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Boviant Green


The following is a true story. The names and locations have been changed to protect the stupid. By guilt/association as the author, I admit that the “I” of this story is actually “I.” I mean, “me.” Slight embellishments have been made so that my early life seems a lot more interesting than it was.

The spring of 1991 wasn’t significant in any particular way. I pretty much just coasted through my high school years in a divine state of blissful ignorance. (Now a-days, I can still claim ignorance, but woefully the bliss has left me). Granted, this was between two dramatic blocks of time in my life, and I was sincerely glad that if the bread was all moldy and gross, at least the slice o’deli meat that was my later teen years seemed to be wholesome and tasty.

Family life was … complicated. The child of divorce, my father had remarried. Thank God in all her carnations that he married an angelic woman whom I still adore. His new wife brought a son into the marriage who was a mere six months younger than me. Together with the existence of a two-years-older brother (no matter how I’ve tried to deny it since then), this meant I had gone from being the baby to being the underappreciated middle child. (Note: I still suffer this condition.) Due to some logistics of broken marriages, my younger step-brother spent his youth living with his father in the foothills of Appalachia. My step-mother was a tarheel (she’s since had extensive therapy by a qualified Yankeeficator) by birth. In order to provide her with as much opportunity to visit with her son as possible, most of our school holidays were spent staying with her mother and father in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside Ashville, NC.

Did I mention remote Blue Ridge Mountains? Yes, they were remote, but not really blue. In fact, during spring break in March, they were rather green and verdant. The ample vegetation and mild climate made it an ideal location for raising cattle.

And barns. They raised a lot of barns.

For reasons of economy, during this period in my life, my dad and step-mother believed the ideal diet for two growing teenage boys and a widening teenage girl was a steady stream of Taco Bell tacos and other faux Mexican (Fauxican?) knock off foods. Though it was 10-mile drive to the nearest location (yes, uphill both ways), it seemed to be our lunch every third day. If you were curious, the other days were bridged biscuits and gravy and grits. And house tea. Gallons of house tea.

On Thursday afternoon, the sun was shining and the tacos were hot. Instead of driving all the way up the mountain, we decided to drive out into the middle of the gracefully grazing cows and take our lunch al fresco. My two brothers and I sat on the hood of the car while the adults sat strategically behind the wheel listening to pre-season baseball talk radio.

Barry, my younger step-brother and intellectual semi-equal, took a bite of his processed cheese-strewn crispy-shell and asked, “I wonder what grass taste like? Seems it would be pretty gross.”

And Scott, my older brother and intellectual minion, answered, “If you were a cow, you’d think it was good. They probably think whatever you eat is gross.”

A half-smirk, brandished taco and bad idea was all it took for Barry to jump to his feet and begin stepping purposefully towards the herd. It was probably the only time in the history of human-bovine relations that the two species shared a mutual WTF moment. We looked at Barry’s back, and the cows looked at Barry’s front and, more importantly, the taco in his hand held aloft like he was the fast food franchise version of the Statue of Liberty.

Now, by virtue of their very nature, cows are gentle creatures. But, it should be understood that this is decision they make because when you’re a cow, there’s really not that much worth fighting for. If you have a pasture of grass and some fresh water, life is good. At that moment, the herd looked at my mis-stepping step-brother and the symbol of mass bovine assassination in his hand, and decided to act very unnaturally.

As though he were an ancient Sumerian flaunting the bloodied, severed scalp of his enemy before his troops, Barry hoisted the various-vegans-vertibly-verging-on-violence victual high in the air and declared, “TAACCCCCOOOOO!”

A tail flapped, and bull huffed, and then all shell broke loss.

We heard the engine rev under us before Barry managed to turn around and start running. Unfortunately, the cows were spry. The herd was on his tail. Um…. His tail was to the herd, and we were already in the car gaping at the wall of bovine death approaching. The taco was nowhere in sight, and I remember feeling that was probably a good thing. Barry barely made it to the car in time to jump through the window, Dukes-of-Hazard style, allowing my dad to gun the gas and flee to freedom.

