fantasy author

7 Tips for Increasing Creativity

Kreativ Blogger AwardI’ve been award the Kreativ Blogger Award from one of my favorite bloggers, a sister nerd, and just an all-around nice person—Jessica O’Neal. It’s a huge honor to receive this award from her. Thank you!

As you’ve probably guessed, this award comes with some rules:

1. Thank the person who gave it to you.

2. List 7-10 random facts about yourself. I’m putting a twist on this. Since this is the Kreativ Blogger Award, I’m going to give you 7 tips for increasing creativity instead.

3. Pass the award on to 6 deserving bloggers and let them know about it.

I’d also like to thank the lovely Ingrid Schaffenburg for awarding me with the Versatile Blogger Award. If you’d like to see the seven (hopefully) interesting facts I shared about myself, please check out my Versatile Blogger post.

Now on to the promised tips…

Marcy’s 7 Tips for Increasing Creativity

Spend 30 minutes on Deviant Art. Choose three pictures that immediately inspire a story idea in your mind. Write down three to five sentences about each.

Take a nap, but not for the reason you think. Have you ever noticed how great ideas often come when you’re waking up or falling asleep? According to Dr. Sara Mednick, author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life, this is because the relaxation from napping allows your mind to form new associations and connections between ideas.

Add color to your life. Paint your nails blue or purple or orange. Chalk your hair. If you’re a man, buy a tie or a shirt in a color you wouldn’t normally wear. For some reason, adding a little bit of crazy color to your life makes you feel like a true artist and that frees you from the fear holding you back.

Be silly. Okay, here’s the deal. If I’m going to share my super-secret silly tips with you, you have to promise not to laugh at me. (I see your crossed fingers, by the way.) I have a toy drawer full of slinkies, paddleballs, bubble blowing liquid with wands…you get the idea. I also own a hula-hoop. Find what works for you, but sometimes all it takes to be more creative is to break the stress by doing something a little goofy.

Do logic problems. Logic problems are one of my guilty little addictions. I never go on a long trip without a book of puzzles to solve. They train your brain to think outside the box and make connections that aren’t instantly obvious. You can find great free logic problems with a Google search or order a book of them from Amazon for traveling.

Defend your position. Ask a friend to question your ideas and play devil’s advocate. In defending your position, you’ll be forced to think about it in more depth than before, face the flaws, and come up with inventive solutions.

Give yourself some distance when working on important projects. People who leave things to the last minute because they “work better under pressure” might actually be sabotaging their creativity. Studies summarized in Scientific American have shown that the more psychological distance you can get from a problem or challenge, the more creative your solutions will be.

What does psychological distance mean? It comes in different forms. You can distance yourself in time. You can imagine the problem belongs to someone else and come up with what you’d tell them. You can imagine a change in the geographical location either of yourself or what you’re working on. (And you know what would help with that – going to a new ethnic restaurant 😉 )

Now I have the pleasure of passing this award long.

Ginger Calem – Each week Ginger comes up with what she calls “WritersButt Wednesday” where she gives exercises, health tips, and absolutely mouth-watering recipes.

Jenny Hansen – Jenny’s More Cowbell blog is about all things more and it has a little bit of something for everyone from pregnancy advice to tech help for the technologically challenged to really shocking underwear.

Jen Kirchner – Jen started a new series this year called Sci-Fi Pin-Ups and she also has awesome game reviews for girls.

Melinda Vanlone – Melinda recently moved from a simple blog to a website, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Best of all, she designed it all herself.

Stacy Green – If you love true crime, you’ll really enjoy Stacy’s Thriller Thursdays. Sometimes the crimes were solved, but sometimes it’s still a mystery.

Emma Burcart – Emma’s blog is one of open-hearted honesty. When you go there, you feel like you’re sitting down with a friend for a much needed chat. I don’t think you can over-estimate that quality in a world where so many things seem rushed and impersonal.

What’s your favorite tip for increasing creativity? Have you tried any of the tips above?   

