Sunday, January 30, 2011

Creating Katniss

...jumbled within the constant drama of edit work on the upcoming release, I managed a spare couple of hours to read "Mockingjay," the third and final installment in the "Hunger Games" series, created by Suzanne Collins.

Before the read, I couldn't help but notice the negative controversy circulating BlogLand in regards to how Ms. Collins chose to wrap up her ever popular, Science Fiction series. Outraged bookworms voicing their opinions, claiming injustice after remaining forever loyal to her work. Others a bit more understanding, yet guessing that perhaps the writer wasn't sure herself on how to finish the series, thus resulting in a less than stellar performance.

And so I opened the book, having already enjoyed the first two installments, attempted to clear my mind of any bias, and returned to the land Panem, amidst a civil war, the Districts rising up against the intolerable Capital and their evil dictator, President Snow.

I finished the book a day or two later, realizing what went wrong for Collins. It wasn't how she finished the series, that one climatic moment scribed into the final fifty pages that left every reader throwing their arms into the air in blasphemy.

Nope, under normal circumstances, in any other novel, from any other writer, that scene would've not only been just fine, it would've been considered a stellar piece of fiction. The final prose was perfect, Collins's penmanship a rare beauty, her talent in storytelling unequaled in young adult fiction.

The problem revolved around the life of a girl. Seventeen. Described as anything but gorgeous. Hair a bit mousy for anyone's taste. Her legs unshaven. Thoughts of bathing put on the backburner for another day. Gifted with the reckless bravado of most men, preferring a day in the woods, armed with bow and arrow, to an afternoon in the hair salon.

And yet, her attitude, an undying loyalty to her sister, to her closest friends, a survival instinct gleaned sharper than the tips of her arrows, a simple girl from District 12, Katniss Everdeen, won over the hearts of readers from the shores of one ocean, to the faraway coast of another.

Katniss Everdeen. A girl created by Suzanne Collins, and thus, the reason behind the fallout.

Following "Hunger Games," and "Catching Fire," the love affair for Katniss shared by fellow readers had reached a point of chaos. Fan mail arriving on Collins's doorstep by the truckload, her email inbox locking up from overburdened use. Everyone congratulating her on the creation of an earthbound hero, a normal girl from the back alley who finds herself thrust into the limelight during a time of rebellion. A girl we may pass on the street without noticing. Just a girl.

Yet in those letters and emails were everyone's thoughts on how the story should end. What they would do. The final showdown between Katniss and Snow. How the war should end. Who should die. Who should fall in love in the closing moments. So many ideas. Requests by the thousands. Pressure building. A frozen pipe, its seams flexing.

I have no idea how Ms. Collins decided on the fate of Katniss Everdeen. How could anyone?

This was the question I considered after closing the book, studying the falling snow through the window next to my chair. My very own District 12. A world enslaved in ice.

How would it feel to create a character like Katniss Everdeen? A simpleton from any side street, perhaps just around the corner, a person brought to life through your very own fingertips...a person devoured by her readers. An instant celebrity. An icon for both young and old to marvel. Readers staying up at night, scouring the pages a second time, a third, restless and kicking off the sheets...wanting to be her. Would slip into her shoes in a minute if the offer were to arise, regardless of the tumultuous storyline, of the bloodshed. Just to be her. Or him. The character you created.

That's the blessing, and in itself, the curse of popularity. How to end the story? A story beloved by millions. How to keep the reader happy. How to dot that final period, in hopes of bringing tears of joy, prayers answered, the story finishing up exactly as everyone envisioned.

Pressure. Success. Together they entwine like strands of rope. As writers, it's our dream, but if not careful, our dilemma as well.

"Mockingjay" did not finish as I'd hoped. For those who've yet to read it, I won't argue the spoils and ruin the finish. Would I have done something different, were I in Collins's shoes? Probably. Could I have pulled it off? Probably not.

Regardless of how it ended, Suzanne Collins created one of the best characters I've come across in a very long time. Katniss Everdeen. Just a girl. Perfect in her struggles. Her simpleness far withstanding that family of vamps from Seattle. (Actually, I think Katniss and Edward Cullen could stir up quite an interesting plot if ever they were to cross paths during a hunt:) (See my earlier post, "Katnisssss," if curious)

As writers, that's our challenge. Creating our own Katniss Everdeen. She's in there somewhere...perhaps right on the edge of our fingertips, just aching to leap onto the page...where her story awaits.

Thanks for reading:)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Paper for School son asked a favor of me this evening. He'd been working on a paper for school, and requested my help in editing his rough draft.

