What she's done: What began as a way to pass time polishing her English writing skills developed into a best-selling novel in both Spanish and English. [Maria Amparo] Escandon, a Mexico City native, was stunned by the success of her first book, "Esperanza's Box of Saints," an eccentric romantic comedy about a woman who refuses to believe her only daughter has died. Its success prompted her to turn it into a screenplay. And again to her surprise, her script was accepted into the Sundance Screenwriters Workshop, where it caught the eye of Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Springall. "Santitos," directed by Springall, will be released by start-up distribution company Latin Universe in the U.S. in January.
Outlook for 2000: Escandon has finished a second screenplay, "Gonzalez and Daughter Trucking Co.," a coming-of-age father- daughter story set in the offbeat world of border truck driving. She also is polishing a novel in English based on the screenplay. "It's a Southwest road trip," said Escandon, who spent nearly a year researching the subject. "I hung out with the salespeople and the truckers . . . , and then we'd go to their watering holes. It's all an incredible culture."
What he's done: While studying law at Harvard, [Hill] Harper missed classes sometimes for as much as three weeks at a time, traveling to New York and Los Angeles to audition and act in television movies and plays. The son of a college professor and a psychiatrist, Harper says he never intended to practice law. After graduating from Brown University, where he concentrated in sociology, economics and theater, he says he enrolled in law school partly as a "security blanket." Since moving to Los Angeles three years ago, he has worked steadily in such films as "Beloved" and "He Got Game" and in TV shows like "NYPD Blue" and "Married . . . With Children." In 1995 he snagged a role in the short-lived UPN series "Live Shot." He thought he'd gotten his big break when he was chosen for the title role in "The Nephew," a Pierce Brosnan-produced film set in Ireland in which Brosnan also appeared, but the film went direct to video in the U.S. In the as-yet-unreleased independent film "The Visit," Harper plays a prison inmate dying of AIDS. The drama also stars Billy Dee Williams, Phylicia Rashad and Obba Babatunde.