Monthly Archives: March 2012

Don’t Just Do…Live!

Since I was a little girl I’ve been a storyteller, a writer, and a dreamer, always planning to one day be an *author*—that very person you imagine when you whisper the two melodic syllables aloud…but it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve honed my focus, and in the last year that it’s become even more to me: my soul, my heart, my love, and my passion.

So a few weeks ago, just after my first post (“The Journey”), I had an inspiring phone conversation with my mother. We discussed my freshly tuned writing focus, and like a breathless girl admitting her crush I told her my plans—Kyresa, the other books, the blog, the short stories, the networking, all of it. My mother listened patiently, and after a few proud mom compliments she said, in a dreamily soft voice, “Honey, you have it figured out now! You are no longer just doing…you are finally living.” I nearly burst into tears with her sweet words of encouragement, because I realized my mom was right.

Follow your dreams, and live them.

For the first time in my life, I feel like the stars I’ve always reached for are possible. The dreams I’ve always had are right there, at my fingertips, and I will no longer just do; I will live. I have never been more motivated. I have never been so happy and so fulfilled. I truly feel like I have realized what my life means to me, and that I am going to make all of my dreams happen by living this passion. My passion. Tough day, illness, heartache, bills—none of it matters anymore. I have a goal, a dream, and a wish, and it is to live this one life as thoroughly as I can by letting my fingers run across this keyboard as excitedly and quickly as my imagination dreams it, and as rapidly as my heart beats through it.

I have found my peace through writing. You, dear reader—you may be there already, or you may be on the path to finally reaching everything that you dream as well. Whatever the case, I encourage you to follow your heart, to unburden your soul, and to find that true passion within yourself to not just do…but live.

To finally live your fantasy.

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On Writing Detail…Or, Observations of a Coffee Shop

A writer does many things, but one of the most important acts of writing is detail, whether it be the detail in setting, dialogue, characters, or the action carrying the plot. Being able to observe thus becomes a handy writer’s skill, since the most random of observations can spark an idea, a character, or a scene that we tend to excitedly and passionately write down.

My colleague friend mentioned that she thought writers in coffee shops were intriguing—seeing as how they’re observing all the people and sounds—and the idea soon landed me in the cushiest of brown chairs at one of my local Starbucks. In honor of my friend’s comment, I thought I’d practice the art of observation today. Whether I gain a clever new character to add to a future story or simply convey the mysterious clientele of an overly populated coffee chain, then the experience feels like good practice, and one I recommend to anyone to improve observation of detail in the sights, sounds, and smells around us.

On the occasion I decide to play the writer-in-the-coffee-shop game, I usually pick this Starbucks. I prefer it for many reasons: the staff is friendly, the drinks are consistent, and—since I’m like most American women with any pulse at all—I appreciate that members of the city fire department often stop by…because they make me feel safe. (I swear.) <Cough.>

Back to the task at hand. To my left is a women of about fifty, her dark skin covered in freckles and a skinny beige textbook resting in her lap. She rubs her chin as she ponders her reading, steadily erasing in her notebook as she works on what appears to be a math assignment. (Since I’m a math teacher by day, I find this detail particularly amusing.) The woman scribbles on her notebook in neat little rows, each character written with perfect penmanship despite her numerous erase marks and her repeated interruptions to stroke her chin. Soon she switches to touching her abalone shell earrings before frowning, then meticulously erases again. I’m half-tempted to offer to help her with the problems, but she breaks her studies to answer her phone, speaking in a quiet, monotone voice. I wonder why she might be taking classes at this point in her life and assume she’s probably had a lot of life experience before embarking on further education. Perhaps she has a family at home with six kids, each of them dragging their feet as they made their way to adulthood, and now that they’ve finally moved out it’s her turn to go back to school. Or, maybe she needs to improve her skill set for a job, and her employer threatened to replace her with the younger, peppier staffer he just hired last week if she didn’t.

There are a variety of ideas that spring to mind as she peeks curiously in my direction, but I coyly glance to the counter so as not to stare.

