Lamar Giles
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August, 2010

Hunger Games Spin-offs (Mockingjay Spoilers)

I finished Mockingjay. If you have, too, then I have questions. Do you find it interesting/odd/suspicious that the book was so vague about the 2 decades between the end and the epilogue? What’s Gale’s job in District 2? How did things go with Mrs. Everdeen’s hospital? Did Plutarch start his upbeat singing program?

This is all speculation, but is it possible that Suzanne Collins left the door open for some Hunger Games Trilogy spin-offs? If so, I have a few theories (which you shouldn’t take seriously at all) about potential directions for new Panem-based stories.

Angel Gale

Knowing that he can never truly be what Buffy Katniss needs, Angel Gale moves to Los Angeles District 2 to make amends for the atrocities he’s committed in the past. And in this corrupt city district, there are numerous threats only a vampire hunter with a soul is capable of facing.

Totally original.

Everdeen’s Anatomy

Dr. Katniss’s Mom Everdeen (does anyone remember her first name? I don’t.) is the newest surgical intern at Panem Grace Memorial Hospital. She’s super-focused on her medical career, using it to block the pain and loss she endured during the rebellion. But, when she accidentally sleeps with her new boss, things get complicated. It doesn’t help that he’s super handsome and all the other doctors call him McDistricty.

High stakes drama, disease-free promiscuity, and wacky medical conditions pulled straight from the headlines will make this an instant hit, possibly creating its own spin-off, Pirate Practice (starring Johanna and Annie).

Panem Idol

Plutarch does get his singing program off the ground. Caesar Flickerman, Effie Trinkett, and Haymitch Abernathy make up a panel of judges who make or break aspring singers throughout the nation. While it becomes a smash hit rivaling the Hunger Games themselves, it’s no less vicious. Behind the scenes cat fights, backstabbing, and a conspiracy to hijack the audience voting system makes for drama worthy of several books.

And so on…

Those are just a few of my ideas. Do you have any? Drop a line in the comments for the world to see.

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Defending Mockingjay (slight spoilers)

You may have heard of a tiny, independently produced novel by Suzanne Collins titled Mockingjay, the third book of The Hunger Games trilogy. It debuted on Tuesday to overwhelmingly positive praise. However, as stated in my last post, no matter the book, and no matter the level of praise, someone’s always going to trash it.

Here’s the thing…they’re entitled to. No one’s opinion is invalid.

Still, opinions can be the springboard for lively (and civil) debate. I wanted to take the time to address some of the grumblings I’ve heard in regard to this (IMO) incredible close to The Hunger Games. Slight spoilers lie ahead, so if you haven’t read Mockingjay and wish to remain pure, please stop now and come back later. Spoilers in …

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Complaint #1: Katniss is out of character

I’ve seen more than a few comments about how much the character runs away in this book (in to closets and various other hiding places). I can’t help but wonder if people who make this complaint realize that Collins has done an incredible job of creating a fully fleshed out character, not an Amazonian combat machine.

She’s 17. She’s spent a little over a year in situations where she should’ve died. A bunch of times. In front of a camera, no less.

She had opportunities to run but did not take them to preserve the safety of her family. Multiple lives depended on her giving up her own. When Book 3 opens, just about all of her worst fears (District 12 destroyed, Peeta captured) and greatest wishes (Gale, Prim, and her mother safe in District 13) have come true. There’s no longer a camera hovering over her. She can do what she wanted to do all along, to an extent. She runs and hides in the moments where her absence won’t cost someone else their life.

Notice how she always comes back when she’s needed, though. I’d say she’s very much in character.

Complaint #2: Mockingjay is too different from the previous books

The claim that it differs so greatly from the other books is lost on me. Perhaps my writing background makes me look at it from a different angle, but I think what Collins has done to get through this series is genius.

A similar structure has existed throughout the books. Katniss is meant to be a pawn and submit to her role as television star and sacrificial lamb, but turns the tables on her oppressors. Taken at that level, Mockingjay is exactly like the other books. Those who are complaining in this manner, aren’t looking at it that way. Frankly, I don’t know what they’re looking at.

