November is NaNo Month!

It’s NaNoWriMo season again!

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, run by a non-profit group aiming to help young, new, and aspiring writers to find their voice and learn to hone the craft of writing. It began in 1999, with a challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Hundreds of thousands of writers participate each year. Once you sign up and log in, your progress is tracked in real-time, and you can reach goals and earn reward stickers.

Hundreds of thousands of people will try and may actually succeed in completing the challenge, but does it really get you anywhere?  Mmm, depends on how good you are. Water for Elephants began its first draft as a NaNoWriMo project. It was picked up, sold more than four million copies, and in 2011 became a major motion picture. So yeah, dreams do happen.

I must make this perfectly clear: Dreams do happen, after LOTS AND LOTS OF EDITING. Please don’t send your finished first draft to any non-family member to read. Poor editing will kill your chances before you even think of your book cover. Edit, edit, edit. If you can’t pay for a professional editor, then check out some books and learn to do it yourself.

But have no fear!  Cheshire Public Library can help you with that as well. Join us once a month for Cat Tales, an open group for writers of anything, beginner to published, playing with a rough idea or finished draft in hand. Talk about the ins and outs, the how-tos, editing, publishing, development, and more. Read us something you’d like feedback on, or maybe try a writing prompt.  Subject doesn’t matter – Memoir, non-fiction, fiction, romance, science fiction, action-thriller, young adult (Who doesn’t love Hunger Games?) – we can talk about them all. Learn how to take that NaNoWriMo novel and beat it into shape.

Cat Tales has been meeting virtually during the pandemic, but will be returning to in-person meetings this winter. Check the calendar for the next meeting!

Strong Girls, Stronger Women

stb-jaylah-3While previewing the DVD for Star Trek: Into Darkness (as if I didn’t see it in the theater and wasn’t buying it myself 5 days later), I realized that Jaylah, the lead female character, is everything I want my daughters and granddaughter to be: strong, brave, smart, resourceful, a planner, a leader, and even when emotionally wounded, she never, ever gives in. Surely one of the strongest female leads ever, without losing her femininity in the process, like Grace Jones as May Day in A View to a Kill, or Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It may even be safe to say that Jaylah’s the strongest female lead ever in Star Trek itself – and no, not even Uhura, who, although she could kick butt, was often saddled with lines like, “Captain, I’m frightened.”

And that made me start thinking on who the strongest female leads might be. By strong I don’t mean nastiest or most vicious goal-driven women, no Joan Crawfords or Cersei Lannisters or Erica Kanes. I mean women or girls who started out ordinary, but when faced with impossible odds, had the grit and determination and education and smarts to work their way into survival.

First on almost any list is Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, from Alien. While you can say it ec93835d9542a13ce50f467297565f63already took guts and grit to be a warrant officer aboard a deep-space ship, finding out your mission was a suicide run to bring back an alien life form and you’re its food can either send you screaming in helpless panic (as Lambert did), or make you hike your bra straps and shoot first. Ripley is a real woman – no makeup, no unrealistic sexy uniforms, and not afraid to be pushy when she needs to be. And almost 40 years later (can it possibly be that long?) Alien still holds up on every level of film making; truly, a masterpiece.

katniss_prim_hugKatniss Everdeen is also a favorite for strongest female: just sixteen at the start of The Hunger Games, Katniss is already a survivor, having raised a sister and cared for a dysfunctionally depressed mother following the death of their father, in a world where people are kept in line through fear and starvation. Sacrificing herself to the Hunger Games to save her sister is just the start; surviving the Hunger Games not once but twice, surviving on luck, wits, and the smarts acquired through a lifetime of survival makes Katniss a formidable – but sympathetic and realistically feminine – heroine.

Sarah Connor of Terminator fame would round out my top three: a simple waitress who thought she was minding her own business until she’s hunted down by a terminator from the future – because when push comes to shove, Sarah will become a serious survivalist to save her son – a son who will grow up to be the leader against the machines that take over the world. Sarah is thrown into an impossible situation but comes out on top through sheer determination and a survival instinct that won’t quit.

Why so many women from science-fiction? That’s a good question. Perhaps it’s because “strong” women in literature or film are often seen as detestable power-hungry ladder-climbers who will use murder or sex to achieve their goals, and it is only in the realm of “fantasy” that women are allowed to be every-day humans, both strong and vulnerable at the same time, without boob jobs and fake nails. Yet the real world is peppered with incredibly strong women – Anne Frank, Malala Yousafzai, Margaret Sanger, Harriet Tubman, and so many more. Not one of them is sexualized by the media, either.

turn_me_loose_it_s_ashleySo, to be fair, there are literary women who also struggled against formidable odds: Scarlett O’Hara’s entire world was ripped from her by the Civil War: her income, her inheritance, her mother, her husband (whether or not she wanted him alive) wind up Gone With the Wind. She takes charge in a time and place when genteel women did not do that, and through guile and determination pulls her life and the lives of her family back together. And as the anti-Scarlett, I would include Mammy, who carried on through war and starvation, caring for former slaves and slave-owners alike, facing the same dangers as Scarlett but with even less means or social approval. In The Color sofiaPurple, yes, Celie has to survive an ugly life, but to me Sofia is far more of a tough cookie, taking her lumps and even prison because she won’t take the abuse anymore. Sofia is limited by society, but she’s every bit as tough as Katniss.