A man donning grey weathered cargo pants with several chains dangling off the sides just got in line, his bottom half oddly contrasting the white collared, button-up shirt that he’s closed clear up to his neck. He wears a black embroidered baseball cap and talks to the baristas with a random high-pitched laugh. These sorts of conflicting details often make for the most intrigue in a character, and when he turns to face the rest of the cafe, he scans over us with uncomfortably pinched blue eyes. He folds his wallet and slips it back into his left pocket, the lines in his forehead forming a multitude of zigzagging rows, and then sneaks away to the bathroom where his female companion emerges. She brushes back her black cropped hair, then plays with the zipper on her white hooded sweatshirt and speaks to him as he closes the door. Her candy-colored lips move in a lazy speech and I hear, “I don’t think so,” among a few other inaudible sentences, to which the man casually shuts the door with a roll of those startling eyes. Once he exits they scoot out of the shop as quickly as they came in, sending a grumpy scowl at one another when they pass a man at a window table.

This man wears a multi-colored beanie and a pair of earphones that he tugs at with a smile, his posture behind his laptop more relaxed than that of most anyone in here. He taps his foot to his music against his bag, its contents strewn casually on the floor. So into his music, he barely notices the sounds of the coffee grinding and brewing, the gentle whirring sound of the milk as it’s steamed, the baristas talking about the fact that someone named Kim didn’t show up for her shift on time and how Alex is going to “fire her ass,” or the fact that the woman behind him just knocked the last of her coffee onto the floor, the liquid making a slow drip, drip, drip onto the dirty gray tile just behind him…

The man bops his head, adjusting his cap once, twice; he stops typing to read what’s in front of him on the screen. His green-grey eyes scan the view, then he types again, reads, and types before glancing at me. We smile at one another, then go back to our respective computers. Perhaps he’s a professional working on a presentation, or a teacher typing his lesson plan, or a student working on a paper—or perhaps he’s a writer just like me, observing everything around him, jotting it down, committing it to memory, and playing with these details as the basis for a character for the next piece, while a little nondescript folk rock plays through the speakers overhead.

One can never tell if the characters observed are something to write from, but the process of digesting all these details is always a good practice for any writer, novelist, poet, or journalist alike.

For the moment, I might offer to help the woman next to me as I take the last few sips of my tea….

…but it looks like the fire truck just pulled into the parking lot.


Thoughts on THE HUNGER GAMES Movie

***Though I have tried to leave this review vague enough for those of you who have not yet seen the movie (or read the book), I am issuing a slight spoiler alert as I have made some obvious references to scenes from the story.***

It’s taken me a couple days to fully process my thoughts on The Hunger Games movie. If you’ve been reading along or following me on Twitter, you’ve likely noticed that I’ve been off the charts with enthusiasm for this movie. On Friday, I spent some time asking early viewers what they thought, and all of them seemed to be quite pleased.

So, when I headed out Friday evening with seven other friends to see it—five who had already read the books and two who had not—I had high expectations and a ton of anticipation for a movie I’d been waiting to see for over six months. Though I can say that we enjoyed the movie to a degree, we also all seemed to leave with the same sentiments, which were voiced very clearly by my close friend:

“Some things are just best left untouched.”

Perhaps my group of friends is the exception to the norm on this whole Hunger Games movie, but I had a hard time fully embracing it. There are things I definitely enjoyed: the acting, for example, was superb. Jennifer Lawrence made an excellent Katniss Everdeeen, Josh Hutcherson played a worthy Peeta Mellark, and Liam Hemsworth made a workable Gale Hawthorne (though he seemed far too old to be playing the character, in my opinion). Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, and Wes Bentley as President Snow, Caesar Flickerman, and Seneca Crane, respectively, were by far the most impressive, easily filling the shoes of the manipulative Capitol characters they played. Elizabeth Banks provided a serious yet comic relief character through Effie Trinket, which seemed to closely fit the Effie we knew in the books. Lenny Kravitz as Cinna was also good, and his portrayal as Katniss’s supportive friend came across as heartfelt and representative of the original character.

The depictions of the Capitol and the Districts also felt clever and suitable. The director, Gary Ross, created a land of excess and technological wizardry for the Capitol, surrounding it with images of extraordinarily poor neighborhoods whose hunger, misery, and complete devastation has clearly prevailed after a hostile government’s suppression.

Despite all this great acting and staging, however, I really felt like I was watching a slow-paced, bare bones interpretation of a truly phenomenal tale.