When I sat in front of the computer, I was unaware of the subject he'd chosen. Had no idea what I was in for, him being fourteen and all.

From the speakers whispered Ryan Bingham's, "The Weary Kind." Outside my office window, an arctic gust threw handfuls of snow at the glass, a festering blizzard flexing its muscle.

And this is what I read...

I watched in curiosity, frightful as the man marched into the gates of our small town. The man was dressed in khaki shorts, sandals, and a plain white t-shirt. But this is not what sent goose bumps creeping up my spine. There, cradled in his arms, was a book. Not just any book, the Holy Bible. Around his neck he wore a silver cross. I wanted badly to tell him to leave. To go back to the land from which he came, where he was in no danger. Instead, I watched as the silver streak flew through the air and pierced the back of the man's skull, sending his body sprawling to the pavement. Within minutes the guard who took the man's life rolled his body off to the side of the road to make way for the oncoming traffic.

Now you have to ask yourself, what if? What if you were that poor guy watching helplessly as a Christian man was slaughtered for his beliefs? But then again, you probably wouldn't spend more than one minute of your precious time thinking this over. As Americans, we take for granted our freedom of religion.

You should feel honored to live in the United States of America. In 51 countries, 40 are restricted nations, 11 are hostile. It wouldn't be uncommon to see this same scene a dozen or more times in one day. Every one of us was blessed by God to be born in this nation.

The man who was murdered for walking around with a Bible in his hands, a cross from his neck...what was he planning on doing? Maybe he had a family. Maybe he was on a missionary trip and didn't know he would be killed for being a Christian. Or maybe, just maybe, he was there to spread the word of God, even though he knew that it may be the last thing he ever did.

Why would anyone do such a thing? In Romans 1:16 it says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." It then goes on to say, "For in the gospel righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last. The righteous will live by faith."

How many of you Christians out there live by faith? How many of you are willing to yell at the top of your lungs...I believe in God, and are willing to spread his word?

You know what is right. Will you be ashamed, or righteous, and live by faith? Thank you for your time...

...I looked up from the computer to a world covered in ice. Listened a bit longer to Bingham's velvet tone, and thought, "I'm far from perfect. The mistakes I've made are countless. But through the sweat and the tears, the debt and the grime of a world forged in cruelty, I've managed to get one thing right. ...he's fourteen, and ageless.

Thanks for reading:)

Monday, January 10, 2011

"Meeting of the Minds"

...found myself under an odd set of circumstances today, as Mondays, like the pranksters they are, can sometimes throw at us.

Placed along one end of a lengthy, antique table, I'd bet on cherry from the appearance of the rich grains, I was an unexpected guest for a meeting in David's office. While not sitting on either end, I nonetheless felt the burden of attention resting its weight upon my shoulders. For this meeting involved my book. My creation. And for the past eleven months...their project.

To my left, an editor working under David's influential glare. Across from me, an intern from the college, golden nose ring looped through one nostril, learning the ropes of properly slicing up a writer's pride and joy. Two seats down from her, the young chap in charge of cover design. Next to him, the money guy. I'm sure there's a more proper title, but David's assured me that, "Money Guy" works best. And reclined at the head of his table, my top editor, and the person who once sent me an email saying, "I think you may have something," David W.

Money Guy arrived in suit and tie. Nose Ring whisked about in a plaid skirt reminding me of potpourri. The editor and designer may have shared the same Old Navy credit card, and David wore the usual...khakis and a button down. My washed down Levis may have been frowned upon by Money Guy, but no one else seemed to mind.

The mission behind the meeting was to decide whether or not "Charm" was ready for galley publication. I wasn't invited, but couldn't resist.

Basically, I listened. Soaked up information like a fattened sponge. Watched Nose Ring jot down a line or two of gibberish. Felt a bit out of place, like The Dude, wandering about Mr. Lebowski's mansion in search of his stolen rug.

"So what's the overall prognosis," David was saying, focusing his gaze on The Editor.

"Not sure," was the mumbled answer, two words sneaking through a mangy beard shaken in salt and pepper.

"Cover's ready to go," Designer announced, offering me a wink.

"Good to hear," David said. Then turned back to Editor. "What do you mean you're not sure?"

"We're still thinking about a few passive phrases that may need cleaned up. Therefore...we're not sure." His eyes narrowed as he cautioned a glance in my direction.

I studied the man, again recalled my favorite movie, and thought, "Obviously you're not a golfer."

