Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Crossing the next book off my list, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins quickly became a favorite and now, of course, I'm hating myself for not buying the second book in the series, Catching Fire.

In honesty, I bought this book because I'd posted on Anne Rice's wall and asked her what she was reading at the moment.  The Hunger Games was mentioned and when I saw it for $6.29 at Walmart, I grabbed it and shoved it in the buggy with the rest of my junk.  I do not regret that impulse buy at all even though it was a gamble. I'd never read anything Collins has written nor do I know how many books she's published or anything about her at all other than the fact that she has written a book that could quite possibly influence my reading agenda for some time to come.

The plot is simple, yet complicated.  The book is told through the point of view of a sixteen year old girl named Katniss.  Katniss has had to play the role of head of her family since she was eleven years old when her father was killed in a mining accident, rendering her mother virtually useless.  Katniss then became the hunter, gatherer, caretaker of both her young sister (Prim) and her emotionally dead mother.  Katniss's duties include, but are not limited to: school, hunting animals for food (in secret because it is illegal to do so), setting traps with her friend Gale (male friend), trading for things she and her family needs, and much more.  As a matter of fact, Katniss has, by necessity, become an expert hunter and many other citizens of District 12 quite enjoy trading or buying from her when she catches rabbits or game.

In Katniss's lifetime, North America has been split into 12 districts that are run by the Capitol.  The Capitol has basically seen to it that the citizens of the country, Panem, have to work their fingers to the bone for a simple scrap of bread.  Also, due to circumstances of politics and war, there is what is called a "reaping" every single year...

The "reaping" is a ceremony where all children between the ages of twelve and eighteen are entered in sort of a drawing. Not a good one, either.  This drawing chooses one girl and one boy from each of the twelve districts. This girl and boy then are sent to the Capitol where their every move is televised for the entertainment and horror of the rest of the entire country.  They are given odd makeovers, then thrust into the a world of the government's choosing.  Sometimes it's a desert, sometimes it's the forest...Their basic goal, once thrust inside the coliseum, is to survive on their own until only one "tribute" out of 24 (2 from each district) is left alive.

These 12-18 year old tributes are to battle it out to the death in some circumstances.  There is little water, few supplies provided, and little food.  They have to hunt, gather, and fight each other to survive.  It is a very cruel practice, but the tributes have no choice if they want to live.  In fact, it is a great honor in some districts to be chosen and an even bigger honor to win since the winner is basically given a life of luxury afterwards and may not have to fight and beg and hunt for food for the rest of their life after the Games are over with.

When reaping day comes along for Katniss and her family, I felt a sincere sadness for the citizens of District 12, especially Katniss.  Katniss is sixteen, so this is not her first reaping of eligible age, but her young sister (age 12) is entered in the drawing for the very first time.  I have a daughter who is nine years old, so I can imagine having a 12 year old daughter drawn for the Games.  It's almost a death warrant. 

Prim's name is pulled from the drawing and it seems her fate is sealed until Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place, a very brave move for anyone and also not something that happens often when reaping day comes along.  Also, a male is chosen.  His name is Peeta and he is possibly my favorite character aside from Katniss, of course.

Katniss and Peeta's lives are sort of intertwined in ways and the way that Suzanne Collins describes their relationship, from start to finish in the book, is very true to the relationships that younger people have with each other.  Different, of course, but still very true to life.  I enjoy the dynamic between Katniss and Peeta very much.

Throughout the book, there are plot twists that you won't see coming all over the place.  Sometimes major twists, sometimes minor ones.  Collins writes scenes that will make you upset, make you sympathize with characters in the book (I really loved the character, Rue-a 12 year old girl who was chosen on reaping day from District 11), and you really are pulled into the fictional world that Collins has created.  District 12, where Katniss was born and raised, is actually in Appalachia.  I just happen to be from Appalachia and live here now, so when the author talks about coal mines and coal dirt and miners, I can really relate and I can tell you from my own personal experiences that the way the mines are described and the way mining life is described is also extremely true to life. 

