I think stories are more interesting if good must struggle to triumph over evil. In my mind, the blacker the evil, the brighter and shinier the triumph. When the golden moment finally arrives, when the heroine races through the field of wildflowers to embrace her conquering hero, it is all the better if she must first step over the battered and broken body of her nemesis. Golden scenes are great, so long as there is a smudge of black somewhere on the canvas.
So how do you paint it black? How can you create the most vile, evil, wicked, no-good, low-down, dirty villain, one that does more than twist his moustache or tie the heroine to train tracks? Turn on your lights, lock your doors, grab a baseball bat, and read on.

What Motivates Your Villain?

Know your villain's goals and motivations, and make them clear to the reader. Motivating your villain will make him more threatening and believable because the reader will understand what is driving him to take such horrid and drastic measures. Nothing drives a story like an antagonist hell-bent on accomplishing a goal and damn the consequences.

Gaelen Foley, author of award winning romance novels including The Duke, says, "I try to design each villain as a foil for that particular hero I am working with. The villain should have a strength that matches up wonderfully with the hero's weakness. The villain should know or learn in the course of the story exactly what the hero's Achilles heel is and use it."

Make it personal, take it to the mats.

We have all heard the saying "two dogs and one bone" to describe the tension that should exist between hero and heroine, but the same could be said of the protagonist and antagonist. A villain who desires the same object/goal as the hero/heroine is threatening.
Make the stakes large and the consequences HUGE if the protagonist fails and the antagonist succeeds, this is what gets the reader involved and has them whooping a victory cheer when the villain is finally defeated. "And remember that your protagonist will act only as vigorously as the antagonist forces him to. They should be as near equal in skill, passion as possible," says Anne Perry, the author of mystery novels including the highly popular Pitt series.

Go To The Movies

Some of the most memorable villains are contained on celluloid and a lot can be learned from watching their dastardly deeds on screen. My personal favorites include the villains in these movies: The Patriot, Rob Roy, The Count of Monte Cristo, Les Misérables with Liam Neeson, and anything starring Gary Oldman. The villain in The Patriot is Colonel William Tavington, an ambitious and evil man determined to use any means necessary to advance himself. He thinks nothing of killing women and children, or of slaughtering entire villages.

But what makes this character truly menacing? How is he able to reach off the screen and clench the chords of your heart? A number of things makes this character a believable villain, including: powerful scenes that explains his motivation for being overwhelmingly self-centered and ruthlessly ambitious, period-appropriate speech and dress that add to his menacing aura (Let's face it, the Dragoon uniform is pretty intimidating), and scenes that are gritty and fast-paced.

Now, let's take a look at the villain in Les Misérables, played expertly by Geoffrey Rush. Cinematography helped make this character menacing. If you notice, the scenes where he appears are shot in low light and appear gray and dismal. The character, Javert, is always shown wearing black. Black bi-corn hat, black cape, black breeches, black boots. The overall effect is ominous. Appearances alone do not make a villain truly evil though, for that it takes motivation. In an interview with SPE online, Geoffrey Rush explained his character's motivation for acting so reprehensible. "Javert is traditionally played as the villain of the piece, but Bille August did not want him played just as a villain, but as a man who totally believes that he is in the right in imposing the law on those who break it. He has taken this stance that the world is divided into two lots of people-law breakers and law abiders-and he has no belief that a person can reform themselves or be redeemed. This is one of his demons; because of his parentage, he lives in fear of crossing the line into criminality, from where he sees there is no way back," said Rush.
When developing a villain for your next book, study carefully the villains in movies. Notice the way the villains on screen are presented and the way their persona's are enhanced through the clever use of fast-paced scenes, strong motivations, and ominous physical appearances.

Go To The Library

If you are writing historical romance, read non-fiction and biographies from your time period. History books are full of stories of warped and twisted individuals. Evil knows no class or culture, it can be found in every time period and society. One 18th century libertine enjoyed frightening his sexual conquests by making them watch him strangle kittens.
Colonel Tavington, the villain in the movie The Patriot, was based on the real Colonel Banastre Tarleton, who was nicknamed "Bloody Ban the Butcher," for his policy on killing surrendering troops.

A fantastic book for studying the immoral and wicked behavior of monarchs through history is A Treasury of Royal Scandal by Michael Farquhar. If the following saying is true, "The monarch sets the tone for the time," then a lot could be learned from reading about these debauched rulers.