And moving further away, I would also nominate Maria, from West Side Story. She’s sixteen and stands between two warring gangs for love. The Sharks don’t frighten her. The Jets don’t frighten her. The police don’t frighten her. She gets in the face of each and every west-side-story-1961-dvdrip-moviecenter-avi_snapshot_02-16-56_2016-07-21_15-39-34one, standing up for what she believes in. No one is telling Maria what to think or do.

I could add more – Elizabeth Swan, Marion Ravenwood, Molly Weasley, Natasha Romanov – but if you’re looking for role models for girls and teens, real women who aren’t villainous or overly sexualized or vacuuous but incredibly strong and resourceful, there are plenty to choose from.

Hungering for More?

Did you love the Hunger Games trilogy? Did it leave you eager to read other books that might speak to you in the same way? Perhaps you are just so eager for the next movie to come out that you need something in the same vein to keep your excitement flowing. Well, have no fear! There have been many fantastic dystopian books, and series written so there is plenty to chose from. Here are five of my top picks for books to read to satisfy whatever reading hungers have risen in you.

Inside Out and Outside In by Maria V. Snyder is a pair of novels, also available in an omnibus version called Inside. Living Inside is simple, you do your job and do not even think about changing your status. Scrubs need to do their jobs keeping everything running smoothly, while living in overcrowded quarters. As far as the scrubs know the uppers, the elite, take them for granted and look down upon them, and some do. However, uppers are quite sure that the [Cover]scrubs are exaggerating their challenges and being lazy. Trella, a scrub with a vast knowledge of the pipes and in between places, does a friend a favor and discovers that the world is even more complicated than she thought. What might be Outside, and why are things controlled by so few? Revolution comes, and Trella becomes a reluctant leader. But when the mysteries of Inside are uncovered, will she discover that the greatest danger might actually come from Outside? Snyder’s other books have more of a fantasy flavor, but I highly recommend them as well as just lain great reads, starting with Poison Study.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater is set in a world that hold races every [Cover]November. These are no ordinary races, they are completed by riders trying to keep a hold of water horses so that they can cross the finish line. Some of the riders live, others die, and some wish they had died. Sean Kendrick is a returning champion that keeps his word, doubts, and fears to himself as much as he can. Puck Connolly is going to be the first girl in the races, although she never meant to get involved. Although circumstances have left her few alternatives. She is going to challenge and break other barriers on her way. While she knows it will not be easy, she is far from prepared for what awaits her.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan is a story about isolated society and zombies. Mary lives in an isolated village and knows little about history or the world outside, but she has questions. Her village is protected by an archaic religious order called The Sisters, who take charge of Mary and ready her for marriage after her mother is bitten by one of the undead from the surrounding woods. But, the [Cover]village’s defenses are breached and Mary’s world is forever changed. A small group that goes in search of answers and find both more and less than they expected. The only warnings I give to readers that are considering picking up this novel, there are some scenes with graphic violence, it is a very intense read. Oh, and have the sequels handy because there are many questions that carry over. The second book in the series is The Dead-Tossed Waves, and the third book is The Dark and Hollow Places.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer highlights the fears about a world-wide catastrophe, which does not seem all that far from reality. The mo[Cover]on is hit by an asteroid and moves to a closer orbit to the Earth. This causes natural disasters and climate changes. The normal concerns of Mirand are buried under the need for survival. Thankfully, Miranda’s mother has made preparations and their family is better off than many others. The are stuck together in close quarters, keeping tabs on the status of the world. The story is brought to us through Miranda’s journal, so most of the violence is not firsthand, but readers will be drawn into the conflicts and concerns of the world, and the group watching their supplies dwindle while their doubts grow. The story does offer some hope, but leaves much for any reader to dwell on and consider for themselves.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner makes readers wonder about what they would do if they woke up somewhere with no memories. Thomas wakes up and is welcomed to t[Cover]he Glade. No one in the Glade knows who they were, or how they got there. All they know is that every morning the stone walls that surround the Glade open into the maze, and every night the doors close. They know that every thirty days a new boy is delivered to the Glade. But the day after Thomas arrives the routine is broken, and the first girl to ever arrives in the Glade. The message she carries is even more shocking than her arrival. Thomas needs to unlock the hidden secrets in his mind to discover the truth, and his own importance.

Other reading recommendations that you might enjoy include Legend by Marie Lu, Ashfall by Mike Mullin, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, Above World by Jenn Reese, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, Matched by Ally Condie, City of Bones (starts the Mortal Instruments series and is soon to be a movie) and Clockwork Angel (starts the Infernal Devices series) by Cassandra Clare, and Enclave by Ann Aguirre.