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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Karate Chop to the Throat? I Volunteer!

                I’m a volunteer—have been one since coaching my first little league soccer team when I was sixteen.  I’ve given selflessly to kids for over half of my life as a coach, girl scout leader and cheerleading sponsor because I know for almost any activity a kid is dying to participate in, there’s a huge shortage of adults willing to sit through a couple hours of campfire songs, paper mache crafts, half-time choreography, or dribbling practice every week.  Afterall, we have other priorities like jobs, families to feed and other crap of our own to do on any given day.  I get it.
                For the most part, my volunteer experience has been positive:  the kind of warm fuzzy-inducing stuff that makes all those scout meetings and practices worth it.  The light in a pair of eager eyes when a child learns that even they can make a difference, high-fives from sweaty little palms, being considered “pretty cool for somebody so old”.   A little girl on one of my 8 and under soccer teams once gave me a trio of children’s books about a horse before practice for no other reason than she thought I was a “freaking awesome coach.”
                Every now and then there’s the bad apple that makes me question my commitment to community after I’ve silently counted to ten instead of wringing their little neck.  The brownie who told my daughter that she was pretty sure I was going straight to hell because of the sunshine tattoo on my back that I carelessly let shine during a troop meeting or the Junior B cheerleader who spewed an impossibly large mouthful of Gatorade onto the top of my head at a game because she “like couldn’t help it.  _____ made me laugh!”
Even the parents of these little beasties get to me sometimes.  I can usually tell at our first meeting who my troublemakers will likely be.  The mom who introduces her son:  “This is Little Johnny.  I just need to tell you that Little Johnny is THE BEST player in the league.  I mean, he’s so good that coaches from the teams we played last year wanted him benched so that other kids could have a turn.  You’re going to make sure that Little Johnny gets to play as much as possible, right?  ‘Cause we want to win!  Ain’t that right, Johnny?”  Or the dad who says after shaking my hand for the first time:  “So, how much experience do you have?  I mean, my kid got pretty good last season and I just want to make sure she’s on the best team.  ‘Cause we want to win!”  Any parent who uses the word “win” within the first fifteen minutes of meeting me is going to be trouble 100% of the time.  It doesn’t matter that Little Johnny plays in an age division that doesn’t even use a goalie, where any snot box kicking a ball should be capable of scoring a goal or that Dear Ole Dad is operating under the fantasy that little league coaches are scouted and contracted based on their records and not some Mom or Dad extorted to coach or else their own kid isn’t going to be able to play due to a coaching shortage.
In a perfect world the Volunteer—especially the Youth Organization Volunteer—would be worshiped and revered.  We’d walk with petals thrown at our feet in appreciation for all the campouts we’ve endured with 23 squealing tween girls.  Doors would open before us in gratitude for all the ADHD rugrats we managed to keep on a fifty foot rectangle for 45 minutes three times a week.  Jewels and crowns would be presented to us as recompense for all the parents we didn’t karate chop in the throat after some asinine statement about “winning”.  In a perfect world there’d be more of us to go around—more men and women who, when asked to take a troop, team or squad, said “Okay—I’ll do it.  They can count on me.  Sure I’ll never be caught up on my laundry, sit down for a meal away from the ball field until Thanksgiving or even have the energy to shave my legs, but I’m in!”  More of us to share the load would insure that those of us who’ve made the lifetime commitment to volunteerism don’t get burned out…or go to jail for assault.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

National Award, Now What?

Wow!  What a summer it’s been!  I was a presenter in the Jacksonville Public Library’s summer reading program, won a national writing award, was published in two literary journals and made my local newspaper twice—the second time, the front page no less.  I’ve been a busy girl and honored by the accolades.  What I haven’t been much of these past few weeks is a writer.

I felt the funk that I’ve found myself mired in of late coming on the very morning after being presented with my first national award since the Presidential Physical Fitness certificate I received in gym class in 1991.  Taking first place for First Chapter of a Novel in the Alabama Writers’ Conclave annual writing contest was thrilling, but I awoke the next morning at the Huntsville Marriott in the super comfy bed that I’m pretty sure is stuffed with honest-to-goodness clouds from Heaven to an unexpected visitor:  depression.  I’d anticipated feeling energized to finish Daddy’s Girl—for which I won the award—and motivated to continue my quest to find a publisher for The Genie Chronicles.  I never imagined that I’d close my laptop for over six weeks while I concerned myself only with what the underside of my writing desk looks like.