I learned many things during my childhood visits to Appalachia. I learned how to make proper biscuits and gravy. I learned how to clog to bluegrass, pre- or post-tequila. I learned that it’s nearly impossible to grow healthy, bumper crops in Carolina red clay.

But, most of all, I learned never, ever to meander into a herd of cattle and offer them an opportunity to experiment with cannibalism.

Never shout taco to a cow.

maH ghoSta’ maH leghta’ maH DIchDaq jaH

Translation of the Klingon: We came. We will go again.

I spent the last several days in San Diego.

And what a town. San Diego is a city famous for its agreeable climate, its tourist sites (SeaWorld, anyone?) and its historic Gaslamp District.

And its Klingons.

Four days in July each year, this quaint city of 1.8 million is invaded by all manner of goblins, vampires, Japanese school girls with hidden superpowers, Navi, power rangers and even the occasional Storm Trooper. Scratch that: many, many Storm Troopers. Comic Con is the intersection of hundreds of fandoms, each vying for limited space in the panel discussion, sneak peek sessions, or author signature queue that will set their hearts a blaze and induce geekspiration.

What drew me this year in particular was one hour of programming: a panel discussion on the Twilight Fanfiction community featuring six prominent writers from the fandom. As many of you know, my rebirth in writing came as a result of my participation in this fandom, and it was an honor and a delight to meet so many of these fine ladies and gentlemen in person after having online relationships spanning the last 1-2 years. (Click here for an article discussing the Twific Panel.)

As I know many of you who follow my blog are also writers, I wanted to pass along to you several things I learned the last few days that might benefit us as a community. There were many writing-specific sessions which I was able to attend, as well as observe the general trends that seems to be running through the television, movie, online and print community in the genres represented at this type of event. (And no, I don’t know how a panel from Glee snuck into the programming.)

  • Media is saturated with vampires. Several authors and publishers emphasized that the popularity of various vampire series the last few years (True Blood, The Twilight Saga, The Vampire Diaries), has pushed corporate types to an enough-is-enough limit. The blood banks are full and overflowing. Don’t try pushing any vampire fiction the next few years unless you feel you have a VERY unique twist, i.e. Dracula realizes his history of drinking blood and lurking in the shadows makes him ideally qualified to run for congress.
  • Don’t believe in stereotypes. So many Twific writers are assumed, for example, to be fat, sexually-frustrated housewives trying to relive their teenage fantasies through fiction. I’ll have you know, however, that some of writers have cheek bones that could cut glass and tower in heels (please see twific article linked above). Likewise, I walked into Comic Con expecting all manner of geek, dweeb, socially-awkward basement dwellers and D&D enthusiast. What I found was happy families, senior citizens, frat brothers, body builders, women who could walk runways in Milan, urban professionals, and everything in between. Turns out, you can’t judge a comic book by its cover.
    This is important when we try to think of our audience. Don’t write only to a target audience. Don’t be a slug, be a buck shot. Embed elements into your work that will stretch out to a large audience. And when you figure out how to do this effectively, let me know how?
    Hey, just because I see the road on the map doesn’t mean I know how to drive there.

  • Media is imploding. That’s right, IMPLODING. I mean, more like mushroom clouding. It’s turning in on itself, before expanding back out. If you’re a writer, you shouldn’t think that you’re simply writing a book. What you are writing is a multimedia package of fictional plot and promise. Your story will be a book, a website, a podcast, a video, a RSS feed, a twitter account, an online comic, a musical score, or any combination of these things. Same goes for your professional personality. You’re not just an author anymore, you’re a composer of multi-faceted media content. The proof is in the pudding here. Or, the blogger is doing the blogging, if you get my point.

    All in all, Comic Con was an unparalleled experience, one I highly recommend to anyone who can make the arrangements. If you have any specific questions, leave me a comment or tweet me at @killianmcrae.

    Till then, write long, and prosper.

