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Category Archives: Chi-town Girl

Real life and cool finds that don’t fit elsewhere

Why Dystopia Fiction?

It wouldn’t be going out on a ledge to make the claim that the dystopian storyline is really big right now. Trends like this in fiction come and go quickly—but I don’t see dystopias leaving us any time soon.

Just like the Twilight series started the spark of the seemingly never-ending vampire/paranormal trend, the latest dystopians (in my humble opinion) are just the beginning. Movie magic helps keep fictional trends alive much longer than books normally enjoy. With two more Hunger Games movies, and the Divergent series just beginning to cast actors, there will be more, not less, people reading and looking for new dystopia fiction in the future.

Dystopia fictions are characterized by featuring a future society that is messed up and controlling. The story is usually filled with pain and hardship. Dystopia fiction shows us the worst of humanity.

Why on earth would anyone want to read about that?

Because these stories serve as warnings, moreover, they remind us about real life.

Rosemary Stimola, the agent who represents Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games said, “I don’t think the readership is tired or these types of stories. This is population of young people who don’t remember a time when the country was not at war. It makes perfect sense that their literature would allow them a way to exercise their thoughts about the nature of good and evil, and that it might reflect violence and great loss.” –quoted in “YA Comes of Age,” Publisher’s Weekly, 09/30/11

Sure, dystopian fiction is dark, and many shy away from it because of this fact, but I believe dystopian stories have the ability to shine the brightest and impact readers the most. Because when everything shakes down, the reason we’re attracted to these stories isn’t to read the bad, but to see the hope that they offer.

The main theme in every single one of these stories is that one person, or a small group of people, must take a stand against all that is wrong and evil in the fictional society. In the midst of unimaginable suffering, good rises to fight against seemingly insurmountable odds and wins.

We learn the impact that one life—one person—can have.

Maybe, just maybe, it makes us wonder if little old us can make a difference in our own world. We realize that our actions matter in the big scheme of things. And dare to hope that if push came to shove, we’d have the courage to rise against the worst sort of evil, no matter the cost.

Image courtesy of prozac1 –   http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

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If I find a YA book or romance book that is to die for, I’ll share the details. My author friends even stop by!

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Yes to Halloween

image provided by: freedigitalphotos.net

Confession: I know I’m not supposed to, but I really like Halloween.

So many people shun the day. Call it evil.

But, I have to ask: is a day in itself evil? Or is it what we do with the day that becomes evil?

From my view, each day is a gift from God and should be treated as such. I work in a police department and can tell you with authority that EACH day on earth is full of plenty of evil. So I don’t see a reason to reject one day over another as better or worse.

Sure, Jess, but…this is Halloween…the season filled with scary movies and ghost stories (which I am firmly against and probably scare easier than anyone you’ve ever met). I mean, will you let your daughter celebrate it when she’s old enough?

Yes. Absolutely.

Why am I okay with Halloween? I have three reasons:

1)    I’m an advocate for anything that spurs on creativity.

At the risk of sounding “old” – kids today don’t have enough opportunity to pretend and dream anymore. Technology has kind of robbed them of that. So why not let them have one day where they can pretend to be anything they want (within reason) without being looked at as weird/silly for dressing up. I’m so thankful that my parents always let us participate. See, they raised us to be smart and discerning and to avoid all appearance of evil. We were never allowed to be anything scary. But, I was a bunny, a waitress, a mailperson, Jean Luc Picard (ha…you’re so not getting a photo of that!), and Steve Irwin (hubs was a crocodile that year).

2)    Free candy.

If you know me, there is really no need to explain that one. Moving on…

3)    An opportunity to pray for children.

Know what? I answer the door on Halloween. *Gasp* I know. But I have one very good reason for participating and promoting trick-or-treating. The first year we owned the house, as kids trickled by, a thought struck me. How many of these kids have people in their lives that are praying for them?

I was blessed to grow up in a home where I know my parents prayed for me, and I believe those prayers made all the difference in the world for shaping me into the woman I am today. But so many children don’t have praying parents.

So I look forward to Halloween with the same glee that many people have over Christmas because I pray for every single trick-or-treater. I may not know their names. I may never see them again. But God knows who those kids dressed as the three little pigs were, I don’t need to in order to lift them up in prayer.

So come on over! I’ve got a full candy bowl and have the whole evening set aside to answer the door.

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Real life and cool finds that don’t fit elsewhere. Sidenote, I might live in the coolest city ever.