             I spent most of my free time this summer lying slug-like and despondent on my bedroom floor pretending to be exercising in case any of my children happened to wander in looking for their next serving of chicken nuggets.  Couldn’t have them thinking I was drunk and passed out in my yoga pants or anything, naturally.
A killer case of writer’s block exacerbated my foul mood.  Or maybe it was the depression that drained me of my creativity faster than a pack of vampires in a blood bank.  I wish that I could say that I’m over it.  That I’m as happy as a lark once more and writing more than ever, but it just ain’t so.  I’m making strides, though.  Employing the strategy of “Fake it ‘til You Make It”, I’ve started attending the writers’ meetings I avoided all summer, absorbing the energy of other literary minds and participating in the writing prompts.   My creative juices are flowing again, albeit slowly.  I’m at least back to having conversations with my characters in the shower again…and I’ve returned to the blog.  Hooray!
What helps you get on your feet emotionally and back to the things you love?  Any tips for working through writer’s block?  I’d love to hear from you.
My *ahem* NATIONAL AWARD WINNING story Daddy’s Girl can be found online at as well as in Jacksonville State University’s 2011-2012 edition of Something Else.
Here I am with Alalit Editor Marian Lewis at the AWC Conference in July.

You can also read my feature in the Jacksonville News at 
Happy writing!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self

Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.”  -Henry David Thoreau

I’d have to say that one of the greatest emotions I’ve struggled with as an adult is that of regret.  It is with conscious effort that I do not play “What if…” games in my head, so it was with trepidation that I undertook “Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self”, the latest writing prompt posed by a member of the Jacksonville Aspiring Writers' Group.
In the end I decided that even if such a thing were possible, there isn’t much I’d change about my life.  Every choice that I’ve made about college, marriage, children, and careers has led me to the place I find myself today.
There are days that the balance in my checking account makes me wish for an alternate reality.  In hindsight I know that finishing my degree before starting a family and not entering into the first mortgage (and a bad investment) that I did would have made all the difference in my financial situation today, but when I play out my life decisions since the age of 16 any other way I end up missing the most valuable components:  my kids.
In my letter below, I don’t warn myself about the pitfalls of hasty marriages or what it’s like to be a real life Little Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe.  I do try to cover a multitude of truly regrettable choices with a few words of caution, however, and attempt to do a little something about that bank balance.  I hope you get a good laugh from it.
What would you tell your sixteen-year-old self?

June 19, 2012
Dear Michelle,
                It’s me girl….er, I mean you…from the future!  Waaaaay in the future.
We’re 34 at this very moment.  Now, I know you think that’s pretty much Over the Hill, but rest assured I’m not writing you from a retirement home.  After you hear what I have to say, I can guarantee you that our best years are yet to come.  You see, I’ve got great news!
You spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about what the future holds in store for you, Shell Bell.  I hope to lay all that worry to rest.
It’s important that you understand all that I tell you here, and even more important that you follow my every instruction.
Let me start by saying that life for you is good in 2012.  You have a good job, great family, and interesting hobbies.  You’ve accomplished a lot for someone so young.  (Yes, I said it.  To be a thirty-something is not the end of the world, girl!)  You’ve made a difference in many young lives in one way or another.   There are things you’d still like to accomplish, heights you aspire to, and you’re fortunate to be supported, healthy, and entirely capable of accomplishing those goals.
The following tidbits are going to make that a sight easier, though—not to mention improve the prospects of all those little people you care so much about.
I’m enclosing the song lyrics to a half dozen songs that I need you to re-type on that clunky word processor you’re using for essays and such.  Get them copyrighted stat.  You watch ER, so I know you know what STAT means.  Get on with securing these copyrights like George Clooney’s very life depends on it!
There’s a lady from the future who’s gonna belt out these little ditties wearing nothing but a dress made entirely of meat and be paid a bazillion dollars for it.  Go ahead and get you one of those numbers, too.  Any lean cut, thinly sliced meat product will do.  You’re gonna be working on a budget until we settle out of court after bringing a copyright infringement suit against her.  Don’t worry about Meat Girl’s prospects.  She’s highly creative and will write other songs and possibly design a clothing line made entirely of vegetable leaves.  Everyone will walk away a millionaire!
On a similar note, I’m also including the outline of a kids’ book called the Hunger Games.  No, it’s nothing like how you and Stacey used to pass the time after arriving home from school to only a few sticks of carrots and a jar of mustard.  It’s a story about a group of kids who compete in a sort of Olympic Games of Death and people of the future are crazy about it.  Use the outline to write your own version, and we’ll clean up with another intellectual property suit!
This brings me to my third and final play for setting us up for life!  And I’m talking mansions around the world complete with gorgeous pool boys with rock hard abs and all the plastic surgery you and your female family members could ever desire.  The Mega Millions Lotto!
Last Spring’s Mega Millions jackpot was over $367 million dollars.  I have enclosed the winning numbers!
True, you’re gonna have to wait until almost half-way through your thirties to be absolutely filthy stinking rich, but that’s just enough time to get rid of the two pesky husbands you DO NOT want to share all this mullah with.
In closing, I’d like to offer you a few tips of advice that will see you through until we’ve happily set up house on easy street.
1.       Never do anything you’d be ashamed for Mamaw to know about.  Trust me on this.  You cannot go wrong here.  And remember that news of anything questionable you do engage in that Mammaw happens to find out about will spread like wildfire across five states before you can even correct her on what the charges really were.
2.       Find a physical activity that provides you with enough exercise to stay in shape.  Baby’s like fat.  Pool boys, even highly evolved futuristic ones, do not.
3.       Smile through the tough times.  Life isn’t going to be all roses and sunshine, but your trials and tribulations will serve to build your character and provide you with all the antidotal stories we’re gonna need when we cry on every couch from Barbara Walters’ to Oprahs’ while they interview the richest woman in the world.
Take care.  See you soon.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thanks A Million, Photoshop!