I know, I know—no movie is ever as good as the book, but I think there were a lot of directorial choices by Gary Ross that could have gone differently in order to more closely suit the story. Character development was of course hindered by the length of the movie, but certain pivotal pieces were also purposely left out, such as Katniss’s guilt over leaving Gale behind, and several momentous details about rival characters through the later parts of the movie. I recognize that some of this happened due to a PG-13 rating—a wise move in that the book is for teens, so of course the audience would mostly be filled with teens as well—but some of it seemed unnecessary. Yes, the story was there, but the devastation and torment caused by a Capitol so horrifically murdering children as payback for rebellion seemed cryptically and skeletally pieced together with scenes of a Capitol that we didn’t completely understand as viewers. Had I not read the book, I don’t know that I would have understood what—to me—is the entire essence of The Hunger Games: Katniss’s strength despite the nerves, horror, and fear she feels as she makes her way through the Games and preparation for them. We see only a glimpse of her feelings in the movie, as we rapidly speed through her multitude of obstacles and her eventual care for Peeta. In addition, the “Girl on Fire” chariot scene felt like someone ran through with an extinguisher to tone down the blaze before it came to our screen, but this part was critical for the entire idea of Katniss as a spark for revolution. To me, the whole film felt rushed and yet barren, as if we were meant to wade quickly through a series of images that could have been dramatic and terrifying, but really were just dulled-down glimpses of a society that was supposed to evoke some emotion from us as an audience.

The part I did feel actually drew something out of me was one between Katniss and Rue, played by Amandla Stenberg. Rue’s demise did play out a tad differently in the movie to suit the time frame, but I appreciated Ross’s portrayal of their connection and teared up a bit as I watched.

In the end, I admit I may have been expecting too much. I will of course see the next movie because I have some buy-in with the trilogy, but even the ending did not have enough bite for me, nor did it leave me wanting more—or even realizing there was more, for that matter. Was Snow mad? Did he give up? Was that a shrug of his shoulders and a general dismissal of Katniss? I really had no idea other than what I read, and for the audience member who did not read the book, I don’t know that I’d return for part two.

Am I glad I saw the movie? Yes. Was I disappointed? Yes. Could it have been done in a different way that would have suited my vision? Very possibly. Am I in the minority of viewers?I’m not sure, but I have a strong feeling that I am.

But, more importantly, do I still have half of the third book, Mockingjay, to finish, to reinspire me to fall in love with the trilogy? YES! And for that I’m very grateful.

I know my opinion is likely conflicting for many, but I’d love to know your thoughts. If you’re willing to share, please participate in the poll below.

Thanks for sharing!


HUNGER GAMES Fever

The time is rapidly approaching for the opening of The Hunger Games, and I am proud to admit that I myself have a strong dose of “Hunger Games Fever.” Quite literally, actually, as I seem to be coming down with a cold!

Undeterred, I do plan to see the movie as soon as possible, as I imagine many of you will too. Whether lining up tonight for the special midnight showing or heading out tomorrow, you still have time to read the book before the movie comes out! It may be only eight hours for you to finish if you’re going tonight, but this book is well worth a read in advance of the big screen interpretation. If you need a little push of motivation, please see my March 7th post, “Review of The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.” There are numerous other glowing reviews out there that will likely inspire you to finish reading before the movie begins, and I encourage you to read them as well—just don’t take too long, because you need time to finish that book!

Sadly, I will not be making it out tonight to see the movie, what with the emerging cold and the 5:30 a.m. alarm that will blare painfully in my ear, but my tickets as well as those of my nine enthusiastic friends are already in our hands as we count down the hours!minutes!seconds! until our showing at 9:15 tomorrow night.

In the meantime, here are a few links to more Hunger Games fanfare:

There are plenty of other online blogs and articles for you to check out as you’re standing in line for the movie, so enjoy them while you await what will likely be one of the best movies of 2012. Stay tuned for my thoughts on the movie over the weekend, as I compare it to Suzanne Collins’s outstanding novel.

As for finding a good seat in the theatre…may the odds be ever in your favor!


This One’s for the Kiddos!

Recently, it came to my attention that several of my students caught wind of my website. I thought this was just a random mention by a few kids, and then I checked my website stats for the day the word spread. As you can see, the results were a little more staggering:

After I saw this, I felt like my life had been written into a Gossip Girl episode for a day, and I decided it was high time to dedicate a post to my awesome kiddos. 🙂

Now, I’m not entirely sure how this happened, but I suppose it could have come about for one of two reasons: genuine enthusiasm for what’s happening on this blog—which is what I’m inclined to believe because, quite frankly, I have some seriously amazing students—or perhaps just a general desire to catch me saying something naughty.