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What Groundhog Day Can Teach Us About Contentment

Groundhog DayImportant life lessons don’t usually come in the form of a large ground squirrel predicting the weather and a day that literally never ends.

But Groundhog Day, a 1993 movie starring Bill Murray, weaves three of the most important lessons for contentment around the story of a cynical weather man trapped in a time warp in Punxsutawney, PA, on February 2.

Phil Connors (Bill Murray) travels from Pittsburg with his cameraman and his producer Rita (Andie MacDowell) to report on what the groundhog says about the coming of spring. The problem is that every morning he wakes up and it’s still February 2. He’s the only one who realizes they’re trapped in a time loop. 

In his attempt to keep his sanity, he—like most of us—learns the hard way the three things that will allow him to be content regardless of his circumstances.

Physical pleasures might be fun for the moment, but they often end in boredom and despair. A fulfilling life requires something more.

Once Phil’s confusion wears off, he realizes that no tomorrow means no consequences, and he can do whatever he wants. He smokes, gluts himself on coffee and pastries, steals money from the bank, and has a series of one-night stands.

And at first, he’s deliriously happy. If I’m being honest, I can relate. Imagine being able to eat all your favorite foods without gaining a pound.

It’s appealing.

And destructive.

Soon the thrill wears off for Phil. The pleasures aren’t enough, and despair takes over. He tries to kill the groundhog, thinking that might be the way out. When that fails, he tries to kill himself in every conceivable way. When that fails as well, Phil takes his first small step toward being a better person. He starts to think of others instead of just of himself.

You can’t save everyone.

One of Phil’s daily errands is trying to save an old homeless man who dies. The first night Phil finds the man collapsed, he rushes him to the hospital. The man dies anyway.

The nurse tells Phil, “Sometimes people just die.”

“Not today,” he says.

Saving the old man becomes an obsession. He feeds him, performs CPR, does everything he can think of. Nothing works. It was the man’s time to die.

It’s the saddest lesson of Groundhog Day, but one of the most important, especially for me. I take in strays. When I see someone hurting or with a problem, I want to fix it. I believe in second chances. I have a difficult time giving up on or letting go of anyone.

But sometimes you have no other choice. Sometimes you’re going to lose one. If you let that loss destroy your confidence, or cause you to stop trying, you’ll also give up the chance of helping many others. Never let losing one keep you from trying.

You can’t force or trick someone into loving you. What you can do is become the person your perfect mate would naturally fall in love with.

Early in the movie, Phil calls the woman he’s kissing by Rita’s name and figures out it’s Rita he really wants. That attraction quickly grows into love because Rita is a genuinely nice person.

Unfortunately, Phil isn’t the kind of man Rita wants. He’s the exact opposite. When the movie starts, he’s cruel and selfish and egocentric. But he doesn’t want to change, so he goes on a quest to learn everything he can about Rita in the hope of convincing her to fall in love with him (or at least sleep with him).

But no matter what tactics he tries, every evening ends with Rita slapping him. Phil eventually gives up, and not being able to win her over contributes to his depression and suicide attempts.

The turning point for him comes when he realizes he doesn’t deserve her. Instead of continuing to try to trick Rita into loving him, he works on becoming the kind of man she would fall in love with. He starts to read the classics, learns how to ice sculpt, and takes piano lessons. He spends his days running around Punxsutawney, trying to make this one day perfect for all the residents, from catching a boy who falls from a tree at the same time every day to fixing a flat tire for three old ladies. He learns to love the small town and its people.

By the end of the movie, Rita falls in love with him for who he’s become–and the time loop ends because he’s learned what it really means to love.

Have you discovered one of these lessons the hard way? The most difficult lesson of the three for me is admitting I can’t save everyone. Which is the biggest struggle for you?

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Behind the Scenes: Angela Wallace and Elementals

Today I have the privilege of interviewing Angela Wallace, author of suspense-filled urban fantasy, to go behind the scenes on her Elemental Magic series. Dry Spell, the second book in the series, has just been released.