          After interviewing author Susan Abel Sullivan in March, I was asked by her publisher World Weaver Press to write a guest post for their website.  It was a thrilling yet horrifying endeavor.  Musing for a few paragraphs about what I'm reading or writing and the challenges of trying to accomplish either of those things in the daily whirlwind of chaos I reside in is one thing.  Writing for a publisher on a specified topic with a real honest-to-goodness deadline seemed like quite another.  I had the added anxiety of trying to incorporate the quirkiness and humor that flows effortlessly when writing about my own life into a commentary on science fiction and fantasy for the literary masses.  It's virtually impossible for me to be clever and funny on cue, people.  Everyone around me breathed a sigh of relief when I submitted the post to WWP, so tired were they of my yammering and exhausting pleas of, "Here, I know you have your own life and responsibilities, but read this and tell me what you think...and, I need you to get on that in the next 45 minutes."

          I'm posting a link to the guest post here.  I'd like to thank World Weaver Press for the opportunity and their great job with layout and graphics, my aunt GDR and Zac Morris for letting me bounce ideas for the piece off them, and Lea Isbell and Jeremy Hicks for their feedback, as well.  I'd also like to thank my seester Stacey Hardy and Danny Self for their fabulous photography and Photoshop work.  Never underestimate the value of great test readers, fellow writers' club members, a sister with a camera and a guy that can erase at least two of your chins and a bazillion laugh lines.  And, yes, that is correct, you just read a Thank You speech for an online article.

          Here's some of Stacey's better shots.  That twinkle in my eye is a burning desire to kill her for her less-than-professional commands of "Teeth, teeth!" and "Lazy eye, lazy eye!" when she prompted me to smile bigger and open my eyes wider.  I ended up submitting the very first picture (at top) out of the fifty-something that she took because of the way my hair kinked and frizzed in every subsequent picture after the outdoor shots.  I'd vowed not to take an author photo whilst still a fatty--but, oh well.  Maybe Stacey will be up for a re-shoot after I've lost more weight.

          I've been told that nonfiction is where I shine.  While that certainly feels good, I can't help hoping that it will one day open doors for my fiction, too.

          Here's the link.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Fried Zombie? Check.

          I have a thing for zombies…okay, so it’s more like an obsession.  Just ask my kids, who are mortally embarrassed by the bobblehead undead perched atop the dashboard of my mini-van.
          The kids decided I’d officially crossed the line last November when I forced them to perform as zombies that I systematically slaughtered during a “how-to” speech for an oral communications class.  My speech, “How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse”, was born out of desperation when the sole criterion for the speech was announced:  “It must be captivating to your audience,” my instructor said.  Captivating?  What did I have to offer in the way of captivating to a room full of classmates between the ages of 17-20?  Parenting tips?  No.  Scrapbooking?  Definitely not.  How-to Divorce Guide, maybe?  Yeah, right.
          My boys were game and actually helped me bloody their faces and clothes with make-up; however, Princess #1 needed more persuasion.  Namely, a two hour guilt trip about the many school projects I’ve painstakingly crafted with/for her over the years and my agreement to the stipulation that she be able to whack her brothers in the knees with a prop shovel to simulate how a crawling zombie is slower than a staggering one.  Her little sister, Princess #2, begged to be included.  “Please let me go.  I’d make a good baby zombie, Mommy,” she said.  I was afraid that as a four year-old she wasn’t ready for the gruesome business of zombie killin’, though…even the pretend kind.
          The speech was a success and people still stop me from time-to-time on campus to ask if I’m still preparing for a zombie plague.  Truth is, now that I’ve stock-piled my food, water, weapons and ammo, I’ve decided that the best strategy for preparedness is to become as informed as possible about the walking dead.  For this reason, I’m watching and reading pretty much everything I come across about zombies.  Some of it is good:  AMC’s series Walking Dead is my fave, but the show is on hiatus until February, and this has left a giant hole the size of a half-eaten brain in my Zombie Emergency Preparedness Checklist.
          It was with hope of filling that void that I purchased Susan Abel Sullivan’s new independently published ebook Fried Zombie Dee-light! Ghoulish, Ghostly Tales, billed as a “fun collection about ghouls, ghosts, zombies and an advice column featuring dead letters from the lovelorn” on     