Being that I'm from West Virginia, I can also sort of put myself in the place of young Katniss.  If I were born several years into the future, I could have been chosen for the Hunger Games instead of Katniss...It gives you a lot to think about. That being said, I don't think I would have done so well with being thrust into a coliseum full of people my age that were trying to kill me. Again, in that respect, Collins portrayed the many feelings that one would go through being in that situation very well and I could sympathize with the characters on a level I'm not quite used to because those are not feelings that I am used to feeling on a regular basis.  In writerland, this means that Collins has done an excellent job! Being able to create a world where adolescents and young adults are thrust into a coliseum to fight to the death until there is only one young person standing so that the rest of the country can watch in horror to see if their loved ones are coming home or not has to be a difficult story to write, but Collins has got my seal of approval.  She's done this seamlessly.

The second book in this series is called Catching Fire.  I know that Walmart has it because they had it when I bought this book. Unfortunately, I didn't pick it up. I wanted to see if I'd like the first book first. Now I'm kicking myself because Collins leaves you with a cliffhanger at the end of The Hunger Games. I suppose this warrants a trip to Walmart this weekend if possible. I have to have Catching Fire and if I don't get it, I promise I'll be cranky until I do!

You won't regret reading this book at all. I couldn't put it down. I finished it in less than twenty four hours. You know what that means? That means that Suzanne Collins gets an entire FIVE heart rating from me. Other than Christopher Pike, I don't think any other authors have gotten that high of a rating from this gal.

Rating:  <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 FIVE HEARTS!!!

Also available from Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire--the next book in the series.

**Film Adaptation!** 

As it turns out, there is going to be a film.  It will be released sometime in 2012 and has an excellent cast.  Woody Harrelson (YES!!) and also Lenny Kravitz will star in this movie.  The IMBD article with trailers and information can be found here. 
If you would like to read the wikipedia article, you can find it here.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Thirst, Vol 1 by Christopher Pike, Book Review

The very beginning of this book hooks you.  The first sentence grabs you by the eyeballs and glues them to the pages of this book.  I've long stayed away from Christopher Pike's YA novels because they are YA novels...I'm typically not interested in young adult fiction in the least little bit, with few exceptions.  From now on, however, Christopher Pike novels, YA or otherwise, will always be at the very top of my purchasing list.  I won't rent them from the library or borrow them from friends-these are books I want sitting in my shelf.

About the book:

Pike follows the 5,000 year old vampire, originally named Sita, through her life as she encounters demons with cocky attitudes, Krishna (as in Hare Krishna), new vampires who need a little bit of control, and so many other obstacles.  She is ruthless, whether flowing under the guise of Alissa, Lara, or just plain old Sita.  I can relate to Sita in many, many ways.  In honesty, she's my kinda gal.  Sita was once just a regular young woman (18 years old) who was married and had a daughter (keep in mind that five thousand years ago, that was normal).  In the beginning of her marriage, while her daughter was still tiny, Sita becomes a vampire and is forced to leave her husband and child behind.  Through her life, she often speaks of the loss of her child and her sweet husband, Rama.  These passages usually tear at my heartstrings so much that I can forgive her for slashing a few throats or blowing up a few buildings.

Christopher Pike is probably one of the best writers of our time right now.  I love the way he doesn't nag on and on over one scene when he could just write it simply.  He describes scenery and people in a way that is simple, yet clear as a bell.  I can imagine that when Pike hands in a new manuscript, his agent probably smiles like the Cheshire cat and counts hundred dollar bills in his head as he sleeps. 

I also really love the way Pike has gotten into an eighteen year old girl's head.  Although Sita is 5,000, she's still only eighteen and she has many thoughts and feelings that are true to the female nature, of course.  There are some male writers who, when writing female characters, forget to give them personality and depth as well as a natural femininity. I also think that Pike was absolutely genius for giving her the loss of a child, though she was only (in appearance) eighteen years old.  Given that she is female, it gives her a certain depth that goes beyond just being a vampire.  She is a bereaved mother, in a sense.  Her child was not killed and didn't die until she was of life expectancy, but Sita did not get to raise that child.  I can only imagine what that did to her.

Sita, also,  uses what she has at her disposal to get what she wants.  I tend to think that most teenaged girls, twenty-something women, and females period do this a lot, although most of us stop somewhere between bribing children with candy and lopping off people's heads.  Sita does what is necessary.  If she needs something and there is a chorus line of old ladies in her way, the old ladies have to go...but she will completely dislike destroying their lives.  She only kills those who she must and tries to not kill innocent people.  I can respect that about her.

Getting down to the nitty gritty.....