Fractured Fairy Tales?

A dragon who just wants to find love. A fair maiden who doesn’t require a hero’s assistance. A wolf more misunderstood than big and bad. Cantankerous gingerbread men. A woman who has the option to have the prince, but choses a straight-laced widower instead—starting her own business to boot. An evil Rumplestiltskin. A princess who chooses to be ugly and in love instead of beautiful with a kingdom. A wicked witch who isn’t all that wicked. A lost princess who ends up in love with a wanted criminal.

These are the things that make up today’s fairy tales, and not everyone is pleased with the change.

One of my favorite books as a child was The True Story of The Three Little Pigs. The story was told from the point of the view of the wolf (who is now in prison, unjustly). The famous day of the alleged huffing-and-puffing he was trying to bake a cake for his ailing granny and realized he didn’t have a cup of sugar. He was recovering from a nasty cold and it surely wasn’t his fault that the pigs built such crummy houses. He had to sneeze right when he went to knock on the door. And yes, of course he ate the little pigs. Who was he to leave a free meal just lying there in the rubble?

With the resurgence of shows and movies like Once Upon a Time, two Snow White retellings in theatres this summer, Shrek, Ever After, Tangled, and the musical Wicked, the fairy tale outcomes we were taught in childhood have been tossed on their heads.

My question is: Is this a bad thing?

About a week ago I listened to a radio talk show that spent an hour denouncing the latest Snow White movie, Mirror, Mirror. The talk show host argued that fairy tales were crafted and meant to stand for allegories for the Christian god. The fair maiden in need stands for humanity. The hero who always wins is Christ, and the dragon and witch pair together to form the perfect picture of evil. She claimed that these new fairy tales are messing with our subconscious. They teach our kids it’s okay to befriend bad people. They tell us that we don’t need a hero, and maybe evil isn’t as bad as we think. The host said she was scandalized when Snow White picked up a weapon to fight the bad-guy herself. Snow turned to the prince and told him that he was foolish to think she was waiting on a man to save her. *gasp*

Um, can someone throw this talk show lady a life preserver? Because she’s drowning in a sea of ridiculousness.

First, anyone who claims this statement probably hasn’t read the real fairy tales, I’m talking about the originals written by the Brothers Grimm (truly grisly reads). In these stories some of our beloved characters end up with cut off limbs, some of the heroes are down-right cruel in dishing out justice, and some of the heroines end up alone (read the real little mermaid if you want a despair-filled story that ends miserably for the heroine – the stuff of nightmares). Clearly, our radio host is referring to the Disney-fied versions of the stories. And let’s be serious, I hardly think Disney was trying to add subtle Christian themes to their movies.

Second, such thinking takes away from the excellent lessons that can be learned from these fractured fairy tales. Why is it terrible to teach a child not to judge someone by their outward appearance? Just because a man looks like a prince it doesn’t mean he’ll treat you like one, sometimes the true gentleman who will cherish you is the loveable ogre. The princess in Tangled marries a criminal, how’s that for a story of redemption? Showing the side of the character who has always been dubbed “bad” teaches children that they should weight information before making snap decisions—that there is more than one side to every story. These are valuable life skills. Teaching young girls that their only goal in life shouldn’t just be to wait around for a man is good, and teaching them to stick up for themselves instead of being Wilting-Wilmas, even better.

What about you? How do you feel about people messing with the commonly-known versions of fairy tales? How do you feel about adaptations of stories that paint the story in a different light, making our beloved hero the villain and the villain misunderstood? Do these changes assault our morals? If you see value in them, what are some examples?

Much love -Jess

Why The Hunger Games is the most “Christian” book I’ve read in a long time

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Know what drives me nuts? Prejudgment. All forms of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone prejudging another person, a situation, or a book – it makes me angry. The only thing that’s worse than prejudging, are those who rely on other’s to form their judgments for them.

Now, since I’m a writer, I’m going to stick to books for this Monday Musing. Something that really bothers me among Christians is the idea that all mainstream books must somehow be avoided. If the writer doesn’t spew forth scripture and mention the name of Jesus a minimum of sixteen times in the book, then it’s worthless.

As the Hunger Games series grew in popularity, I waited, because I knew the conservative bloggers and radio hosts were salivating to jump all over these books. And they didn’t disappoint. I read countless times: The Hunger Games is evil! Kids killing kids shouldn’t be glorified! No Christian should read these books! Keep them out of our precious children’s hands!