Dry Spell by Angela WallaceAileen Donovan is an elemental with magical control over water. When Aileen finds a mummified body at a scientist’s convention in Seattle, she suspects supernatural foul play. Her amateur sleuthing, however, isn’t the romantic getaway her human boyfriend, Colin, had in mind. Breaking into crime scenes and fending off black magic doesn’t really set the mood.

As more bodies turn up, Aileen’s insatiable desire to solve the mystery not only pits her against a serial killer, but also a cunning vampire lord, and an elemental agent with ulterior motives.

But the closer Aileen gets to the killer, the further she finds herself from Colin. Can she try to salvage their relationship and stop a murderer, or is she out of her supernatural league?

Welcome, Angela 🙂

Thank you for having me on your blog, Marcy!

I’m so glad you could stop by 🙂 I’ve been looking forward to your visit since I read the blurb for Dry Spell.

In your Elemental Magic series, Aileen Donovan is a water elemental, meaning she can manipulate water and communicate with sea creatures. How did you decide what special abilities to give each of the four types of elementals?

I saw four episodes of Avatar, the Last Airbender and thought that was cool. Wield a whip of water? Oh yeah. I also like limitations on powers, so Aileen’s ability to manipulate water does have to follow the laws of physics. The more she tries to go against that, the harder it becomes. Being able to talk to the animals of a specific element also ties in to your next question regarding how elementals came about.

I love the history you’ve developed—that hundreds of years ago God created the elementals to care for the earth. Where did you get the spark for this idea and how did it develop from there?

I’ve been in love with the elements ever since I went on a youth retreat where the theme was the four elements and how they were metaphors for God and spirituality. It just automatically flowed that my elementals would be stewards over their powers and the natural world. I’m a big thinker when it comes to stories, and like to have every detail and angle that I can think of covered. And though I don’t write “Christian” fiction, there are certain aspects of my faith that show through in my books, such as being created for a specific purpose.

If you could be one type of elemental, which would you choose and why?

Earth. Earth is pretty powerful because some form of it is almost everywhere. Plus, I would love not to kill my plants.  😉

You and I both 🙂 I’ve even tried naming my plants so they last longer. I’ll spare you the gory details of Miranda’s death…

Can you give us a sneak peak at the next book in the series?

Sure! I am very excited for Elemental Magic 3 because we’re getting a new main character and a new element! Nita is an earth elemental, and she’s got her hands full with a newly made werewolf, and a creature scary enough to take one down.

Excerpt:

It took me a moment to notice the sudden stillness of the clearing I had just stepped into. Not a single pine needle or blade of grass seemed to move. Everything was silent. I cocked the rifle and turned in a slow circle, watching for any disturbance in the woods. The few animal presences I detected were huddled in their holes, not moving. A predator was near. If it were a normal land animal, I would have sensed it, but since I didn’t, that left the werewolf as a strong possibility.

I knelt on the ground and braced the rifle barrel on my knee so I could hold it with one hand while I dug around in my sack with the other. I pulled out a fresh kill—goose, feathers intact—and tossed it several feet away. If he was in wolf form, he would smell the blood. With my eyes scanning the tree line and my rifle still braced on my knee, I took my free hand and dug my fingers into the soft earth. The soil hummed at my touch, thousands of tiny voices from centuries of rock and clay singing out to me. My fingers coiled around them like a lifeline. If that wolf attacked, this was my defense: my earth wielding.

Watch for it this fall.  😉

One thing that everyone always wants to know (okay, maybe it’s just something I always want to know) is why each writer chose their individual path. What made you go the route of self-publishing?

It’s kind of a long, complicated story, one I definitely see God’s direction in. Basically, I queried Elemental Magic and my other novel, Phoenix Feather, for a year each. Both racked up 20+ rejection letters. But hey, J.K. Rowling got that many, right? So no worries. I didn’t even know self-publishing (for free) existed until someone told me (that’s the long, God-had-a-hand-in-it part). I have loved it ever since. It’s more my style, my pace. I love maintaining creative control. There are a lot of pitfalls and things to learn along the way (I’m still learning hard lessons), but it’s been rewarding too.