Money Guy cleared his throat, heads turned. "We need to remember the bottom line here," he began. "Another rough draft, yet another read, and we'll soon be faced with raising the price of the finished product in order to make a buck, due to the overall length of the thing, of course."

At that point, I'm fairly certain The Dude would've said, "So if you could just write me my check for ten percent of a half million...five grand...I'll go out and mingle."

David caught me grinning to myself, raised an eyebrow, and said, "I thought everyone was in agreement that this piece was worthy of its length. That too much cutting may harm its integrity. Am I mistaken?"

"No cutting needed," Editor said. "I'm just...still thinking, that's all. And why the race?"

"Spring release," David countered. "How passive are we talking here?"

Editor's reply was, "Huh? How passive?"

Nose Ring looked up from her note pad. "What's that mean?"

Money Guy said, "Sometimes passive is nice...and on budget."

Still lost in "The Big Lebowski," I imagined saying, "And I would like my undies back."

"Oh stop," David's brow joined atop his nose, forming a solid bar of silver fur. "I mean...well you all know what I mean. So anyway, let's ask the writer. El? What's your take? Too many passive phrases still in there or what?"

I was lost in thought, remembering a scene from my favorite movie, something about a bowling alley, and a guy named Jesus.

"Hey! Elliot...what are you up to down there?"

I snapped to attention, yearned to say, "Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback," but instead went with, "I left some of the scenes passive on purpose. An entire book done in passive can invite migraines. A little, if done right, can be romantic. If done right, which hopefully it is."

"But I'm still thinking about things," Editor leaned in, spouting off.

David offered me a smirk. Quick, but worthy of its purpose. "Okay, you think...the rest of us will work. Galley in a month. I still think we've got something here..."

The Editor scowled. Nose Ring failed to hide a grin. Money Guy folded his arms over a sagging belly. I took in the scene, studied the comical expression on David's face, and knew why I couldn't stop thinking about my favorite movie.

David was The Dude. Is The Dude. My Dude.

This post was for him:)

Off to the Galley. Thanks for reading...EL

Saturday, January 1, 2011

1-1-11 year ago, I issued farewell to '09 with a salute of my middle finger.

Bills were stacked like aging newspapers upon the corner of my desk. The dayjob was in ruins, a managerial staff scurrying about like suited minions, assuring themselves a future while escorting my co-workers through the company exits. The book was hovering in obscurity, having received little feedback in months.

The mortgage was due, my dog was overweight, my son's basketball team was struggling, and the basement plumbing was clogged. The skies were gray, the temperature bitter. No hint of Spring in sight. As if the idea of sunshine were only a myth.

With aggressive fervor, I dropped into a chair, glared at my Dell, and began hammering keys...the one thing I've always counted on, regardless of what obstacles barred smooth travel.

What I posted that day, one year prior, was not a list of resolutions. Lofty dreams to pray for and eventually dismiss with life's daily grind once again taking precedence. I penned a set of goals, a pair of "must haves" in order to right the ship.

The book. The job.

I published the post, and set about the task of turning goals into realistic ventures.

The book deal was signed in February. The work's been tedious, but on last check, moving along on schedule, a 2011 release date within reach.

The job offer was made over Thanksgiving weekend, fittingly enough. A new dayjob with an all new degree of stress, but with far better working hours, and a fresh approach to industry.

The bills were paid, the drains running smoothly. A new coaching regime has taken over my son's ball And even the dog has trimmed the fat.

2010 was bid farewell with a tearful hug. It will be missed.

With '11's arrival, treadmill gears across the country are being greased, cigarettes getting tossed into the trash by the thousands, cleaning supplies being applied to filthy floors and refrigerator shelves infected with moldy leftovers.

A time for a fresh start. A clean slate.

There is but one goal I've set for 2011. A righting of the ship.

For those who read my blog regularly, I've spoken of The Girl. A twelve year old foster child in need of a home, her life currently entwined under the rule of third party regulations, a future in doubt.

We were close to bringing her home in 2010. So close...when the powers that be stepped in and thwarted nature's selection.

But the journey's not over, our quest far from futile. In 2011 the battle will rage on. The Girl will come home.

When arranging one's goals, future plans that could change everything, we must first study our reflection in a mirror, or perhaps a pool, its ripples calm enough to return one's image. Study yourself, the expression staring back, and make sure you know the person you're looking at. And as Rafiki says, "Look harder." For only when we truly know ourselves, can we strive to be better. Achieve the goals we've set, those lofty expectations with the power to cut through gray skies and allow the sun to warm our shoulders once again.

Happy New Year:)