  • Books that stick with you, long after you’d like to forget them…

    I’m sick today. No, nothing serious. In fact, it’s more annoying than anything else, but it has me stuck in bed for a while. And this is good. Yes, really. I’m a little behind in, well, everything, because I’ve spent the last six weeks running like a headless chicken and I’m certain this is the Almighty’s way of telling to just SIT THE FREAK DOWN for a while.

    Hmm…. Is this post tempting the wrath of the divine? *Looks for the flash of lightning and listens for the roll of thunder.* AHHH! No, wait, that’s just someone running a belt sander nearby.

    Anyways, when I have these days, I usually find myself thinking of completely random, nonsensical things. And this morning, as I was engaged in this practice, I suddenly remembered, “A Day No Pigs Would Die.”

    Believe me, this is a book I did NOT enjoy reading. It was assigned to my middle school literature class, and I think we universally panned it. It is, however, seen by some as an accurate portrayal of Shaker life in depression and post-depression era America, and a literary classic coming-of-age story. But definitely, not by me. This despite the fact that I was the one who often liked the books we were assigned. Dude, I read “A Tale of Two Cities” in, like, three days.

    So, this begs the question: Why the hell can’t I forgot this book? What is it about that book that, despite my strong distaste for it, it still stays with me after twenty years? And I think I have an answer.

    I hated the book because it told the truth. Growing up isn’t easy, it isn’t fun, and it is rare that the one comes away without scares. This book wasn’t escapism; it was an integral lesson in my understanding the realities of the world.

    So, my question for you today is: Do you have a book like this? Have you ever read something that made your teeth gnash every time you reached for it and you despised the author and all his progeny for having the gall to even live- yet, take from it more than you gave?

    Tiffany Madison rants on Chivalry (and maybe we should too)

    My friend and colleague, Tiffany Madison, author of the upcoming novel, Black and White, posted an opinion piece on her website today about the concept of Chivalry. I thought it was it was interesting, and would be curious to hear your feedback. You can find Tiffany’s original post (and comment there, if you like) here at her blog.

    The below is reproduced with the author’s permission.

    Ranting on Chivalry, a post by Tiffany Madison, 3 September 2010

    A while ago a respected friend of mine posted a discussion note on Facebook titled “Chivalry should be DEAD,” and so naturally, I stopped to read. Shortly after beginning, I learned that the post was in response to an article she had read titled On Chivalry and Internalized Misogyny, written by Amanda Hess of WashingtonCityPaper.com.

    Normally, based on the title alone, I would have cast this off as another propaganda piece from a dilettante Internet-sociologist touting the counter-productive virtues of
    fanatical feminism, but my respected colleague’s remarks gave me pause. She agreed with the author, making the following statement:

    “Chivalry puts the protection of the woman’s honor onto any man associated with her. Chivalry is NOT something to strive for. Chivalry assumes that a woman cannot do or think or act of her own volition because she needs to defer to a man in those situations. It breeds misogyny of women because it assumes women are inferior to men.”

    So I read further, discovering that in the article, Hess uses a combination of historical horror stories and circular logic to levy charges of inherent sexism against the practice of chivalry, shedding a damning light on the Western behavior entirely. She implies that men are historically selfish brutes and in their desire to control women, have manifestated their desires through chivalrous acts. Failing to realize her own hypocrisy by making such sweeping generalizations about the entire male gender, the author assumes we should strive to eradicate the concept all together, claiming it perpetuates misogny.

    True reason was scarce, but there was a definition. The author characterizes chivalry as follows:

    Ah, chivalry: That old code of behavior that men must follow in order to protect the “honor” of women they know. Through chivalry, a woman’s honor becomes a man’s responsibility; her honor brings honor to him, and her shame brings him shame. Chivalry isn’t just offensive because it forces men to protect women, but also because traditional ideas of what brings  “honor” and “shame” to women are often highly sexist. And so, chivalry also works to encourage women to internalize misogyny in order to preempt shame from befalling men.