Short And To The Sharp Point

For more impact, keep the villain scenes short, but image provoking. Try to avoid long monologues, keep dialogue brief. Pacing should be fast. Events and learned knowledge must be memorable.

Opium Dens and Dead Kittens

Use setting-appropriate props to enhance your villain's wicked nature. Sometimes, taking the mundane and perverting it can be extremely powerful. For instance, rats were a tremendous problem in 18th century Paris. The villain in my novel The Queen's Folly uses the heel of his shiny red boot to viscously stomp on a rat, frightening the tar out of one of my characters. In another of my stories, it is the early 13th century and the Cathedral of Notre Dame is just being erected. Snippets of information about the great cathedral are sprinkled throughout the novel. I talk briefly about how the cathedral is the vision of the architect Maurice de Sully and is to be a tribute to all things holy. In a drunken rage, my villain violates a woman in this holiest of places. A man who violates a woman is bad, but a man who violates a woman in a newly constructed church is just plain evil.

Look around your setting. What would one expect to find there? Are opium dens, pleasure gardens, or bordellos popular with the morally corrupt? Are your streets filled with chariots, gutter leapers or stray cats? I once read about a French aristocrat who strangled kittens for sport. I have also read that Rome is infested with stray cats. If I should ever write a novel set in Rome, you better believe I will have a villain that strangles kittens! The proper setting details can add just the right splash of color to turn a gray villain black.
Gilding The BlackWant to know the best thing about creating a wretched character? Before the book is finished, you have the power to kill them or mete out some sort of diabolical justice. This is crucial. You simply cannot leave your villain running free and unscathed. . .unless you plan a sequel.
Evil Is Really Just A Click AwaySo what happens when you have watched all of the movies I have recommended and absorbed all of my advice, yet the diabolical darling of your mind still refuses to be fleshed out?

Take inspiration from these web sites:
The Bad Guys Web Site offers information about some of the most memorable villains in films.The Villains of Marvel Comics is a silly site about comic book heroes and their arch enemies.

We have all heard the term Machiavellian, but how many of us know what it truly means and where the word originated from? Read the entire manuscript of The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli online to learn more about Machiavellian behavior.

The New York University of Medicine has an Online Screening for Personality Disorders. Just reading the quiz questions can give an author some attributes of a paranoid or disturbed individual.

Read a series of interviews conducted by the BBC with Brian Walden about real life villains Hitler, Stalin, Hussein, Nero and Machiavelli.

This short personality test tells you how much Scorpio is in your personality. Scorpio is one of the most powerful signs in the zodiac. By nature, Scorpios are possessive, emotional, charismatic, and extremely driven, all traits of a good villain.

And finally, no soul was more tortured or twisted than that of the reputation of the Marquis de Sade, an 18th century French man accused of extreme sadistic behavior and imprisoned under a letter de cachet. Sade remained in prison for fourteen years, but spent his time writing erotic and inflammatory novels. He narrowly escaped the guillotine and died in an asylum. Read more about Sade's villainous life.

The Decision To Create Evil

Every story needs conflict; two forced struggling against each other, good attempting to triumph over evil, but, not every story needs a villain. So why add a dark and dastardly character? "A villain is an extremely useful character in a romance novel. The conflict between the hero and heroine changes nature as they start to get their relationship off the ground. The villain can pick up the slack so that the tension or excitement level doesn't sag," says Foley.
Creating a villain also allows the author to tap into their dark side, to explore their phobias and fears and push themselves to extremes they might not go to in the real world. In print, the author can shoot the neighbors dog or steal the Hope Diamond without fear of repercussion. "It's lifting up the rock of your own soul and seeing what vile crawlies go writhing and scuttling for cover," says Foley.

Go ahead. I dare you. Lift up that rock.

The French Love Breasts

Big, small, young, old, firm or flabby. The French are completely undiscerning in their love of the breast.

They plaster boobs on posters in the Metro Stations. They sculpt firm and pointed breasts on their many statues. Even their history books are filled with images of their aristocratic ladies breasts.

No matter where you go in Paris, you are assaulted by ta-ta's. Strolling down the Champs Elysees, I nearly collided with a life-size poster of a naked and boob-jiggling dancing girl at Crazy Horse, one of the popular clubs in town.