For this book consisting of three different novels, I couldn't put it down.  I read the first section, got a Dr. Pepper, then sat down to start the next novel and the next.  It took me all of three days.  In honesty, it wouldn't have taken me that long if it were not for the fact that I have four children and responsibilities that go beyond reading books and sucking down Dr. Peppers (Usually coffee, but I just had a tooth extracted and had to avoid hot drinks). 

Rating:  <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 FIVE HEARTS!!! <--- I rarely rate a book with five hearts and though I just now finished Vol. 1, Vol. 2 is already cracked open on my desk with my Moulin Rouge bookmark on the first page of the first chapter. I just HAVE to know what happens to this young vampire!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rhiannon On Writing *giggles*

Since Stephen King has written an entire book about writing, I thought I'd give this a shot myself and share some of my own views about the subject (since everyone else has their own opinions and methods).

Before I get started, let's get some things clear.  I don't claim to be an expert and to be honest, I probably will never be (an expert).  I do not have a zillion best sellers.  I don't even have one best seller.  I will not be the next Anne Rice, either.  However, I will be the first, last, one and only Rhiannon Mills and I am a writer because it is what I love to do. I couldn't stop writing if I wanted to.  Somehow, the muse would drag me back to the keyboard and nail my fingers to the keys.

I started writing with a more professional outlook after reading Twilight (eeeeeek!).  I hated the way it was written and when I'd stated my distaste, someone (I can't remember who, but if I ever do remember, remind me to thank them) said, "Well, why don't you just write your own, then!"

The wheels in my head started to turn.  I'd already dabbled with short stories and things of that nature, but hadn't saved any of them.  I already loved vampires, so why not write the story the way it should have been written in the first place (in my own opinion)? I could do this!

A few weeks later, I'd written seven chapters of Immortal Ties and had no plans for stopping the writing process.  I started looking at submission guidelines all over the web.  I ate, slept, and drank vampires.  My point being this:  Something in every writer's life gets them started, whether it's a statement someone else makes or an event in said writer's life.  This was my turning point.

I believe that writing is a bloody, gory, painful journey through life.  It's almost like a disease.  Some folks have diabetes and need to have a shot or a piece of hard candy every now and then, but others have a "Writer Syndrome" and have to be at their keyboard for so many hours a week.  Fortunately, the only cure for Writer Syndrome is to write and never stop.  Even then, you still won't be cured.  I have a theory that Edgar Alan Poe probably raises from the dead every now and then in his coffin and scratches out poems on the top of his coffin, then drifts back into his death sleep. 
This image always relaxes me enough to write:)

My Method

Every writer has a method to their craft, even those of us who don't even have a method for folding their laundry have a writing method--although, sometimes the method could be an absolute genius way of sugarcoating mayhem.  I think that may be what I have. 

I have what I like to refer to as Writer's OCD, meaning that everything has to be just so before I can continue writing.  I have to have my Joe Camel beer huggy full of pens and pencils sitting somewhere close.  I have to have my ashtray next to me (because I'm a chain smoker), and I also need to have a drink somewhere.  If it's coffee, it has to be in one particular mug, or I won't drink it (or write) until I have MY mug.  

When I begin a new project, I google things forever and a day before I get a clear vision of what I want to do or how I wish to begin.  I google random images just for fun because images and photos inspire me to no end. I will listen to music, leaf through recipes and articles, and scribble on notebook paper until some sort of a fresh starting idea hits me...and then, it's on like Donkey Kong! 

I have a template that I use for character sketches and sometimes when I can't think of anything to write, I make up people instead.  That's how I created a few vamps and a few tramps in the past few months.  As a matter of fact, I think I've created an entire colony of characters that have no real stories yet--just big plans for the future.  

The Writer Monster

When I'm ready to write, after character sketches and an initial synopsis has been typed up, I turn into a complete monster, the scariest monster that anyone will ever encounter.  This monster has bags under her eyes, hair that strings out in every direction, is tired but super hyper from all of the caffeine that she has taken in, and more than likely will be living in a ragged old pink bathrobe for weeks at a time. She only answers to "Hey MOM!!!" and will snap off your fingers if you put them in front of her face.  Proceed with caution!

After I've been completely transformed into The Writer Monster, wonderfully magical things begin to happen.  My story  begins to take shape.  Sometimes I have to go back and edit pages or revise (and even delete entire chapters--*gasps*), but somehow I manage.  