It was Harry Potter all over again. One radio show I heard spent an hour denouncing the books so when the question time opened, I called. I got through and I asked if anyone on the program had read the books. Silence. Then they answered no, but that they didn’t have to because they knew what it was about. I hung up and haven’t listened to the radio show since.

See, I’ve always been a big fan of using the brain the good Lord gave me.

When the Harry Potter series created a stir I read them. Know what I found? A story that teaches that love is the most powerful force on Earth. A whole series based around the fact that Harry was protected because someone loved him enough to lay down their life sacrificially for him, so that Harry might live. The Potter series is all about sacrificing yourself for others, even people you don’t like. Good triumphs evil. How were these bad messages? Aren’t these the same truths taught in the Bible?

Saint Augustine gave us the idea that all truth is God’s truth when he said, “A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though they knew God did not glorify him as God.”

Which leads me to The Hunger Games (a series so wonderfully written and captivating that it took me only four days to fly through all three books). I hear the shouts: It’s a story about kids killing each other, yes and no. Although, I’d have to ask, if it is, how is that any different or better than Aslan sending the Pevensie children into hand-to-hand battle?

For those believing this is a story that glorifies killing each other, I’ll share Katniss’ quote (who is the heroine of The Hunger Games series): “Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences. You can spin it any way you like. Snow thought the Hunger Games were an efficient means of control. Coin thought the parachutes would expedite the war. But in the end, who does it benefit? No one. The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen.” Clearly, those who miss the fact that this story is serving as a warning, miss the point entirely.

What is the Hunger Games about? Let’s see, little guy volunteers to fight and takes on insurmountable odds (and needs to kill in order to win)….huh, sounds and awful lot like David and Goliath.

I find it funny that these devote Bible-bangers somehow forget that much of the history of the old testament is that of violence and God sending people into war. Often they were instructed to slay every man, woman, and child (as well as livestock) within a city. When God sends the ten plagues, who does he come after? All the first born CHILDREN. Why? Because sometimes we only sit up and listen when terrible things happen to kids.

This is the same theme of the Hunger Games. The people of Panem have watched year after year as their ‘firstborns’ are taken away from them to die, but it’s not until one special volunteer goes to the games and bucks the system that a change in the country can happen (huh, again, oddly like little someday-to-be King David). On top of all this the character of Peeta is a perfect example of Christ-like love. A person who loves to the point of death, a love that isn’t based on the other person’s actions, emotions, or ever receiving anything in return.

And for that matter, my read through the Hunger Games series brought more self-reflection and led to more worshipful moments than any Christian book has in the last five years. I found myself constantly stopping and asking questions. If I was in the same situation what would I do? Would my character be strong enough to be like Peeta and say “If I’m going to die, I want to be me. I don’t want them to change me.”? Or would I be weak and allow circumstances to morph my moral fibers? Could I truly put others before myself, even if that meant my own demise? What does it look like to obey a leader whose actions you don’t agree with? What is true love? What characteristics make a man hero-worthy? When is rebellion allowable — or is it? Am I humble enough to accept help without feeling beholding? Could I lie to my heart for as long as Katniss did? Do I place ideals (like Gale) or people (like Peeta) first? Each instance that I found myself lacking, it drove me to my knees in prayer. It sent me searching scripture to find out what I truly believed. And it challenged me to become a better person.

I can’t name one Christian book that’s caused such thought and change to occur in my heart. Not one.

Bold statement time. I hope someday to write a YA novel engaging enough to catch the attention of mainstream teens. No, I have no aim to sell millions or have movie deals. That’s not it at all, but if I can capture the imagination and thoughts of a handful of mainstream readers, then yes, I believe that would be considered success to me.

Look at Stephanie Meyers – who wrote this way brilliantly. A read through the Twilight series doesn’t smack you in the face with the thought “this was written by a Mormon.” Not once. But you better believe that all the Mormon values are woven seamlessly through the story (purity, roles of men and women, sin, and forgiveness, afterlife). Say what you will about the poor quality of writing or the evils of vampires, it was a story that was told in an engaging enough way to capture the imagination for millions of readers. Any author worth their salt should perk up and pay attention to books that have mass followings. Not to copy (you won’t find me writing about vampires, dystopias, or wizards any time soon) but to ask yourself WHY did this touch people?