At Luxembourg Gardens, former home of Catherine d'Medici, there are statues of the Queens of France lining the garden paths. Many of the queens are flashing a tit...or two!

Mothers on the Metro literally pull their shirts off to breast feed their babies.
Call me a prude, but I am not comfortable sitting next to a strange topless woman on a speeding train. I am a mother so I perfectly understand the desire to, and benefits of, breast-feeding. I think there should be no shame in suckling your child. But, please a modicum of modesty!

I finally could stand it no more. I plucked up the courage and asked a local why there was mammary-mania in Paris. Without a moment's hesitation, he gave me a saucy wink, and said, "Ah, but then this is gay Paree, ees it not? How do you think we got zo gay?"

Although his answer was capricious, it caused me to ponder Paris's Pectoral Passion. I looked carefully around me, from that point on, and do you know what I noticed? The only people staring at the nips were the tourists. The French barely seemed to notice, even the school-aged French. Perhaps they have become so accustomed to seeing boobs that they are desensitized; or, perhaps they see nothing wrong with exposing a lovely part of the female anatomy. Perhaps they have moved beyond shame and into acceptance and glorification. Hmm. Perhaps that is why their queens were painted topless.

I wonder why we are so hung up on covering our boobs in the United States? My mind starts to wander. Do most French women wear bras or does this liberation of the boob create anti-bra sentiments? Although there were a lot of lingerie shops in Paris, the windows were filled mostly with underwear. Does France have a lower percentage of sex crimes than America (I was unable to ferret this information on on the web)? I felt a lot safer riding the subway in Paris than I ever did riding the subway in Washington, D.C. or San Francisco.

My opinion shifts a tit...err...bit. Perhaps this boob thing isn't so bad? Then I imagine a few of our leader's ladies topless. A shiver runs through me. Can you see Barbara Bush posing for an official portrait, biting her famous pearls between her teeth while her breasts hang freely (and I do mean hang)? Or how about Hillary Clinton topless (does she even have boobs)? Prodigously frightening thoughts.

I finalize my opinion after I walk into a cafe in the Marais District and the breast-feeding Metro-riding Mom comes up to take my order. Ordering a coffee from this woman was not a comfortable encounter. "One cup...of coffee, please. Hold the milk...err...cream."

Remarkable Women

Perhaps I am biased, but I think women are the most remarkable creatures on the planet. We have been queens and slaves, mothers and warriors. If every woman in the world was gathered together in a Venti sized Starbucks, seated in comfortable chairs, and instructed to hold a gab session, I am sure we would discover that no two were completely alike. The life of each woman would be singularly interesting. From Eve frolicking and tempting in the Garden of Eden to Eleanor Roosevelt spouting words of incredible wisdom, famous women have lead fascinating lives and kept shocking secrets. Here are some shocking facts about some of the world's most remarkable women.

The Virgin Queen

Most people know Elizabeth I inherited her father's flame-red hair and his fiery temper, but they are usually surprised to learn her explosive nature once prompted her to stab a fork in the hand of a waiting lady who displeased her. Elizabeth frequently slapped the face of the person who made her vexed, severely punished companions who fell out of her favor, and had her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, executed. Her temper, it seemed, could reach intense proportions. (To read more about Elizabeth's famous but tragic mother, Anne Boleyn, please click here.) Elizabeth was called the Virgin Queen. Many people mistakenly believe this was because she was chaste or celibate when, in fact, it was because she was violently opposed to marriage and remained single.

A Grand Entrance And Exit

Cleopatra, the glamorous and powerful Egyptian queen, has long been known for her beauty and love affairs. Her loveliness ensnared two of the most influential men of the ancient world, Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony. To meet Julius Caesar, she had herself wrapped in a carpet and delivered to his palace. For her first meeting with Marc Anthony she arrived on a golden barge surrounded by flute and harp playing musicians. The lady knew how to make a grand entrance! She also knew how to retain her power. To keep her siblings from usurping her throne, Cleopatra had two of her brothers murdered and executed her sister. For all her angling and wrangling, Cleo was not a popular gal. Romans and Egyptians hated her, wrote terrible gossip about her. Later, when her lover, Marc Anthony, killed himself, Cleopatra followed suit. She had a nice meal and took a long bath, primped and preened, and then allowed herself to be bitten by a snake.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc was only sixteen years old when she left home to lead the French against English invaders, calling her mission God-directed. Although she was a small girl, she wore sixty pounds of armor and lead men (that's right, men) into battle. Her troops entered many battles and Joan suffered numerous injuries, a few times she had to be dragged off the field. She was a firm leader, establishing rules against cursing and looting), and encouraged her men to "be of good heart." She was of good heart herself, oftentimes staying with dying English soldiers to utter words of comfort. She was eventually taken as a prisoner of war, jailed and burned at the stake.