I have heard a few rumors about this idea that would make such a desire understandable. I’m pretty sure the concept of my alleged dirty writing originated last year, when I mentioned in class that I wrote an adult fantasy novel, as in, not young adult fantasy, and somehow this translated into the idea that I write erotica. (Whoopsy! Epic teacher fail moment…)

Sadly, this is not true, but I’m also not going to lie: I write adult fiction, which is to say that within the course of the story, there may be some graphic material (violence, language, sex, overtones, etc.) that may be deemed inappropriate for young adults, just as a TV-MA show might be. In my humble opinion, this sort of reading decision is something teens make everyday, and hopefully this level of reading has occurred with appropriate discretion, parental or otherwise. As a young girl I read far past my age level, but I also knew what was fictional versus appropriate behavior in real life, as I’m going to assume any teen readers have the capacity to do, as well.

So what do I write? I write fantasy, contemporary, and just about anything else that springs into my thick and somewhat pinhead-shaped dome. And since you like to read, I thought it would be fun to know what type of book YOU prefer to curl up with on a lazy afternoon. Adult or young adult, click on your preference below!

Whether you are indeed a student or another reader, young or young-at-heart, thanks for sharing your reading interests back with me and other blog followers. Expect to see more polls and surveys on your interests in the future from time to time, and thank you for participating in this poll!


What Are You Writing Right Now?

Recently I’ve received a few emails inquiring on the status of my novel-in-progress, Kyresa, as well as any other writing I might be doing. I figured I’d provide a quick update for those of you who are following.

After numerous revisions and edits, Kyresa is now in the hands of my five treasured beta readers, who I will fondly refer to as A, B, E, W, and Z. (As a writer, I’m inclined to note that my readers run from A to Z! And thanks A, B, E, W, Z for all your help!) While they are hard at work giving the novel one last go-round, I am in the process of researching and selecting potential agents to represent my work. I’m also working on my “elevator pitch”—that clever, necessary, and useful blurb describing your book in just a few sentences, should you ever be trapped on an elevator or similar thirty-second scenario with an editor or agent of your dreams. It seems like such a simple endeavor, and yet, condensing an entire book and the fantasy realm it encompasses into just a few sentences is actually quite challenging. I’ve come up with a few tentative possibilities so far, so I’m almost there…or will be, once I merge all three emails in my inbox and five post-its on my dashboard together into one nice, clean statement!

Meanwhile, I am also researching literary journals and anthologies for two short stories: “Circubus,” a supernatural fantasy piece, and “Mounds,” a contemporary/mainstream work. I’ve found a few great places for “Circubus” and just sent it to my first choice magazine—cross your fingers! I will be focusing on homes for “Mounds” over the next week.

Once those are out, I will be continuing my work on the second draft of another novel, as well as toying with two prospective short story concepts. All three items are definitely in their very early stages, but I’m excited about them. These will temporarily be put on hold when Kyresa comes back from the fantastic A, B, E, W, Z squad, so that I can wrap up the novel and start to send it out into the world…

Like many things we do in life, it’s all a process. Fortunately, it’s a very enjoyable one! 🙂


The Imaginations of Children

This past weekend I saw my niece—also known as the Most Adorable Niecey on the Planet—and she spent a good amount of time being her charming, four-year-old self. Since my sister recently moved a few hours away, I often find myself missing the little munchkin for quite a while after I see her.

Today I happened to remember some of the exuberance my Niecey shared as she showed me her dolls, shoes, hair, and jewelry. She, like most children, has a vivid imagination, as well as a high-pitched zeal with which she loves to share her young, open-minded ideas. On any given day I can probably recount ten favorite memories, but today I thought I’d share just one.

About two months ago, the Most Adorable Niecey stayed overnight, and in the morning she tapped me gently on the shoulder. “Auntie Eva,” she whispered, “it’s time to wake up.” Groggy and somewhat delirious, I managed to wake—albeit slowly—as she explained that it was time to play Princess.

“Princess!” I said, rubbing my eyes. “How do we play that?”

“Well, I’m the Pink Princess,” she said, waving her hands in the air. “I have a pink dress, a pink crown, and a pink wand. I also have pink jewelry!” she squealed proudly, pointing at her bare (but remember, not really bare) fingers and wrist. “It’s time for you to get up, so you can be the Purple Princess.”