          The cover is by writer and video game artist Abby Goldsmith, who happens to also be a friend of Susan’s.  It’s precious and has led me to reserve a place on my dash should Abby and Susan ever branch-out into bobblehead zombie design.
          I enjoyed Susan’s first collection, Cursed:  Wickedly Fun Stories from World Weaver Press.   Fried Zombie Dee-light! is even better.  I’ve decided that what appeals to me most about Susan’s writing are her characters.  I finished Wanted:  Certified Zombie Instructor wishing that I had come up with Mr. PanZee, the heavy metal fairy that comes off as a cross between Dog the Bounty Hunter and Tinkerbell, myself.  I think that’s one of the ultimate compliments one writer can offer another, by the way.  Honestly, where does she come up with this stuff?!
          Aside from being highly entertained by Susan Abel Sullivan’s latest offering, I also picked up a few tips.  After reading Zombie Hunting With My Mother, I’ve decided to add a chainsaw to my weapons cache and a case or two of beer to my provisions when my Southern nature insists that it’s time to deep fry some of the hoard.
          There is more to the collection than zombies, however, including an advice column that has left me sure I’ll never be able to read Dear Abby without mentally interjecting some of Susan’s zaniness and an imaginative monologue from your average Ghoul Next Door.
          Fried Zombie Dee-light!  Ghoulish, Ghostly Tales is currently available on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble Nook and Amazon Kindle.    

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Welcomed Curse, Author Interview: Susan Abel Sullivan