    Maybe it’s cultural, but in the South we have some of the strongest women I’ve ever encountered and our men revere that strength and nobly seek to honor us in small chivalric gestures, which almost denotes a superiority. I can’t remember the last time I opened a door for myself, and if a man doesn’t attempt, I think he’s rude. Of course, I am perfectly capable of opening the door myself and could probably do it quicker than him even in my four-inch stilettos, but it is a polite courtesy to me—to show me such respect, and not a testament to his feeling I’m incapable of opening a door.

    Furthermore, at the end of the day, we can develop these ideas and constructs for mental sport, but if we’re throwing in equality, the fact is that men and women are not equal. Women, through thousands of years of socio-evolution are caretakers by nature, men protectors, etc. Women have their inherent strengths and men have theirs, and I wouldn’t trade mine for theirs any day. Seeking equality in regards to importance is noble and good, and I am thankful for the strides the women before me have made, for the fight they endured to give me the independence I have today. But we should honor their struggle by being secure in our differences to promote better gender relations. That doesn’t mean pretending those differences don’t exist!

    That article is the product of critical theory; the practice of deconstructing social concepts to a most ridiculous degree, frequently with a violator/victim mentality. Men aren’t courteous! They are chauvinistic, unenlightened brutes for assuming feeble women can’t open doors for themselves!  The sad thing is, that hostility sets women further back than most of us realize, because so often men go out of their way to accommodate us, to earn favor, to show us respect, and in turn, we make broad generalizations about respect, equivocating archaic references of feminine subjugation to simple courtesies meant to honor us.

    It is the opinion of this dilletante Internet-sociologist that chivalry is what sets apart cretin from gentleman. To honor a woman is to act in service to her, to hold her highly in regard and to go out of one’s way to accommodate her. Just as a good woman does for a man. It is respectful, courteous and the mores of an advanced society. As a woman secure in my feminine power, I see chivalry for what it is, and appreciate it.

    And for the record, the most prominent definitions of chivalry, are as follows:

    A set of ideas about how a good knight should behave. These included treating women with respect, defending the weak and the poor and fighting fairly. www.abdn.ac.uk/english/lion/glossary.shtml

    The rules for polite and honorable behavior that knights were expected to follow.

    castleandpalacehotels.com/home_pages/glossary.html

    Being attentive to women like an ideal knight.

    wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn

    Honorable, especially to women; involving chivalry.

    en.wiktionary.org/wiki/chivalrous

    No wonder men are confused about what women want. So am I! Because one thing is for sure: chivalry might be dead for the women that have killed it, but it’s alive and well in Texas! And if there are any gentleman reading this post, thank you for opening my doors. Please continue to do so, or I’m going to think you have no manners.

    “Twice as Long” receives honorable mention.

    A revised version of “Twice as Long as Yesterday” was entered in the 2010 Textnovel.com contest. On 6 September, the Semi-finalist were announced and, sadly, TALAY did not make the cut. However, it did receive and Honorable Mention from the Editorial Board.

    Paper or Plastic? Where do you come down on e-readers?

    I have an admission to make.

    I hate books.

    No, wait! Don’t jump to conclusions. Hmm, maybe let me rephrase? I hate printed books.

    You see, I’m a techie. Okay, I’m not a techie in the way that I can hack into highly secure systems and force all the telephones in the Pentagon to ring at the same time, but I do like gadgets. In the last few years, as the Kindle and other eReaders have come on the market, I’ve sat back on watched as the popularity of eBooks boomed and printed sales fell. And, really, why wouldn’t you buy an eBook? They’re less expensive, more portable, you can carry hundreds with you at a time on a device that weights no more than a pound at most. No more stuffy bookshelves, frayed covers, or risqué romance covers you have to be certain the kids don’t see…

    Nope, I’m an eBook fanatic. In fact, if a book is not available in an electronic format, 95% of the time these days I won’t buy it. Mind you, it does create a rather odd, secondary effect in that, as a writer, I can’t really offer to autograph a copy of an eBook. I’m sure there’s something to be done about that, and believe me, I have ideas, both low tech and high.  But I know some people still like the physical interaction with a printed novel. I simply can’t fathom the preference over the practical.