Their are a small group Readers/Television Viewers/Movie Goers/ Music Lovers who all have something in common when it comes to their favorite series or artists. They want same-different in equal measure. In other words, they want the impossible. If it’s too much of the same, it’s a redundant fail. If it’s too different, it’s a radical fail.

I hate to say it this way, but these are the people who don’t like sunshine, but hate clouds. Moving on.

Complaint #3: Team Peeta vs. Team Gale

My friend and fellow writer Dia Reeves made a statement last week that struck me funny, “I don’t understand how there can even be a TEAM GALE. He’s not even in the book for crying out loud. Not enough to matter.”

Well, all that changed in Mockingjay. Gale got much more limelight, and I must admit, he’s pretty badass. It doesn’t take long for him to establish himself as a solid contender for Katniss’ affection. I won’t say who she ends up picking, ultimately, but I will say this…one team (possibly both) were destined to lose this one. People who judge the merit of the book on who got the girl at the end seem to miss the point…it HAD to be resolved one way or another. If you’re sore about it, and are ready to decry Mockingjay literary tripe, just hold off a bit. Snuggle up with your homemade Team Gale/Peeta pillow for a couple of days, then re-evaluate.

Collins did what she had to do here.

Complaint #4: The deaths (too many, too anonymous)

Folks…Its. A. War.

The book opens at the gravesite of 7,000 people. We already know it’s going to be bloody. And, in AT LEAST one death, utterly heartwrenching.

The complaint that we don’t get to know many of the characters who do meet their end is indicative of war. We don’t know every casualty…but someone does. And the ones we do know–the pain we feel at their loss–should form some sort of sympathetic bridge between us and the soldiers/bystanders we don’t know by name.

Also, a technical note, the story has been a 1st person narrative from the beginning, we can only know what Katniss knows. If she spent too much time getting to know new characters, there’d be complaints about our favorites being neglected.

Bottomline: Collins painted an accurate picture here. In war, sadly, we tend to know very little about the heroes who make the ultimate sacrifice.

Complaint #5: The book is terrible, a disappointment, a waste of time

I’ve seen a lot of reviews that say this and nothing more. In my mind, these declarations say more than the wordy reviews.

These readers are upset. For various reasons, I’m sure. But, can I posit this: maybe they’re upset because that’s what this book was meant to do. It’s upsetting.

All I can say to those who had this immediate reaction is wait. The book came out Tuesday, a mere two days ago, and some of these bad reviews went up within 24 hours of its release.

My point: terrible/disappointing/wasteful books don’t get read cover to cover in a day.

Terrible books don’t get you past the first 5 pages (sometimes the first page).For whatever reasons, you may not have liked the outcome, but something pushed you through Mockingjay (and the series as a whole). Take some time to think about it. I don’t know if your opinion will change, but I think you’ll see that Collins did her job. She got a reaction out of you.

Hurry up and finish…

That’s all I have for now. I look forward to the coming week as more and more of you finish Mockingjay. Should be some lively discussions. In the meantime, what do you think the next big series will be? There’s definitely a void to fill, and I’m open to suggestions. Give me some recs in the comments.

Later…

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Are you having trouble crossing the finish line?

I’ve spoken at length about my novel WHISPERTOWN, which my agent will be taking on submission next month. It’s pretty much done (I say pretty much, because we’ll likely make tweaks/line edits up until the day we start shopping it to editors). Bottomline: It’s got a beginning, middle, and end.

That alone is a feat in itself.

I’ve met so many people over the years who “always wanted to write a book”, and a few of them have even hammered out some chapters, maybe even half of a novel.

Too many of them never finish.

There’s no sin in starting a book and not finishing. I’ve done it plenty myself. However, if you really want to be in this game, you gotta finish something.

In my estimation, there are a few reasons why an aspiring writer doesn’t finish ANY project…

1) Fear

A broad term, yes. To be specific, fear of rejection. If you don’t finish, you never have to hear someone say that you wasted your time, that you shouldn’t quit your day job, that you suck.