A few weeks ago I heard about a local author with a soon-to-be-released anthology.  “My fitness instructor has a book coming out,” my aunt informed me. Sighing in response, I added the Mystery Instructor and the creature living in Snooki of Jersey Shore’s womb to a mental list of those that would certainly be achieving publication before me.
The green-eyed monster inside me sneered.  “Some kind of diet and exercise book?”
“Speculative fiction…werewolves, witches, magic.  It sounds right up your alley.  Her name is Susan Abel Sullivan.  She’s on Facebook and Twitter.  You should check her out.”
I did just that and, being fascinated by perfectly normal-looking and functioning people with whole worlds of magic and fantasy creatures bouncing around inside their brains, I was intrigued.  These are My People and I seek them out whenever I learn of them.
I am proud to say that I was one of the first to purchase Susan’s book Cursed:  Wickedly Fun Stories, the debut release from World Weaver Press, when it launched March 5th.  Cursed is an anthology of the best speculative fiction short stories that I’ve read.  Some are deliciously creepy, and all are so much fun that I’ve already reread them a couple of times.  With a long reading list and writing deadlines of my own, it’s unusual for me to revisit a book so soon simply for the sake of savoring it before jumping into the next title on my list, but Cursed, with its cast of memorable characters, is special.  My personal favorites are Getting the Curse and Kudzu, for their clever points-of-view that so effortlessly propel the reader through each story.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Susan Abel Sullivan a few days ago to talk about Cursed, writing, and the genre of spec fic in general.       
Michelle:  I’d like to start by clarifying for readers of the blog the genre of speculative fiction.  What is spec fic?
Susan Abel Sullivan:  Speculative fiction is the new term for fantasy.  It encompasses all fantastical fiction and magical realism.  In terms of my writing, it’s a mash-up of cross genres like Southern Gothic, Southern chick lit, urban fantasy, paranormal romance and science fiction.
Michelle:  There are many fun and memorable characters in Cursed.  I’ve read that you consider characters to be one of your writing strengths.  How do you come up with them?
Susan Abel Sullivan:  I approach it almost like method acting.  In community theatre, I didn’t really know a character that I was playing until I was in costume and on set.  It wasn’t until I felt like I was in a real setting that I got to know the character.  I notice interesting people and like to pull from their history…the way they speak and things like that…but until I get into [a story], I don’t always know what’s going to happen.
Michelle:  I gather from other interviews I’ve read that you weren’t exactly a typical little girl growing up in Pensacola, Florida…that, like your character Bernie Lludd in The Accidental Poet, you loved Stephen King and constructed monster models?
Susan Abel Sullivan:  I was an artistic, highly imaginative child and liked to retreat to the kind of world that I wanted to live in.  Barbie and Ken just didn’t hold a candle to movie monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein and the wolf man.  I started reading Anne Rice and Stephen King in middle school.  On the outside I was an all-American girl-next-door, but on the inside I could have been a member of The Addam’s Family.
Michelle:  Besides Anne Rice and Stephen King, whom you’ve mentioned, what other writers inspire you?
Susan Abel Sullivan:  Carrie Vaughn is one of my favorites.  She’s a fellow Odyssey Grad.  I’m also a fan of Janet Evonovich for her fun, zany humor.
Michelle: I’ve heard that you are married, involved in theatre and have a passion for dance and fitness.  How do you balance these other aspects of your life with writing?
Susan Abel Sullivan: It is about finding a balance.(laughs)   Sometimes my head is still in a story when it’s time to transition [to something else].  Most writers don’t have the luxury to just write, though.
Michelle:  Do you have a favorite place, time of day or process that you follow when it is time to write?  Do you preplan or outline?
Susan Abel Sullivan:  I have an office where I like to write.  I start with checking my email, Facebook, other social media…in case there are any responses from agents or publishers I’ve submitted material to, but I don’t have any special routine.  My process is more intuitive.  I cannot outline to save my life…I discover things as I go.  I have the same process with all the arts.
Michelle:  I particularly enjoy the opening lines from Getting the Curse and Kudzu.  What, in your opinion, makes for a great beginning to a story?
Susan Abel Sullivan:  A great beginning needs to interest the reader, but a first-line grab can be too much like a gimmick.  I’m a fan of the slow train that builds up momentum.
Michelle:  What is your process for revising and editing?
Susan Abel Sullivan:  I see them as two different processes, with revising being more re-visioning.  I have a hand-picked group of Od-Fellows [Odyssey Writing Workshop Alumni] and readers that I go to for opinions about what works and what doesn’t in a story.   I like to know where they laughed out loud or where the story doesn’t work for them.  There are others that I turn to for elements of craft, dialogue work and plot issues.  I had a college professor to line edit some of my earlier work and that helped tighten my style.
Michelle:  And what exactly is the Odyssey Writing Workshop?
Susan Abel Sullivan:  It’s a six-week residential writing boot camp in New Hampshire held annually for those hoping to become professional writers.  Coaches work with attendees every week and give them the tools to write better.  It’s all about training and technique.  The class sizes have ranged from as small as 12 to as large as 20, but a size of about 16 seems to be what works best.  After completion of the workshop, many grads stay in contact…serve as critique groups for one another, network…it’s kind of like being in a fraternity or sorority.
Michelle:  What’s next for you?  What future projects can readers look forward to?
Susan Abel Sullivan:   I’m anticipating an April release for Fried Zombie Dee-light!:  Ghoulish, Ghostly Tales, a YA ebook similar in length to Cursed with four short stories, a couple of poems and a flash fiction piece.  The first novel in my adult urban fantasy series, The Real Haunted Housewives of Allister, Alabama has received some interest, as well.
I promised to keep Susan for only a half-hour for the interview.  Two hours and fifteen minutes later we checked the time and I apologized for holding her hostage, picturing Olympic-sized swimming pools teeming with aqua-Zumba students bobbing in boredom as they waited on their instructor/werewolve whisperer, and all the disappointed interviewers that would have to wait another day for their chance to pick the very interesting noggin of Mrs. Susan Abel Sullivan.
“Writers usually don’t talk much, unless you get them talking about writing,” Susan said with a laugh as we said our good-byes.  I left the little coffee shop where we met greatly impressed with Susan, appreciative of the time she took out of her busy schedule for the fledgling blog of an aspiring author, and incredibly encouraged to keep writing.  Susan may not know it, but she left the shop with a fan for life!
Since the interview, Susan has posted images of the cover art for Fried Zombie Dee-light! on Twitter and Facebook and received the exciting news that World Weaver Press will also be publishing The Haunted Housewives of Allister, AL.  Both titles are on my reading list!  I wish her a world of success.
Cursed:  Wickedly Fun Stories is available for Kindle through, for Nook at  and for most devices and computers at .  For more on Susan Abel Sullivan visit or!/susan_abel.  For more on World Weaver Press and any of their forthcoming titles please visit

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Page to Film: Hunger Games Movie Review

Not since the release of the first Harry Potter movie have I been as excited about a page to film adaptation as I was about Suzanne Collins Hunger Games.  For months, I watched and re-watched trailers and interviews and read every article in print or online that I could find, hoping to get a feel for what the final product would be like.
I saw The Hunger Games on opening day, contributing to the record breaking revenue it drew:  $68.25 million.  Visually, I wasn’t disappointed…for the most part.
The film was shot mostly in North Carolina and the forest scenery is beautiful.  Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth make a believable Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, respectively, minus the appearance of any real hunger.  The poverty and near famine of District 12 is only alluded to in the film.  Only readers of the books will have any sense of the “hollow days” Katniss describes when she’s so hungry that nothing she eats can fill her.  Jennifer Lawrence looks athletic in the film, and I wish just a bit more could have been done to downplay that.  I’m not talking about anything as freaky-deaky as the hideous transformation of Bella Swan in the first Breaking Dawn, (incredibly over-the-top and off-putting, in my opinion) merely a little something to emphasize how truly difficult life in the Seam is for Katniss and her fellow citizens of District 12.