    My book now comes out in less than three months. It will be released both in paper and electronic versions, both Kindle format and others. Personally, I’ll be interested to see how the sales break down.

    Any of y’all joined me on the eBook bandwagon? Any of you holding out? Are there formats you prefer? Are there certain books you prefer to have paper copies for, instead of e-copies? Do you have an eReader, and what kind? Are your kids using them? Do you use them for things other than reading?

    Book Review: “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

    It’s rare that I find a YA book that I consider a literary classic. The last one was Harry Potter. Suzanne Collins‘ “The Hunger Games,” for me, merits that distinction.

    Firstly, yes, I know I’m a little behind on discovering this gem. I had heard of it for sometime, and always the feedback was good. Why I hesitated, and why it’s effected me so much, is because first in all things, I am mother. Since I ventured on that path more than fourteen years ago, I’ve developed an inability to read or watch any media in which the suffering of children is vividly told. I didn’t think I’d be able to handle HG, as the protagonist is just a teenager. But I discovered that, while Katniss Everdeen is small in years, she is beyond reproach with wisdom, cunning and intelligence. Katniss’ tragic state of existence, shared with the members of her family and town, don’t allow her to exist in a bubble of extended adolescence the way so many other fictional characters of this genre do. She is raw, fully aware of the inhumanity and deprivation she suffers, and an active and fervent participant in shielding her younger sister, Prim, from suffering the consequences of their reality as much as is proper and possible. Upon her father’s death and her mother’s self-removal of spirit from their lives, it is Katniss whom becomes the soter familias. She hunts, trades, even pokes her mother into caring and living again, to some extent. She keeps them going, and in doing so, earns the respect of the city and love of her sibling.

    The Hunger Games themselves are a punishment inflicted by the Capitol, the ruling seat of Panem, the post-apocalyptic country that exists in place of the USA sometime in the distant future. When one of the cities of Panem revolts against the Capitol’s iron-fisted rule, the consequence is taken out on the remaining twelve cities by which an annual tribute requires two children, ages 12-18, to be offered to the Hunger Games. The male and female representatives of each city are pitted against the others in a battle to the death from which only one may emerge victorious. In the annual drawing in Katniss’ city, District 12, Prim is selected as the annual female tribute. Katniss sacrifices herself,taking her sister’s place, and changing her destined path and Panem forever.

    I have not done extensive research on the author or yet read the rest of the series. As a student of history, I am intrigued by the author’s use of a similar punishment as given to Carthage by the Romans following the second Punic War. I even see parallels between Katniss and her father and Hannibal Barca, the hero of Carthage, and his father. This parallel made the book all the more an engaging read for a history lover like me.

    Highly recommended, and highly enjoyed

    Outlining for the Pantser, Pantsing for the Outliner: Planning just enough and winging it sufficiently so you don’t get stuck during NaNoWriMo

    This is a copy of an article that posted to the Fictionista Workshop today. Take a look for more information on the NaNoWriMo project on their website.


    Do you know what you’re having for dinner tonight?

    Okay, how about tomorrow night?

    If you have your meals planned out, even three days from now, chances are you take the same methodical approach with your writing. That is, before you even label the first page with a prominent CHAPTER ONE across the top, you have your story mapped, tracked, and tagged. You know exactly where it’s going, who falls in love, who dies, who gets abducted by aliens, etc. You, my dear writer, are an outliner. Nothing left to chance or folly, you hit your novel with all the strategy and wherewithal of a Roman general on the field of battle. You know what your character finds behind door number three, and you like it that way. Now, all you need to do is take that skeleton you have in the corner, and write some clothes, flesh and muscles on him.