Here’s the bad news: someone’s going to say that anyway, particularly if you ever publish.  My first major sale was to an anthology called DARK DREAMS and one current Amazon review is titled “100% Pure Garbage”. Granted, since it was an anthology, the venom wasn’t aimed directly at me, but I still felt the pain. And I have no illusions, someone is going to (or already does) feel that way about any solo project I do.

If you don’t believe that someone is always going to dislike your work, go look up the reviews for the most brilliant novel you ever read and see if someone doesn’t trash it. It happens.

Get over it. If you really want this, you get a thick skin and tell the best stories you can (to completion). You’ll learn to love the negative feedback; it’ll make you write that much harder.

2) You don’t have a support system

As a writer, you spend a lot of time in a vacuum, you and your computer/notebook/legal pad. You may be mistaking the mid-story fatigue you feel as something unique, a personal weakness that no true writer suffers. It’s so not true.

Writers get tired. They procrastinate. They spend 10 hours straight playing God of War III (okay, maybe that’s just me). My point is, we all get worn out after a few thousand words.

That’s why it’s good to talk to positive people who are trying to do what you do. A writing partner, critique group, online message board. All can be good support systems to get you over the hump. You’re not alone, and if you approach them in the right manner (meaning don’t ask them to read your half-written, unedited manuscript) you may find your favorite pros are willing to offer some encouragement, too.

Get out there and meet some writers. You never know, they may have been looking for you, too.

3) You don’t really want this job

I don’t blame you. Sometimes I don’t really want this job. Writing stories, books, poems, screenplays, etc. is hard work. However, there’s a difference between occasional fatigue and not being built for this.

Are you ready to spend long hours alone, typing away, no guarantee that anyone will ever appreciate your hard work? If you’re not finishing the stories you start, that could be a reason. Maybe you’d rather be at the gym, or on your Xbox, or out with your girl/boyfriend. If so, there’s nothing wrong with that.

But, be careful you’re not using your half-hearted writing aspiration be a shield between you and the real world. Your true passion is probably out there somewhere.

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What ideas are you looking for?

Want to know how I went to my “where” and found an original “what”?

In other words, how did I beat the odds to not only score an incredible agent, but get 70% of the agents I queried to request my full manuscript?

I focused on finding ideas that AREN’T like everyone else’s. You can, too. Listen up.

The question

“Where do you get your ideas?”

It’s the question pro fiction writers hear most often.

For the average reader, the question is simply the most concise way to discover how an author took them to another place, touched them, made them want more. For others, particularly the aspiring writer, the question might be seen as a key to a secret club (or Fort Knox if it’s Stephen King’s, James Patterson’s, or J. K. Rowling’s key).

Ask 10 writers and you’ll get 10 answers ranging from witty, to straight forward, to annoyed. Some are inspired by news stories, some by dreams. Ideas can come from anywhere.

The dutiful aspiring writer will likely try whatever technique their favorite author ascribes to, and if that doesn’t work for them, they’ll move on to the next. That’s great, they (and you) should keep going until they find what works for them. In my opinion, it won’t take most scribblers very long to find their “where”.

But, now that you’ve found this secret idea garden, with all of the possibilities in the universe buried just beneath the surface, another dilemma forms. Another mystery.

“What”, exactly, are you looking for?  If you want to get past the gatekeepers (namely literary agents), your “what” needs to stand out. In order to find it, you need to understand the winning ideas in your market/genre. Study the “whats” that have made your favorite authors household names.

I did. Then I did something pretty simple. Once I understood what was selling, I wrote what wasn’t selling.

You wrote what wasn’t…huh?

It’s counter-intuitive, I know. Hear me out.

I took a look at the New York Times Young Adult Bestseller List awhile ago. Here’s what I saw in the Top 10: Twilight, Percy Jackson and Olympians, The Hunger Games.

All great series, the kind of fantasy stuff I wanted to write. Me and a million other writers.

Agents were harping on all the derivative fantasy getting pitched to them, and I knew my chances for recognition were slim if I went down the well traveled road I wanted to take. I needed to find a gap.

What was missing from the bestseller list?

It was obvious. None of the books in the top 10 were based in any sort of contemporary reality.