We all love to talk about what we’d do in the case of a zombie apocalypse or other crazy disaster, but my thoughts always go to how I’d make sure my pets survived too. I know you have a go-bag for your cat in case of an emergency, so what essentials would you suggest pet owners keep packed and ready in case they need to evacuate?

Great question! And I recently learned there were a few items I was missing in that go-bag. Btw, the go-bag is the cat carrier. First, a leash and body harness. Suppose you’re stuck in a house with a wall missing, or a shelter. You can’t keep your pet locked in a carrier 24/7. A body harness works better than just a leash around the collar because it’s harder to wriggle out of. I also have a small fleece blanket stuffed inside. Finally, a Ziploc baggy of food. We probably don’t think about it, but our pets get used to the brand of food we give them. Relying on handouts from friends may not work if your pet refuses to touch a different brand. A bag of treats is also a good idea; you never know when you may need to bribe your animal into something.

That’s a great tip about a Ziploc baggy of food. Our youngest cat was one we took in as a half-starved stray, so she’ll eat anything (including green beans), but our Siamese would rather go hungry that eat a new food.

Thanks for taking the time to give us a behind the scenes peek!

Angela WallaceAngela Wallace has been penning adventures ever since she was sucked through a magical portal as a child. She has since come back down to earth, only to discover this mortal realm has magic of its own. Now she is quite at home in the world of urban fantasy, though she believes that love, faith, and hope are of a stronger magic than fire wielding and sorcery. She loves gun-toting good boys, and could have been a cop in another life except real blood makes her queasy. She’ll have to stick to solving supernatural mysteries. You can find out more about her at her Elemental Magic blog, or connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

Dry Spell is currently available as an ebook from Amazon or as a paperback from Amazon. More formats coming soon!

Which elemental would you like to be (earth, air, fire, or water)?

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Could You Be An Evil Person?

"Water" Battlestar GalacticaWe all have evil within us.

In “Water,” the second episode of Battlestar Galactica’s first season, a saboteur blows up their water tanks, forcing all the ships in the fleet to ration their water. If they don’t find water quickly, the approximately 47,000 people who are all that remains of humanity will die.

They send out pairs of pilots to survey nearby planetary systems for water. One by one, the teams report back—negative for H2O.

Finally, only one team remains. Lieutenant Sharon “Boomer” Valerii and her electronic countermeasures officer, Crashdown, check the planets in their assigned zone.

“Still nothing,” Crashdown says. “And more nothing.”

The screen in front of Sharon flashes the words Positive for H2O. “I’ve got nothing here either,” she says, despite the results on her monitor. She blinks in confusion as her mind can’t make sense of what’s going on.

What we know, but Sharon doesn’t, is that she’s the one who destroyed the water tanks. She’s a Cylon sleeper agent programmed to believe she’s human. During the gaps in her memory, she’s planting explosives and letting other Cylons infiltrate the fleet.

Crashdown notices the strange tone in her voice.

“What’s on your mind, Boomer?” he asks.

“I don’t know. I have this feeling. Let’s run that sweep again.”

The screen flashes positive a second time, and Sharon hesitates. She tells Crashdown, “I’m having trouble saying it.”

You can see the battle between good and evil, human and Cylon, warring across her face. What she knows to be right, the love she has for her friends back on Galactica, wrestles with something deep within her that she can’t name, something dark and hateful and destructive.

Her hand slides down toward the explosives taped beside her seat. Her fingers tremble, hovering over the detonator.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe that humans are basically good or basically evil. When you bring both views down to their common denominator, we all have evil within us.

It’s easy to convince ourselves that, because we don’t steal or abuse or murder, we’re free from evil. But I do things I’m ashamed of. I’ve selfishly put my own desires ahead of someone else’s more than once. In the heat of an argument, I’ve said unkind, even cruel, things. And I struggled for years with a heart full of hatred for the drunk driver who killed my best friend. I wanted him to suffer. I wanted him to feel the pain that everyone who loved my friend felt at losing her.