    Then, there are writers like me. We are a different lot who sips tea while waxing the words poetic and listening for the muse whenever and however she may call upon us. We’re not just working on one manuscript, we likely have four or five competing projects going at any point. Each one is at a critical point where we’ve run out of words, where the flow of our creative juices has run dry, or where we just plain grew tired of thinking about it. Oh, they’re not abandoned, but our heroine has just grabbed the car keys and left in a huff after having a fight with her mother, and we just haven’t figured out yet to where she’s driving to or why. We have an idea, but every time we sit down and start her dialogue as she enters the gay bar on 3rd & Vine, we remember that we didn’t want her to go there until after she met the guy with blue glasses, because then she would have noticed the mechanical bull already that we weren’t planning on her discovering until after she robbed the bank. Yes, we have ideas. Too many, in fact, to the point that where we don’t know where to take them without our story taking an emergency exit to Tangentville. It’s not lack of direction, it’s lack of destination that plagues us. We write by the seat of our pants and by the grace of the coffee in our cups. We are the pansters.

    And one thing we pantsers have in common with the outliners is this: Come NaNoWriMo, we’re both screwed.

    As with many things in life, those at the two extremes of the spectrum have more in common with each other than those in the middle. Plan too much, and you feel obligated to stay on the scheduled tour, even when you see an interesting spire rising from the sky in the distance. Don’t plan enough, and you’ll wander around the fictional streets between the Conflicts and Resolutions districts without finding an efficient route in between. In short, you’ll get lost and get stuck. In NaNoWriMo, time is of the essence. Writing fifty thousand words in the span of thirty days is a completely achievable task, but only if one does not get mired down in the process of writing. Having too much of a plan may lead you to feel overly confident. That is, you may be all hat and no cowboy, taking on your novel knowing what you’re going to write, but not how. Also, writing is an art form, and in art there must be wiggle room to allow the artist to mold inspiration. Likewise, having no clear plan but only vague ideas may lead one to get delayed in the art of writing by overindulging in the process behind the words.

    May I be so humble as to suggest, at least in preparation for NaNoWriMo, a hybrid of the two approaches?

    I think it’s good to have more than a vague idea of what you’re going to write. I’ll admit, even as a pantser, I’m gearing up by at least sitting down and making a bullet point list of the major plot points of my story. I know, however, if I get wrapped up in microploting my characters’ actions before hand, I’ll lose inspiration and drive to tell the story. Think of it this way. I feel like I’m standing in the land of good intentions and yet-to-start actions, and across the river of Novelia, the imaginary land where I live most the time, lies Fifty Kay Acres. I need to build a bridge to this place, so I’m now pouring the concrete that will make up the pillars. But to truly cross the bridge I’m going to need to lay down the road. I’ve got all my materials ready, but I’m pacing myself to show up over at Fifty Kay by December 1st.

    Yeah, I use metaphors a lot. Sorry about that.

    Some other tactics you might want to consider as you plan your own NaNoWriMo are listed below. The methods combine the best of the pantsing and planner approaches, allowing one to overcome the shortfalls with each.

    The Post-it Method: Who are your characters? What are the major events in your book? What is the journey? Write a little something about each of these things on post-it notes that you can either put on the wall near where you write, or in a binder you can easily access. Then, arrange them. How? Well, chronologically perhaps. Or if you’re more a panster, perhaps by want. There’s nothing wrong with having conflicting post-its about where your story might go. As you head in one direction or another, or as you achieve the plot point, take it down and make a stack. Not only will this keep you on track, the stack of post-its will give you a visual confirmation that all your hard work is adding up.

    The Flow Chart Method: That’s right, flow charts. Now, you don’t have to stick to all the rules, but just chart out your story. Make sure you leave room on the side to make notes. You can then branch out with different ideas if you have several about the twist your plot might take. As you eliminate options or advance in your plot, ex-out the unnecessary bits.

    The Popsicle Stick Method: Go to your local craft store and purchase a bag of popsicle sticks. Write possible routes your story might take or details about your characters on as many as you feel comfortable with, then throw them in a bag. When you get stuck or need a pointer, randomly draw out a popsicle stick and remind yourself what you were thinking of when you wrote it and, more importantly, how you frame that in what you’re writing now.