As with any screen adaptation, details of a story painstakingly laid out in several paragraphs or pages must be skimmed over or cut completely.  As a huge fan of the Hunger Games trilogy, this was difficult for me to accept, largely because I believe that director Gary Ross didn’t do it well.  The movie opens with barely enough details given to figure out the who’s and what’s of the storyline.  There is virtually no character development of Katniss’s mother, Gale or Haymitch, leaving them and their actions flat and unrelatable.  The tension of the Katniss/Peeta romance is missing as well.  In the book, the reader experiences Katniss’s shifting emotions towards Peeta and her ever uncertainty about his motives, but the film misses this opportunity just like many others.
Readers of the Hunger Games come away with a sense of the sheer terror and devastation of Collins’ dystopic world at the end of the books.  The violence and carnage of the Games is mostly only suggested in the film.  The shots are fast--it’s often unclear who killed who.  It's a style probably adapted to soften the sting of a story with a theme of kids killing kids, but the editing is so fast that it’s hard to focus.  The results are action scenes that feel blurred.  These calculated moves helped to earn the film a PG-13 rating.
Suzanne Collins served as a co-author of the screenplay. As a result, the movie version of her best-seller follows closely to the novel’s action sequences.  What’s missing is all the character.  I came away from the theatre sure in the fact that I could probably count all the lines of dialogue on my fingers…well, maybe my fingers and toes.  This is one instance where I believe a fresh approach could have salvaged the heart of the story.  Sometimes when you’re too close, you can’t see the forest for the trees.  And there are a lot of trees in Hunger Games.  Readers of the series will have the benefit of details the movie leaves out, but I’m afraid that newcomers won’t have a real appreciation of the senselessness of the killing rituals televised to the masses.
There are already many reviews for this movie out there.  I was astounded by how many of them began with something like, “I haven’t read The Hunger Games, but…”   Almost every one of those reviews proceeds to tear down the movie.  I even saw one that criticized the fact that there wasn’t much “animal life” in the woods that make up the game setting.  The goob didn’t  get the fact that the woods in the Game are actually part of a constructed and highly controlled arena.  I’d like to karate chop some of those buttholes in their throats.
Overall, I liked the movie.  I’ll probably be seeing it again in the theatre, in hopes of catching anything I missed in some of the busier, dizzying action scenes along with one more chance to gawk at the strong and sorrowful young men that love Katniss Everdeen almost as much as I do.
How many of you have seen the movie?  What did you think about it?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hello, My Name is Michelle and I'm an App Addict

            I decided yesterday that I’d better make a post for March before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sends out a search party for me like she announced she’s doing for Amelia Earhart this week.  I haven’t been up to anything nearly as grand as the late Ms. Earhart for the last several weeks, merely trapped in the abyss of addiction to Words with Friends and his evil twin Hanging with Friends.  These games are the crack of apps.

My nine-year-old is obviously the only person in the world who truly loves me, because it was he who finally staged a much needed intervention.  “Momma,” he said, glaring at my drug dealer, I mean, Motorola Atrix, “you are on that thing twenty-four seven!”
“Huh? Oh, Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweetie.”
“Momma, it’s St. Patrick’s Day.”
I read, ahm on-line from my phone, recently that “All it takes to be a writer is 3% hard work and 97% staying off the internet.”  True dat, I guess, though I’m sure there’s a bit more to the equation if one is aspiring to be not only a writer, but published author/decent parent as well.
For now, I’m off the juice.  I’m taking one day at a time and resisting the urge to start up half-a-dozen games or more at a time with random strangers.  I’m trying not to fantasize about “Z” word combinations overlaying triple letter and triple word tiles, trying not to feverishly google the definitions of words like QI and FEH merely to use them to taunt my opponents in the “chat” box, trying to ignore the phantom trill my pusher emits when it’s “my turn” one hundred times per day.
Jack Attack says my addiction has harmed him in the following ways: 
1.       “You missed four weeks of Star Wars, The Clone Wars episodes, but don’t worry, I DVRed them for ya’.  It’s just gonna take me longer to explain to you what happened afterwards.  Sometimes I think you don’t know nuffin’ about Star Wars, The Clone Wars, Momma.”
2.       “There are no snacks, and I mean NO snacks, in the house besides those weird, orange stick things in the refrigerator….They’re Carrots?...What the…?... Momma, I cain’t eat rabbit food for a snack.”
3.       “I cain’t understand half the stuff you say, Momma.  What the heck does ‘feh’ mean anyway?”
I hope that in time he’ll be able to forgive me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It's the End of the World As We Know It...And Why We Just Can't Get Enough

