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.
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.