How could I spin that? How could I still write an epic story about a hero in a fantastic situation facing evil monsters/villains without any true fantasy elements? That’s the sort of “what” I needed to find. Once I had that framework in place, my ideas came naturally.

My novel WHISPERTOWN (repped by Jamie Weiss Chilton of Andrea Brown Literary) was the result. A noir-ish murder mystery, set in contemporary times, with a hero in a fantastic (but not supernatural or post-apocalyptic) situation.

I sought my idea, my “what”, with several specific goals in mind. 1) To be able to write a query that stands out from other queries 2) Get a top-notch agent 3) Get a book deal with a major publisher.

Right now, I’m 2 for 2. WHISPERTOWN will be going out on submission next month so we’ll see how number 3 works out then…

Notice that my goals weren’t to “write what I know” or “write what I love” (though I do love WHISPERTOWN). I’ve always wanted to be able to walk into my local bookstore and see a book with my name on the cover (that wasn’t in the true crime section). If you desire the same thing, it’s time to get past romantic notions about this job. My methods may sound mercenary to you, but even mercenaries have to start somewhere…

This post is long, but there’s a ton to discuss here. If you have specific questions, lay them out in the comments. Otherwise, I’ll continue in a separate post.

Keep Writing!!

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Gremlins in the manuscript

Sorry to leave you for a few days, kiddies. Been hard at work on Agent-requested revisions to WHISPERTOWN. I’m nearly done on that front and wanted to take time to speak to the little (vicious) things.

Typos, missed words, and other general manuscript weirdness (AKA Gremlins).

If you’re familiar with the film, then you know the creatures I speak of. If you’re not familiar with the film, the picture to the left should let you know they aren’t chinchillas.

To clarify, I didn’t come home to find a green reptilian midget chowing down on my pages. In the film, Gremlins were mischievous, with antics ranging from messing up your appliances (especially microwaves) to murder. And they were damn hard to get rid of. The more you attacked, the more there were.

Thus is the nature of problems in manuscripts (for me, anyway…maybe for you, too).

You need to be perfect (REALLY perfect)

This is not true, nothing and no one is perfect. When dealing with Manuscript Gremlins, you gotta try for perfection, though. We’ve all read books where we noticed a misspelling, incorrect word usage, or just a missing word all together. It happens. It’s forgivable. But, have you ever read a book where something is wrong on every other page? Like the author didn’t check it at all?

Admittedly, the worst offenders I’ve run across were self-published books (NOTE: I’m not saying ALL self-published books are poorly edited, I’ve simply experienced SOME that were). That’s not to say I haven’t seen a novel come from major publishing houses with embarrassing mistakes, too. Bottom line: it’s your book, it represents your name, try to make sure it’s right. We’re all human, but don’t let the mistakes in your book label you a ‘lazy, illiterate, and possibly blind’ human.

“I don’t want to read the whole thing again…”

With each subsequent draft of your manuscript you’ll gain confidence that the material is getting better and better. You’re right. But along with the confidence comes a level of comfort, and you’ll be tempted to skip whole sections because you know they’re good to go.

Never, ever do this.

Changes in manuscripts cause a ripple effect. That change to a character’s motivation in Chapter 5 effects what they do in Chapter 27. You changed the paint color on page 40, you better make sure it matches on page 216.

Make your changes, then re-read your whole manuscript with a critical eye. It’s the only way to catch lurking Gremlins.

Your new draft is still a first draft

So, you’ve made sure that your shiny new word upgrades haven’t conjured new Gremlins in your manuscript. All the new stuff is compatible with the old stuff, and you haven’t heard a peep from the little monsters. Guess what?

They moved.

They’re in the new text that you added. How? Why? Because Gremlins love first draft writing most of all.

“Wait,” you say, “this isn’t my first draft, it’s like my fifth.”

Technically, yes. However, anything you’ve added hasn’t been critiqued or revised, so those portions are first draft writing. You’ll need to pay special attention.

Seems like a lot of work

It does. And it is. If you do all this, you’ll know your manuscript inside and out, will likely get sick of it. You wanna be a pro, though, and part of the job description is Gremlin Killer.

So, have at it. Just don’t take your manuscript to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs…that’s not going to help anyone.

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