The biggest tips I can give to any writer...

1- Do not rush.  Some writers can zip through 2500K or more per sitting. Others are lucky to make it through 500 words.  For me, it just depends on what day it is, how I'm feeling, what's on my mind, and if anyone has pissed me off lately.  When I'm angry, I can burn through a good 6,000 word short story in just a few hours.  Can't say it would be very well edited, but the bulk of the story would be there! 

2-  Measure the amount of story you have by word count, not page count.  If you tell an editor that you've written a really super duper awesome book about wolves and it's 300 pages long, this editor doesn't know snot by the time he/she gets to the end of your email.  In that many pages, you could have written a 20 font story that, in the smaller font that the publisher asks for in submission guidelines, would equal 150 pages.  This would be a case where your story goes to the bottom of the slush pile and is never recovered. Sorry, but word count rules the roost.

3- Do not assume that since your story is soooooo super duper awesome, that submission guidelines do not apply to you.  Trust me, they do. Not only that, but if you speak to an editor with that sort of arrogance, you've just handed your (possible) acceptance letter to the next writer in line.  Also, never assume that you know everything and that you can't learn from other writers.  The truth is, you don't know everything and other writers can be your biggest support system sometimes.  Also remember that other writers buy books and if you treat them like trash, they won't buy yours! 

4- Do not feel as though you always have to write character sketches and plot first.  If you see a scene in your head, just write it and get it out now before you forget it all.  Chances are, if you write it the way you see it in your head the minute it pops in there, it'll be better than if you have to wait for it to surface again.  Yes, this can be somewhat of a bitch, but trust me on this one!  If you have to, write it all down on a restaurant napkin while you're having lunch with friends.  They might think you're nuts, but if they're really your friends, they'll love you anyway. 

5- Become a troll.  Find out how other writers do things because you can learn a lot that way.  I don't mean for you to become a copycat, but writers learn from each other.  There are a lot of great online resources for writers that are actually written and posted by WRITERS...Great concept, huh...

6-  Do not force your story.  If you're just not feeling it, don't write it.  Wait until you're ready to go, then proceed to write.  Writer's block can be a real bitch, but it could be worse...You could write a story when you're not really feeling it flow and it could suck so bad that no one will even look at it by the time you're ready to submit.

7-  Try not to feel like a failure when you get your first rejection.  I could paper my entire house (and half of my mother's house) with all of my rejection letters.  Even Stephen King has gotten rejection letters. We all get them and none of us like them, but ya just have to shrug it off and move on.  If the letter has some criticism, use it to your advantage! 

With all this being said, I hope that somehow I've helped someone out there.  No two writers are a like, so I'm sure that some of you are scratching your heads and wondering what the hell you just read, some are calling me a hack and various other four letter words, and some of you may have just gotten a good dose of encouragement right when you needed it.  

Good luck with the world of writing. It's pretty tough out there!

Contact me at KellyShrewsbury@gmail.com

Friday, October 7, 2011

Possible Historical Figures

Some of you have expressed interest in the Vampyres: A History Written In Blood anthology that my partner and myself are editing, but are having trouble choosing a historical figure to write about.  I, being the nerd that I am, have decided that I'd compile a list of possible historical figures.  You do NOT have to choose from this list. You are free to write about whoever you want, but this may help get the creative juices flowing...

Bonnie Parker/Clyde Barrow

Bonnie Parker/ Clyde Barrow
Jim Morrison
Anne Bonny/Mary Reade
Edgar Alan Poe
George Washington
Robert E. Lee
Bram Stoker
Charlotte and/or Emily Bronte
Adolf Hitler
Bloody Mary Tudor
Marc Antony
Molly Brown
Coco Chanel
Sir Winston Churchill
Amelia Earhart
Albert Einstein
Elvis Presley
Babe Ruth
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Andy Warhol
The Wright Brothers
The Brothers Grimm
Clara Barton (Civil War nurse, founder of the American Red Cross)
Martha Jane Cannary "Calamity Jane"
Georgia O'Keefe
Claude Monet
Crazy Horse
William F. Cody "Buffalo Bill"
Ulysses S. Grant  

I will often add names to this list as they come to me.  I certainly hope that this may help some of you out.

Titanic survivor, Molly Brown.  Makes you wonder how she survived, doesn't it... :)