    Use a recycled plot. I’m not joking on this one. A wise friend constantly reminds me that there are no new stories. In fact, I don’t really believe that, but I will admit that there are very few. What changes are the details. If plotting isn’t your thing, but your excel at detail, at capturing the human condition, at examining the clockwork of soul, by all means recycle. But be wary: I’m not saying plagiarise. Plagiarism is bad, wrong, and lazy. But there are some generalized plots you see over and over, and don’t necessary get worn. The young lovers separated by the station of their families, for example, or the virtuous, strong hero overthrowing the tyrannical despot. It’s okay to tell a classic story, as long as the story you’re telling is yours.

    Phone a friend. Do you have a person in your life who just… gets you? Why not use them as a bouncing board. Throw off some ideas about your book and get their general reaction. Perhaps even stage a fake pitch, as though your friend is an agent and you’re trying to sell your intended book to them.

    Pantsers: cut off shorts are also comfy. If you’re a pantser like me, you’re convinced that “outlining” is an ancient Norwegian cuss word. How about blurbing? Can you contain the essence of your book in 200 words or less? If not, why not give it a try? The brevity will give you lots of room to work as inspiration hits, but having a basic summary will orientate you about where you’re going.

    Whatever method you use to help you get ready for NaNoWriMo, the most important thing is this: write. Write every day, even if only 100 words. Even if you know you’re going to delete those words in the first draft, write. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the novel about it might be written in a month.

    Killian McRae is an aspiring writer of romance, alternative history, and fantasy fiction, and also has a sizable portfolio of derivative fiction. Her first published novel, 12.21.12, will be released in December 2010. To learn more about her, please visit her website www.killianmcrae.com.

    Interested in participating in NaNoWriMo?

    Sign up at www.nanowrimo.org to get started and continue to visit the Fictionista Workshop homepage for tips and tools to aid you.

    Book(s) Review: “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay”

    I had wanted to do separate reviews for the second and third book for the Hunger Games trilogy, but I simply couldn’t pause in my reading long enough to do so.  There will be spoilers in the below, so be advised.

    I’m a self-professed history fanatic. When I hit the first book in the series, I was immediately able to see the allusions to Ancient Rome and the Punic Wars. When I came to “Catching Fire,” I interpreted it as a transistor in the analogy. In the second installment in the series, Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, learn that for the third quarter quell, the Hunger Games roster will be filled by victors from previous years. Immediately, Katniss realizes that her win from the year before has resulted her being a target for the Capitol, and that Peeta is just as determined as before to ensure her survival, even at the cost of his own. The attendance of victors from across the years, from Katniss and Peeta as the youngest, to the oldest being estimated in her eighties, appeared to me as a reference to the European states heading into World War II. Collins is not the first to make the connection between the wars of the later Roman Republic/Early Empire and WWII. However, she makes it personal on a level at which historical texts often fail.

    As the Quarter Quell kicks into action, Katniss is again unable to comprehend the intensity of Peeta’s love for her. Tribute-Victors begin to fall left and right in the new arena, a tropical rain forest environment which is designed to look and function as a time piece. (Again, I see this as Collins informing the reader that, while our alluded era is shifting, so much remains the same.) When Peeta is nearly killed by walking into an electrified force field, Katniss begins to connect with her own burgeoning emotions, and realizes that she, too, is falling for him. However, Katniss has never been a romantic, and she remains focused on her goal. By allying with several tribute-victors, including the dashing Finnick, the inventive Beetee, and the no-nonsense, Katnisslike Johanna, the band is able to out-maneuver the Capitol’s best attempts to rid themselves of the growing threat their survival poses.  In a confusing, high-action series of events (the confusion here stemming not from any fault in the quality of writing but, on the contrary, to a very crafty and concisely penned reflection of Katniss’ own bewilderment), Katniss is able to out-smart the workings of the Capitol’s force field device, and is rendered unconscious by Johanna. Feeling she’s failed and giving herself over to death, an amazed and jaded Katniss awakes to learn that her elder, allied victors were part of  resistance group determined to overthrow the Capitol, that she was kept in the dark so she couldn’t be interrogated for knowledge of the workings of the group if their escape from the arena failed, and that in retaliation for their actions, Katniss’ home district, District 12, has been destroyed.  Though her mother, sister and best friend/suitor, Gale, have escaped to the once-thought-destroyed District 13, Peeta was not successfully rescued from the HG arena, and is being held prisoner by the Capitol.