Did you know Joan of Arc was so proud of her position of leadership that she oftentimes carried her tropp's banner rather than a weapon? Did you know Joan of Arc was not cleared of the charges of witch-craft until nearly 25 years after her death? Did you know she was not canonized until 1920?

The Face Of Death

The name Madame Tussaud is synonymous with Wax Museum. But did you know the real Madame Tussaud, born Marie Grosholtz in Strasbourg in 1761, lived during the French Revolution and was even imprisoned? She escaped the blade but was forced to prove her allegiance to the Revolution by making death masks of executed nobles, many of them friends.

Let My People Go

Harriet Tubman's contribution to American History, her valiant efforts to lead slaves to freedom, have long been discussed and admired. As children we were taught about slavery and the Underground Railroad, we heard tales about Harriet's dangerous treks from the South to the North. Our young minds pictured Harriet Tubman trudging through swamps and forests, lifting her heavy skirts in one and carrying a bible in the other, gently comforting and leading frightened slaves. There were a few things we weren't told in American History class about this sanctified woman, like: She suffered from painful headaches and blackouts after being hit on the head with a two-pound lead weight; Harriet preferred to wear men's suits to skirts; She once pointed a gun at the head of a frightened slave who wanted to turn back; Harriet encouraged escaping slaves to give their crying babies sleeping pills; She was the only woman to lead troops into battle during the Civil War; she eventually settled in the North, married a much younger man, and regaled visitors with stories of her exploits.

A Lovely Velvet Gown, Do I Hear $250?

Mary Todd Lincoln found herself with mounting bills after the death of her husband. Her $1700 a year income (at a time when the average annual income was $192) was not enough to pay off her debts and keep her living comfortably. To make ends meet, she decided to liquidate her fabric assets; that is, she elected to auction off her gowns and and finery. Mrs. Lincoln, once a highly-sought after Southern belle, drew criticism and scorn for her "scandalous" clothing sales. Cynics thought she was mad and uncouth, even though they flocked to view the gowns. Some sympathetic souls helped to raise funds for Mrs. Lincoln and even suggested charging a dollar to view the gowns. Mrs. Lincoln's reputation suffered from the dress auctions. Later, her son had her declared insane and placed in a home.

The Mother Of Ugly Leopold

Life with Queen Victoria must have been confusing. The Queen, whose stern moral values and carefully-moderated public behavior made her the role model for millions of women and whose name now defines her era, could not abide an off-color joke in public but was known to chuckle at one in private. She was fastidiously cleanly, but thought nothing of muddying her boots during long hikes through the countryside and loathed toilet paper. She publicly supported technology and the Industrial Revolution, but privately preferred candles to electric lighting. Her very public sentiments about hearth and home helped to promote loving and demonstrative parent-child relationships; in private, though, she despised pregnancy and felt very little love for babies. In a letter to her eldest daughter she wrote, "An ugly baby is a very nasty object -- and the prettiest is frightful when undressed..." Further, her remonstrations towards her youngest son, Leopold, were so censorial and blunt they could be termed cruel. In a series of letters to her daughter, Vicky, the queen writes: "Leopold is the ugliest...I hope, dear, he [Vicky's young son] won't be like Leopold the ugliest and least pleasing of the whole family...He [Leopold] walks shockingly--and is dreadfully awkward--holds himself as badly as ever and his manners are despairing, as well as his speech--which is quite dreadful. It is so provoking as he learns so well and reads quite fluently; but his French is more like Chinese than anything else; poor child, he is really very unfortunate." The queen projected an image of a cool and emotionally restrained woman, and yet, when her dear husband died she had a plaster mold of his hand made and kept it in her bed to hold on to at night.