There’s a seemingly endless number of ways that life as we know it could end:  nuclear war, an alien invasion, the death of the sun, a zombie plague, the election of Mitt Romney in the general election.  What form will our apocalypse take?  Unfortunately, those pesky Mayans didn’t say, despite providing us with a very specific date for the big event.  Whatever shape our demise might eventually present itself in, you can bet there has been a book already written about it…a book young adult readers, in particular, love.
Dystopian fiction sells.  Some of the most memorable adult science fiction that I read way back when I was a teen could now be classified as dystopian.  Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury; The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells; The Giver, by Lois Lowry—all made way for the popular “What If?” stories that today’s teen reader and many adults, like myself, can’t get enough of.  Dystopia examines what happens when a world or way of life lauded by some as Utopia goes wrong.
But, what’s the appeal?  I think there are two answers.
First, I think it’s natural to be fascinated with “How would I survive?” stories.  How would I survive a catastrophic event?  What would my place be in a fractured society that remained or was reborn in some new version?  Would I stand a chance at survival at all?  We want to experience the fantastic through the journey and struggles of a character with the chance to decide in our own mind if we’d have done things differently or with better results.
  There is great value in these stories and the questions they raise.  Certainly those of us who’ve spent any amount of time thinking about whether we’ll remain in a place of safety with provisions and weapons stock-piled in advance or “bug-out” into the unknown in search of fellow survivors and safety in numbers during the zombie apocalypse have a greater chance of survival than those who’ve had their heads—along with the brains all the zombies are going to be so hungry for—in the sand.  (Prepare for the unthinkable to survive the inevitable is all I’m saying, people.)
Second, at a time when we feel we have no control over our own lives, dystopian fiction is appealing.  For teens navigating adolescence, trapped between childhood and adulthood with little or no control of their bodies much less their daily lives, dystopia provides a venue to lash out at power and authority—especially if it’s perceived as being corrupt.  Many dystopian works are about revolution, which seems entirely fitting for teens trying to find their own way in the world.
For adults who may feel mired in their day to day lives, bogged down with responsibilities and little prospects—thanks a ton, Current Economic Environment.  I hate your stinkin’ guts!—dystopia offers a look into a truly deeper bleakness and reminds us that there is hope for the “real” world…hope worth fighting for.  (Are you taking notes out there, Presidential Candidates?)
We can all become discontent or disillusioned with life at times.  Things may not always go exactly as we planned.  The next time you’re feeling this way, why not pick up one of the classics I listed at the beginning of the post or any of these newer titles:   Matched by Ally Condie, Ashfall by Mike Mullin, Epitaph Road by David Patneaude, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Maze Runner by James Dashner, or Across the Universe by Beth Revis.  As for me, I’m currently reading Divergent by Veronica Roth as suggested by my friend Deborah Steward, who unapologetically loves YA as much as I do and just happens to have the BEST taste in books.
Happy Reading!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Run Along, Maze Runner

A friend of mine recently finished Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy and posted a question on Facebook about what to read next.  After seeing the post I glanced down at the paperback copy of James Dashner’s The Maze Runner resting in my lap and considered whether or not I should suggest it and the rest of Dashner’s books in the Maze Runner series.
I read The Hunger Games books last year—devoured, would be a better word.  I read all three books, Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, in about six days.  It’s a fantastic trilogy full of action and suspense that left me thinking about the themes, setting and characters, including protagonist Katniss Everdeen, long after I’d finished the books.  I probably would have enjoyed The Maze Runner more without Katniss in my head constantly sneering in disgust at the story’s main character Thomas.
Like Hunger Games, Maze Runner is dystopian science fiction.  We meet Thomas in the opening scene of the book when he awakens in a box.  The box is pulled through an opening into the Glade, the setting of much of the story, by a group of boys known as Gladers.  Thomas remembers nothing about who has sent him to the Glade or why, or how to solve the giant maze that lays just outside of the Glade's walls, although he is sure doing so is the only way for him and the other Gladers to ultimately survive.  In fact, Thomas remembers almost nothing but his own name and I was reminded of that so many times as a reader that I couldn’t stop Katniss from screaming in my head, “Okay!  We get it—you don’t remember anything about your life, how you got here or how to escape.  Quit hiding in the woods and talking to yourself about it and find a way out of here, you whining idiot!”
After Hunger Games, The Maze Runner fell a little flat for me.  I’d almost decided to pass on the sequel The Scorch Trials until the last few chapters of the first installment.  The end of Maze Runner makes up for its lack-luster beginning and I’ve started book 2.  Unfortunately for some authors, there are a tremendous amount of readers out there that aren’t willing to stick with a story they are less than thrilled with to see if the ending makes up for any initial disappointment.  Dashner’s books have done well.  The third book in the series, Death Cure, was chosen as one of nine “Best Books of 2011” for teens by Barnes and Noble, and in November of 2011 Delacorte Press Books announced the upcoming release of a prequel to the series called The Kill Order.  But Thomas is no Katniss, and I believe it will be hard for lovers of the genre not to constantly compare the two if they’ve previously read any of the Hunger Games books.
So, I say:  Run along Maze Runner, but know that Katniss Everdeen would have had the whole mess figured out a lot sooner and probably without a single inner monologue about how frustrated *sigh* she was with not understanding what was happening to her *tears*.  When did boys become so moody and introspective anyway?
Happy reading!