“Oh my!” I said. I propped myself up on the pillows. “How do I do that?”

“First, we have to put on your purple dress. Sit up.” I did, and she proceeded to simulate sliding the dress over my head. “Now for your purple crown and wand.” She placed the crown on my head and the wand in my hand, smiling proudly as she adjusted the way I held it. “You have to hold it this way for spells,” she whispered.

“Oh thank you,” I said. “What’s next?”

“Well of course you need purple jewelry. Hold out your other hand.” She slid the imaginary rings onto my finger and clasped a bracelet around my wrist. “I’ll give you your shoes when you get out of bed. Now come down here,” she said, wriggling to the floor and pointing at a two-by-two area on the carpet. “This is my pink castle. And over there is your purple castle. Hurry! You have to get there fast, the dragon is coming!”

“Ick!” I shrieked, jumping out of bed. I climbed over to the area she designated as my purple castle, and then she tossed over my purple shoes. (Yes, she actually simulated tossing over a pair of shoes.) “Do I have to stay here?” I asked.

“You can come over here,” she said, lifting a warning finger. “But you have to move very quickly, and you’re only safe if you wear the purple shoes. Put them on, fast, and come to the pink castle!”

Naturally, I did, and then scooted over to her castle. Clearly, it was the place to be!

We played for a while like this as she told me about all the creatures in the land (the dragon, some magical cats, an enchanted forest, even more glittering purple and pink jewelry!), and eventually my need for coffee won out. “Sweetheart,” I said, “I’m just so tired, I fear the dragon will catch me because I’m moving too slowly. I really need coffee.”

“Silly Auntie Eva, I can make you coffee here in the pink castle!” she laughed, whirling her hands around until she produced a cup of coffee. Not quite real enough for my taste, but I let it slide for another ten minutes until I convinced her Auntie Eva’s kitchen was a safe place away from evil dragons, and that eating pancakes would give her strength to fight them off.

It’s a silly story, true, but the way she weaved her imaginary world captivated me. Each time I see her, she has created some romantic tale of fantasy and magic, a world she wants to involve everyone in. It’s a gift that most children have in their early years, making our already interesting world so much more amazing, colorful, and even a little more magical.

For some scientific reason we tend to lose this ability as we get older, both in our loss of fantastical thinking and in our hesitation to express these ideas. It’s a shame, really—but also the reason so many of us turn eagerly to the wild creativity we see in books and movies, hoping, if only for 300 pages or two hours, we might recapture our ability to run free through someone else’s imaginative musings. These pieces capture us in a world we might otherwise not experience, letting us imagine that we, too, are still the Pink and Purple Princesses (and Princes) of our youth. Those memories may be buried deep within, but somewhere in your mind and heart you might remember these moments bringing a smile to your face…so don’t forget to let them out every once in a while to play.

*** A giant kiss to my adorable niecey V! ***


How Does One Write?

Ink and paper are sometimes passionate lovers; often times brother and sister; and occasionally mortal enemies. —Terri Guillemets

Upon learning that I love to write, several of my students have stared at me with big, incredulous eyes and slight expressions of horror. Sometimes, they even mutter the most startled of questions:

“How do you do that?”

“You wrote a novel, Miss Rieder? How could you write that long? I hate writing!”

“Whhhhyyyyy?”

I suppose there may have been a time that I didn’t love writing as much as I do now, long, long ago and beyond the farthest reaches of my memory. The truth is, all of us who love writing still have moments where we despise this torturous thing we do, when the act itself feels akin to gauging one’s eyes out with a dirtied, garbage disposal-marred fork.

But then it comes to you—that rush of an idea, that slick purge of words, phrases, and sentences all joined together by a neat sequence of punctuation and tempo. Your blood warms, your pulse races, and you delve right back into that which you love and enjoy. You forget the agony that was your momentary frustration. It’s as if, once again, you’ve found your passion, and by letting the words pour onto the screen before you, you have let your soul free to discover something trapped deep within, ready to emerge onto the world.

So what do you do to get there? How do you practice the art of writing enough to be able to feel that spark more easily and more often? How, exactly, does one write?