Just Catching A Breath Of Fresh Air (Or Baby In A Box)

For her tireless efforts in support of civil rights, women's rights, and worker's rights, Eleanor Roosevelt was once called "Mother to the World." Ironically, she once described herself as a less than ideal mother. She was overly-strict and dispassionately involved in her children's lives, one might even say neglectful (A neighbor once called the police when she saw Eleanor's infant daughter in a wire box suspended from an open window. Eleanor's explanation was that she wanted her child to have plenty of fresh air.) Despite her maternal failings, she was a dynamic woman. Plagued by numerous fears as a child, she overcame them as an adult to challenge herself to be a better person. She fought for women's rights and was even appointed Chair Person of the President Kennedy's Commission on the Status of Women (a major coup for the women's rights movement in America). Her selfless acts towards world peace and political stability have inspired countless women. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a self-professed Roosevelt fan, once admitted she holds imaginary conversations with Mrs. Roosevelt.

Martha Stewart Wants My Brownies

If you have been following my articles and blogs, you know that I am a believer in the magic of serendipity. Accidental discoveries are the greatest, aren't they? I think so, especially when they involve chocolate.

Last weekend, my daughter asked me to make her some brownies. I'll be honest, I had to stifle a groan. You see, I am not a big believer in boxed desserts. I make almost everything from scratch because I think it tastes better. As I looked into her wide-blue eyes, I mentally rolled up my sleeves and forgot about the extra work her request entailed.

I decided to try a new recipe though. Actually, to be precise, I decided to tweak an old recipe. I got out my copy of Martha Stewart Living Cookbook and turned to page 541 - Double Chocolate Brownies. After making certain I had all of the necessary ingredients, I got to work making the brownies. Palms sweaty and pulse racing, I decided to mess with Martha. I made several daring adjustments to the recipe.

I slid the concoction in the oven and waited with baited breath, praying I hadn't butchered the Berkin-toting Babe's Brownie recipe.

What came out was ... well ... delicious. Light, soft, slightly chocolatey brownies with a subtle sugary, salty crunch in every bite.

I thumbed my nose at dear old Martha in one other way: I topped the brownies with chocolate buttercream frosting.

So, without further ado, here's the recipe:

LEAH'S French Sea Salt Dark Triple Chocolate Brownies

6 tablespoons margarine

6 ounces good quality semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 ounces good quality dark chocolate, chopped (70% and above)

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon French Sea Salt (I prefer coarse Sel Gris de Guérande)

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup sugar in the raw

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla paste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan.

2. Put the butter, chocolate and cocoa in a heat-proof medium bowl and set over a pan of simmering water; stir until the butter and chocolate are almost melted. Martha actually instructs you to completely melt the mixture, but you want some chunks of chocolae to remain.

3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl; set aside.

4. Put the sugar, eggs, and vanilla paste in a the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat on medium. Now Martha tells you to beat it until the mixture is smooth and pale. I disagree. You want to beat it just long enough for the items to be incoporated. Add the chocolate mixture and beat. Add the flour mixture, beat until all is incorporated.

5. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

I topped these with a simple chocolate buttercream recipe:

1 stick margarine or butter

6 ounces dark and semi-sweet chocolates melted completely

2 teaspoons of vanilla paste

1/4 cup cocoa

About 2 cups powdered sugar

I fly by the seat of my pants with frosting and just add what I think looks right.

Let me know if you make them. I would love to hear your feedback (Positive only, please).

What is so great about America?

What’s so great about America?

The unemployment rate in the United States has hit a 26 year high, with 14.9 million Americans out of work. Our national debt recently hit a record $11 trillion. President Obama's approval rating has fallen more steeply than any other newly elected president (ABCNEWS.com/Tapper/09/02/09). And nations all around the world believe we are big, bad bullies.

Newspapers, magazines, and the airwaves are filled with stories about “America’s demise.”
Hollywood directors and stars spend more time on political soapboxes, often spouting unpatriotic or idiotic statements, than in making quality films.
Many disheartened, disgusted, down-trodden Americans are looking around their neighborhoods and noticing rows of repossessed homes and failed businesses and they worry that America has lost her edge. They read about policemen posted in elementary schools, elderly folks too poor to pay for prescriptions, and homeless freezing to death on the streets, and they wonder, “What is so great about America?”

I pondered the answers to this question today and found myself going back in time, to my childhood.