Much love -Jess

Not just another Hallmark Holiday

Like most holidays, someone had to die to make us realize something important:

The year was 270 AD, and the Roman empire had grown too large to be shielded from outside enemies, not to mention inside chaos. The emperor at the time, Claudius II, tried desperately to recruit soldiers and officers. As he searched, he found that married men were too emotionally attached to their families. So to assure the quality of his soldiers he issued an edict forbidding all marriage.

A Roman bishop, named Valentine, saw the sadness of the young people in love.  He began meeting these couples in secret locations and joining them in marriage. When Claudius heard of this “friend of those in love,” he had Valentine arrested.

The emperor was so impressed with the young priest’s dignity and conviction that he tried to convert him to the Roman gods. This would have been the only way to save Valentine from certain execution. Valentine not only refused but tried to convert Claudius to Christianity — fully aware of the consequence.  On Feb. 24, Valentine was executed.

While Valentine was imprisoned he had befriended his jailer, Asterius.  Asterius asked Valentine to heal his blind daughter.  Through Valentine’s faith, he miraculously restored the sight of this young woman. Just before his execution, Valentine asked for a pen and paper and signed a farewell wish to her “From Your Valentine,” a phrase that has lived ever after.

Valentine became a patron saint and was the reason for a yearly festival held in his honor.  The celebration involved young Roman men offering women they admired and wished to court handwritten greetings of affection on February 14. These cards all bore St. Valentine’s name.

So, I’m not going to write tomorrow off as a Hallmark holiday. Not when a man died to make us see the importance of love. To all those who touch my life, I love you.

Welcome Back!

I took a small blog vacation for Thanksgiving. Hope everyone enjoyed a good food-filled couple days. And if you are crazy enough to have gone Black Friday shopping, hope you avoided getting pepper sprayed and the whole bit. In my twenty-eight years of life I’ve yet to venture out on Black Friday, but who knows, maybe one day I’ll be tempted. I’m wondering if any of you braved the madness and if so what was worth going out for?

Matt and I spent all weekend transforming our room from college-chic (a.k.a. whatever modge podge furniture we owned before we got married that didn’t match, no bed frame, the paint that was there when we moved in, etc.) to grown-up grand.

See, you have to understand what a big deal this is to me. We’ve lived in the house for four years. For those four years we’ve stared at the walls of our powder blue master bedroom willing the color to change and when it didn’t, shooting hateful glares at the offensive color. Like so many others when we first moved in we had amazing plans to paint over the light-baby-boy-blue but life just got in the way.

Hideous blue walls…

So over the weekend we finally banished the powder blue and replaced in with a distinguished Cromwell Gray. We completed the look with big-people matching furniture. Here’s the semi-finished product (still going to put up crown molding, some paintings, and other decorations). Forgive the fact that I can’t seem to take a picture in focus.

Anyway, that was the excitement that took up my entire weekend.

The blog is back on for five days a week. Tomorrow I’m sharing my to-die-for baked potato soup, Wednesday will feature some common grammar mistakes, Thursday the usual, and Friday I’m going to review books from my two favorite authors (Robin and Susie!).

Celebrating Small Successes

There’s this creepy-crawly feeling that *I think* plagues every writer before they ever sign a novel-length contract.

Am I good at this or am I just pretending to be an author?

Clark Kent, on the desk ready for a long evening of writing.

When people ask about my life and I tell them about freelance writing and my goals I usually get an “oh, cute, you write”  *pats head.* Admitting the dream leaves me feeling like a six-year-old proclaiming I want to be a lion when I grow up or something.

So sometimes it’s the little successes that make the difference between throwing in the towel and pressing on. Those little glimmers of hope that keep me up typing late into the night and sacrificing my time spent doing other things.

Publishing the novella The Potential of Kitty Bennet was a huge boost to my writing confidence. Then this summer I worked up the nerve to submit to nationwide writing contests. I figured what did I have to lose? If the feedback came back “you suck” well, then I’d know the work ahead of me, and if it came back a different way, then I’d know to press on.

The view from my desk chair, Bruce Wayne holding down the fort. He’s with me 100% of the time when I’m writing, I suspect he’s going to angle for co-author status.

Thankfully, all the results came back the second way. I’ve finaled in all three writing competitions I entered and word came today that I won one (still waiting to find out if I’m the overall winner in the other two).

2011 Golden Pen (finalist, winner yet to be announced)

2011 Launching a Star (finalist, winner yet to be announced)

2011 Where the Magic Begins (winner!)

My plaque and ‘magic’ pin.

With that encouragement in my sails, I’ll write on.

P.S. Love in Bitterroot Valley has been retitled to Left to Chance.