I am by no means an expert, nor would I claim to be. However, I have found that by diligently sticking to it over the years, the time it took to produce something became less of a strain and instead, a treasured activity. Here are some of the strategies that led me to enjoy writing more regularly:

  • Write everyday. This is the best tip any writer will ever give you. I’ve read it a thousand times over, and each time, I vigorously nod my head in agreement. Whether you write in a journal, set a daily word quota for your book, jot a poem on a café napkin, or simply carve out x minutes to ignore the world and write a few sentences, you’ll get there. My favorite strategy? Once the kids leave for lunch, I try to write for ten minutes before I eat. What I’ve written churns around in the back of my mind for the rest of the day, and then at night I can flesh the ideas out further.
  • Carry post-its everywhere. This is both a helpful assist and a colorful way to decorate everything in your life—my white kitchen cupboards have a minimum of six pink or yellow post-its of ideas, phrases, names, or characters at any given moment, all jotted down on post-its while I was at the gym, in the car, at work, or out with friends. Keep them in your bag, your binder, or even your wallet.
  • Turn off the phone when you write. I break this rule for myself all the time, and when the phone rings I kick myself for forgetting. If you’re writing, write. Ignore the the rest of world, you have something to do.
  • Watch the people around you. That alone can inspire characters and story lines that you long to tell about.
  • Read the first page of your favorite book. Remember the spark of excitement you felt when you read it the first time? Use that sensation as inspiration to create something just as intriguing for your own audience.
  • Force yourself to sit in front of the keyboard for a specific length of time. No internet, no games; just you and an open document. A white screen is blinding. Black words on it are far less jarring. Start writing!
  • Keep a card catalog of ideas. These may be transfers from your post-its, or just something you do in your spare time. I have a file divided into three parts: one for names, one for ideas, and one for settings. Even if I’m not using something from the file, sometimes just thumbing through it gets me motivated.
  • Don’t forget to take a break. This may seem like a total contradiction to my first recommendation, but once you’ve been writing faithfully everyday and you’ve built a momentum, you occasionally hit a wall. It happens. Take the evening off and relax with a good book, letting your brain dwell on someone else’s hard work instead of yours. Tomorrow, pick it up again.

There are thousands of strategies out there—you just have to find the set that works for you. If you really want to write, eventually you’ll find your rhythm and will be able to stick to it. Practice and patience—and lots of time—will eventually turn writing into something that you love.

Happy writing, everyone!


Review of THE HUNGER GAMES, by Suzanne Collins

First take: WOW.

Second take: Thank god I borrowed the next book from my friend so I can start it tonight!

I read about The Hunger Games in Entertainment Weekly about nine months ago and found the concept incredibly intriguing. Kids fighting to the death on demand of a Capitol entity, as a punishment for the people’s rebellion? What an insanely unique idea for a novel!

Over the summer I vacationed to Aruba; on the plane, a young man of about twenty sat beside me reading the third book in the series, Mockingjay. He barely acknowledged his soda and peanuts as he pored over the book, eventually lowering it to his tray table with a big sigh.

“What did you think?” his girlfriend asked.

“It was incredible,” he breathed.

He then proceeded to go on and on about the book to the point where I finally said, “Um, hey, some of us still haven’t read it. Can you maybe not give away the whole story just yet?” We had a good laugh, and he informed me that he’d been reading the series nonstop over the last few days and simply couldn’t put it down. 

I proudly purchased my copy just after I returned home. Sadly, I got distracted working on Kyresa (okay, that’s not such a sad thing), the school year started, and various other bouts of drama abounded—but I swore I would read that darn book before the movie came out if it killed me. Well, I finished it, and you know what? The kid was right.

From the first page, I refused to put this book down. Narrated by sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a girl in the poorest District who volunteers in place of her twelve-year-old sister, Hunger Games contains a carefully blended scene of both science fiction and fantasy. Gone is the world we know, replaced instead by a cruel Capitol bent on punishing the people for their past defiance. Katniss is a skilled huntress who has spent her life unintentionally preparing for the Games, by providing for her family since her father’s death. Headstrong, clever, and hosting a keen understanding of the natural world around her, Katniss is a phenomenal teenage heroine. She bravely enters the Gamemakers’ world, hoping to survive the brutality that has reminded the world of their place under the Capitol in a manner vaguely reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. Once in the arena, Katniss fights against a collection of terrifying opponents, both human forces and natural elements alike. Meanwhile, she also struggles against an acquaintance from home, the questionable Peeta, with whom she learns a bit about herself as well as her transforming emotions throughout the course of the Games.