I was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, in the shadow and amidst the exhaust fumes of the Jeep Plant and the Dupont Chemical Factory. Back then, Toledo was a small mid-western town filled with honest, hard-working, blue-collar folks of Polish, German, or Irish descent. They worked for the railroad, automobile or glass factories, or the port authority.

I spent summers fishing or swimming in the lake or riding my bike through one of the parks along the Maumee River. I collected old soda bottles and turned them in for cash so I could buy a foot long donut at Hinkle’s or a hot dog at Rudy’s. I went on class field trips to the Toledo Art Museum, where I marveled at the thousand-year old mummy, and Fort Meigs, a battlefield from the War of 1812.

Some of the people who know me today might find it difficult to imagine that I came from humble, hearty, salt-of-the-earth stock, but I did.
Before I became a polished, pampered, well-traveled woman, I was a poor mid-western girl in pigtails and overalls who loved catching fireflies and putting them in mason jars, listening to the accordion music at the Polish Festival, and watching the glass blowers at a local museum twist and turn molten sand into spectacular objects. Sure, I have traded my overalls for designer denim and my pigtails for a sleek ponytail, but deep inside of me beats the heart of a simple, proud, patriotic mid-western girl.
I love that I was born in Toledo. Not because it is home to one of the oldest minor league baseball teams in the nation (Go Mud Hens!) nor because it has grown from a sleepy little town to the fourth largest city in Ohio. I do not proudly claim Toledo as my hometown because of its world class art museum nor because Jamie Farr brought it (and Tony Packo’s, a Hungarian hot dog joint located on the east side of town) fame by repeatedly mentioning it on the television show M*A*S*H.

I am proud to be from Toledo because it represents the best characteristics of America. It is a city, struggling valiantly to survive in a changing world, defiantly hanging on and adapting. Toledo is located smack dab in the middle of the rust belt – so in the middle, in fact, one might say it is the belt buckle. Mighty industrial corporations that manufactured glass, carriages, car parts, furniture, scales, and chemicals have closed their factories. Their smoke stacks have ceased to belch great, thick gray clouds, their work whistles have fallen silent. Their buildings and warehouses stand empty and ominous, time and the elements mercilessly disfiguring their once great facades. Like snapshots of an aging, forgotten film star, they are pathetic reminders of a glorious past. Even though thousands of workers have lost their jobs and the city has lost its ranking as one of America’s great industrial centers, it is far from being dead. Like any seasoned middle-weight, it gets knocked down, but not out. When the Jeep Parkway plant was closed, an editor at the Toledo Blade wrote:

"To the tens of thousands of workers who turned out 11 million cars and trucks there for more than nine decades, the closing of the Jeep Parkway plant this week will seem like the loss of an old friend. Sadness abounds for the passing not only of the familiar West Toledo factory with its trademark brick smokestacks but also for the demise of a rich slice of American culture embodied in what once seemed like an unending stream of good-paying industrial jobs. We may never see their like again on the same grand economic scale, but Toledo still has its Jeep, in spirit as well as steel, sheet metal, and rubber. The building may disappear, but the spirit will never die." Toledo Blade, 28 June 2006

It’s that proud, resilient, never-say-die spirit that makes Toledo a great city and America a great nation. That spirit is what saw us through the bitterly cold nights at Valley Forge, the devastating, hungry years of the Great Depression, and those horrendous days following the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center. That spirit motivated the men who stormed the beaches on D-Day (and helped liberate most of Europe). It is the same unflinching-in-the-face-of-peril spirit that is motivating the men and women serving in Afghanistan.

Accuse me of being a Pollyanna, of looking at my corner of the world through rose colored glasses, but I believe that tough, brave, determined spirit exists in most Americans. I believe it is a part of our DNA.

Although I have only been back to my hometown once in twenty years, I still consider myself a Toledoan and I still consider it one of the best cities in America.


The University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University received grants recently for solar and environmental research. So, a town that once manufactured as much pollution as it did consumer products is now transforming itself into a center for the research and development of green products.

What is so great about America? Its citizens. We are resourceful, ambitious, hard-working, enterprising, and indomitable. We are capable of weathering any storm because we draw on our strengths and never, never say quit. Give us a beachhead and we will take it (retreat is not in our vocabulary or history). Give us darkness and we will invent a light bulb. Give us lemons and we will create bottled lemonade manufactured and distributed worldwide. And, give us a down-trodden, rusty old industrial town and we will transform it into a revitalized center for new age research.