Friday, January 6, 2012

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

2011 will go down in my personal analogs of time as a year of tremendously exhilarating highs and brutally soul-crushing lows.
Since I’m a Bad-News-First Kinda Girl, I’ll start with that.  2011 was a bad year for me financially.  The state of the economy had me in a funk the majority of the year.  Just about everything from produce to cleaning products, and gasoline to tuition cost me more than ever last year, while my primary job’s salary stayed the same (for another year) and my second job doing real estate title work brought in fewer dollars than in past years.  Throw in an ex-husband (or two) embarrassingly behind on child support and the task of balancing my checking account had me just about ready to join that bunch occupying everything from Wall Street to Christmas. 
I recently heard on a news broadcast that according to some economic study the recession “has hit workers under 35 the hardest.”  “Really?” I wanted to scream at the blonde anchorwoman, eyebrows tweezed to within an inch of her life.  “How many millions of tax dollars did it cost for that little tidbit?   I coulda told Washington that crap for FREE!”  I knew things were getting to their worst for me financially when my budget finally forced me to begin cutting the ever-so-small metallic tubes that my favorite wrinkle reducer comes in just to get to the itty-bitty bit that hides in the corners before buying a new tube.  This is around about the time I started planning my own personal Occupy Wal-Mart movement to demand that the happy little smiley face they like to bounce across the screen in their commercials go on a price-slashing spree in the skin care products isle.  I MUST have my L’Oreal Revitalift, ya’ll!  Lots of it!  And I need it at less than $19.97 per tube or Princess can’t have another 4 packs of Tinker Bell underwear.
I’ve made my 20th annual New Year’s resolution to lose weight and this is a feat I cannot even begin to undertake without my Revitalift!  L’Oreal and these fifty extra pounds I’m hauling around are the only things keeping my face from resembling a cross country road map.  My mother has refused to lose weight for years for this same reason.  You may have heard the expression “Black Don’t Crack” based on what appears to be the fact that African Americans age more gracefully than their pigment-challenged counterparts.  Well, Huns, Fat Don’t Crack Either is alls I’m sayin’—at least not with a good slathering of moisturizer and wrinkle cream twice daily.
I complain about my financial woes only half-heartedly.  I know there are people in the world facing bigger problems and my thoughts and prayers go out to them.
The true low-point in my year was the death of my beloved grandmother Rosa Lee Clark the day before Thanksgiving.  Mamaw, as we called her, was diagnosed with lung cancer in mid-October and lived only a month and six days more.  She suffered terribly in the end and it was the most difficult experience those of us at her bedside those last few weeks will hopefully ever endure.  She was one in a million and I cannot believe even today that she is gone.  I spent a great deal of time with her as a child, lived with her on and off most of my teen years and was her next door neighbor for the last ten years.  It breaks my heart to go out onto my porch and look down at her house at the bottom of the hill and know that she isn’t in it snug in her recliner under a soft blanket, watching FOX news and cussing every democrat since FDR.  I miss her with an ache like I’ve never known.  I doubt if I’ll ever know someone as funny and with as much spunk as she.
I haven’t written anything besides her eulogy, a couple of very short writing exercises and two blog entries since her death.  I feel like all the creativity inside of me has been stubbed out somehow.  I don’t believe this feeling will last forever, but it is proving difficult to shake.
Now on to the Good News:  2011 was a great year for me as a writer.  I started this blog, attended the Alabama Writers’ Conclave Conference where I received praise and encouragement from many great writers including Alabama’s Poet Laureate Sue Brannan Walker, joined a local Aspiring Writers group, started a second novel, and won 1st Prize in the R.U.M. Fiction Awards.
Attending the AWC conference and fiction awards were more fun than going to Prom!  I was a giggling giddy mess with more excited energy than Dave Chappelle's Tyrone Biggums at a crack party for days afterwards both times.  Accepting First Prize and reading an excerpt from my *ahem* award winning work at the fiction awards takes the cake for my Best Moment of 2011.  It cannot possibly be more satisfying to win a Grammy or Academy Award.  Well, maybe, since those events allow the winner to make an acceptance speech.  There wasn’t even the slightest chance the R.U.M. announcer/presenter was going to yield the podium for me to thank all the little people that had made my success possible.  He just smiled a big smile and presented me with the award check and the promise of a shiny plaque available for pick-up “sometime around mid-January” and shooed me back over to my seat in front of the Ritz cracker and cheese slice snack tray.  But, oh, it was a GREAT night and I was happy to share it with my aunt and BIGGEST fan Gwen, aka Aunt Bunny, aka GDR, aka The Hammer.  (I have a lot of names for Bun and enjoy aggravating her with them immensely.)  Her “Whoo, whoo, whoo!” and fist pumping from her seat did me proud!
So that’s my best and worst moments from 2011.  I hope all those Ancient Mayans prove to be wrong and 2012 is a better year for all of us.  How was your year?  Have you made any resolutions that you hope will make 2012 your best year yet?  I’d love to hear all about it.