Though the book is geared toward a younger audience, any adult can enjoy this book (I personally know of four who can’t stop raving about it). The reading is smooth and intriguing, with rich and engaging characters whose complicated flaws and endearing traits wrap you up in concern as you follow their journey. Even the dangerous, bully teens who seek to snuff the lives of those around them are characters you can’t help but feel sorrow for, as their morals are caught in the Capitol’s inhumane rules and expectations. I had a few flashes back to Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” as well as Golding’s Lord of the Flies as I read, though, I have to admit, I took far more pleasure in this read—and I’m a pretty big fan of the aforementioned pieces.

At the gym today, a gentleman asked me how I could move so fast on the elliptical machine while still reading [and clutching] a book. My response?

“Because this book is amazing! You should read it too!”

I’m so excited to read the next book of the series that I’m afraid it’s now time to sign off and read!

(Be sure to check out Suzanne Collins’s website: http://www.suzannecollinsbooks.com/index.htm for more information on the trilogy.)


But What Does Charity Have to Do with Fantasy?

This is the very question I asked myself as I ran at a blazing pace (humor me) on the treadmill yesterday, feeling the urge to write about charity, but also puzzling over how to unify the two concepts.

So I ran, and I ran…and it suddenly hit me as hard as the cramp gnawing at my side: charities are about giving, about caring, and about helping others to reach their goals and dreams. We who have the ability to give, the capacity to share our compassion—if we really make an effort, then we can help those who need our assistance for anything from healing, to resources, to companionship. No matter what the objective, charities provide a clear path toward fulfilling a longing, or a dream—the attainable fantasy of making this world a better place for everyone, not just those who can help themselves.

Saturday night I attended a wonderful charity event for the Ria Foundation, which was founded after the unfortunate passing of a talented young artist named Maria Ann Hsiao, or “Ria.” For the last ten years, the Foundation has been running a program called Art4Kids (http://riafoundation.org/kids.html), bringing art and self-expression to children throughout California and Hawaii and inspiring them to explore their own creativity. As I listened to the presentation about Art4Kids, I thought about how many children could benefit from organizations like this, and also how many children, and people in general, just need a little love and support from others.

My parents are heavily into charity organizations and charity work, and it has rubbed off on me over the years. The reward of helping someone else live the fantasy that we so often take for granted—homes, health, companionship, and food in our bellies—is a pleasure in its own right, and unfortunately, it’s not a topic we often get to discuss with one another.

So, I thought I’d share a few of the organizations that I’ve investigated in the last few years; though there are an infinite number to choose from, these are some of my favorites. I’ve provided an extremely brief description of each, so please be sure to click on the links for more detailed information.

  • Water.org — this organization builds wells and sanitation systems, bringing safe drinking water to communities in Asia, Africa, and Central America.
  • Madre.org — promotes women’s rights and safety in war-torn countries, and supports women’s voices where they remain otherwise unheard.
  • Bestfriends.org — Best Friends Animal Shelter is a no-kill sanctuary in Utah, caring for wild and domestic animals until they are rehabilitated or adopted.
  • Heart.org — The American Heart Association provides tons of research and care for heart diseases. This one is particularly dear to me—several years ago, a close family member was diagnosed with a rare heart condition. She is quite well now, and the organization’s research remains imperative.
  • Dtrf.org — promotes research for a rare and often fatal disease that forms locally aggressive tumors in connective tissues and destroys neighboring tissues—even bones and organs. A close friend of mine has this condition, but she’s had a clean bill of health for about two years thanks to some incredible doctors and the research funded by this group.
  • Africare.org — works to improve the quality of life for people in Africa through sanitation and water services, care and education for HIV/AIDS, and food security for its people.
  • Bbbs.org — Big Brothers/Big Sisters is an experience-based program connecting a “big” brother or sister with a “little” considered in need of company beyond his or her circumstance. I had the pleasure of working with a charming girl for about two years through this program, and we had a fantastic time together every time we met. The time commitment is minimal, but the rewards for both parties are tremendous.

This list is by no means a suggestion, nor is it a very exhaustive one. If you are interested in a charity, do some research to find an organization that fits your heart. The American Institute of Philanthropy gives a great list of top charities based on those that use the majority of their funding for causes and research instead of administrative costs at http://www.charitywatch.org/toprated.html.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to donate or work with a charity, I encourage you to consider it—it is an incredibly satisfying experience, and if every one of us could give even a little, we could share the fantasies and dreams we’ve built for ourselves with so many others around the world.


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