    “Mockingjay” opens several months after the events of “Catching Fire.”  Now harbored in relative safety in District 13, Katniss is on the edge of sanity, her mind warped by injury and circumstance. District 13’s survival comes as a surprise, and provides a refuge for the survivors of District 12, but isn’t above using Katniss as a pawn in their war against the Capitol. Asking her to serve as the symbolic leaders of their cause, she’s disappointed but not shocked to see that she would be used as tool by them just as she was by the Capitol in the first HG. Gale, having professed his love for her, is nonetheless separated by his need to rebel against the Capitol’s power, and even in moments where Katniss softens and lets him nearer, he finds himself again immediately sidelined by either her use of him as a diversion, or in her difference of goal in the upcoming war. Several Capitol defectors, District 13 citizens, and former HG Victors become Katniss’ friends, supporters and allies. Most of these parties are in turn symbolic references to various players in WWII (Gale=France, Pollux= Poland, the Capitol=Germany, District 2=Italy, Haymitch may be a general characterization of Churchill, Coin, FDR, and Snow, Hitler).  Peeta is being used as a propaganda device under the Captiol’s control, appearing on Panem TV to beg the rebels and Katniss to give up the fight before it destroys them all. The rebels volley with a series of propos on hijacked Capitol airwaves, showing the damage the Capitol has wreaked and their disregard for the value of the slave labor districts they control. However, Katniss finally agrees to serve as the Mockingjay symbol, which inspires the revolution in the districts. Leading ever closer to the Capitol, Peeta is eventually rescued in a covert mission, though he has been brainwashed to believe that Katniss is his enemy. Having become aware of her love for Peeta, she soldiers on nonetheless, determined that her personal vengeance for Peeta’s love’s corruption and the loss of her home district can only be manifested against the Capitol by personally assassinating President Snow. In a tragic turn, outside the gates of presidential mansion, with her goal in sight, Prim falls victim to the cause. The loss leads Katniss, betrayed and sober, to see District 13 in the same light as the Capitol, and when her chance to dispatch Snow finally arrives, she instead kills President Coin. Declared insane, Katniss is sent back to District 12, where only the victor’s village remains, to live out her life in alienation from the New Republic. Eventually, a reprogrammed Peeta returns to her, and the two are slowly able to build a life together. A rather brief, a-little-too-sugary epilogue references the birth of Peeta and Katniss’ two children, and despite the excitement of the events leading to the fall of the Capitol, the final few chapters seem rushed, convenient and lacking resolution.

     

    Over all, the HG trilogy is one of the best YA series I have ever read. It respects the intelligence and emotional maturity of the target audience while not oversimplifying the consequence of decisions, actions and fortune the way many other members of this genre do. Though its anti-big brother message and warning of the evil of totalitarian societies and analogy of the communist/fascist paradigm is sometimes a little too heavy in the subtext, it is still spun over an engaging-enough tale that one doesn’t mind taking a little medicine with the sugar. Katniss’ struggles are realistic and her actions sincere. Peeta’s devotion sometimes comes off as a little too intense for someone asked to sacrifice so much at such a young age, but then again, if not for the innocence and romantic blindness, his character could never have played the role required of it. The violence in some passages is extremely graphic, and I would advise readers sensitive to accurate portrayal of war and death to shy away, but  I highly recommend this without reserve to readers ages 14+.

    “A Love by any Measure” to be published

    I’m overjoyed to announce that “A Love by any Measure” has been accepted for publication.

    Unable to pay rent on her family’s Irish cottage, Maeve O’Connor offers the only thing she has to English Landlord, August Grayson: herself. She must submit herself to his leisure twice as long on each occasion, and each time wants to leave him half as much. Set in Killarney, Ireland in the 1860′s.

    I will, of course, release more details as they become available, but I just wanted to get that bit of news out there.