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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.