Evil isn’t always big and flashy like a Cylon basestar come to blow up your ship. Sometimes it sneaks around in the dark and hides under the seats. And when we refuse to admit we could do something evil, the same way Sharon couldn’t accept that she might be a Cylon, that’s when we’re most vulnerable.

Having the potential to be evil is part of being alive. What matters is that, every day, every second, we fight it.

In the end, Sharon slowly pulls her hand away from the explosives and manages to tell Crashdown they’ve found water. She overcomes her programing—the inherent evil within her. She fought and she won. She’ll face more battles, but that day, in that fight, good prevailed.

Do you think evil is most dangerous when we think we’re immune to it? What helps you win the daily battle between good and evil?

Never watched Battlestar Galactica before? Find out why it’s not just for sci-fi fans.

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How to Keep Strong Female Characters Likeable

A few weeks ago, I asked “What Do We Mean by Strong Female Characters?” and argued that a female character doesn’t have to deny traditionally feminine qualities to be strong.

But what if you need to write a physically strong woman with few of those traditionally feminine qualities?

Sometimes a story does call for this type of female character. In the novel I’m working on with my co-writer, Lisa Hall-Wilson, our main female character is an Amazon. She’s been raised to hate men and to see all signs of femininity as weakness. If we allow her too many feminine qualities (at least in the beginning), we’ll undermine the believability of her society and her character.

Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games is a great example of this as well, as is Kara “Starbuck” Thrace in Battlestar Galactica.

Katniss doesn’t want children. She’s more at home in the woods hunting than she is helping her mother nurse others. And she’s placed into a situation where it’s kill or be killed.

Starbuck is a fighter pilot who needs to be tough in order to get respect and survive. Her commander assigns her emotionally grueling tasks like interrogating (i.e., torturing) prisoners and assassinating a dangerous superior officer.

So how do you make sure this type of female character is still likeable?

Unfortunately, most of us can’t relate to this type of woman. She’s not like us. She’s not like our mothers or our best friends or our significant others. And when we feel like we have nothing in common with someone, it makes them difficult to like. If your reader doesn’t like your main character at all, that spells death for your story.

As writers, we have to do a little extra work to give that common ground if we’re creating a strong female character who denies traditional feminine qualities.

Answer the question “What made her this way?”

When Katniss’ father died in a mining accident, her mother sunk into a deep depression. Katniss had to feed and care for herself and her younger sister. She had to be the “man of the house.” She didn’t really have a choice. Her world dictated how she feels about motherhood as well. Why would she want to have children when they could be reaped for the Games and killed?

The writers of Battlestar Galactica also recognized the need to explain how Starbuck became so hard. We get glimpses of Starbuck’s abusive mother, one who told her daughter that she was weak and a failure, and who beat Starbuck so often that she came to believe pain was a way of life.

In showing how Katniss and Starbuck became who they are, the writers allowed us to sympathize with them, even pity them. And as the old English proverb says, “Pity is akin to love.”

NOTE: I’ve had to remove the rest of this post because it’s now a part of my book Strong Female Characters: A Busy Writer’s Guide. You can buy a copy at Amazon, Amazon.ca, Kobo, or Smashwords. They’ll be available in more places soon!

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The Evolution of the Phoenix by Alica McKenna-Johnson

Alica McKenna-JohnsonToday I welcome guest poster Alica McKenna-Johnson. Alica writes about snarky girls, kind boys, and the adults trying to keep them alive. After day dreaming for the first thirty years of life, Alica finally began writing her stories down, much to the delight of her readers. As Alica sits in her armchair at home dreaming of traveling the world, her diverse characters explore for her, listening to music, seeing the sights, and eating exotic foods.

****************************************************************************************************************

Marcy asked me why I choose phoenixes for my YA paranormal Phoenix Child. I’ve loved phoenixes since I was a child. It went along with my love for all things Russian. Not only are phoenixes beautiful, but to me, they’re one of the most magical and regal of the mythical creatures. Not to mention how fun it’s been researching all of these myths from around the world.

The myths include a lot of variety. The phoenixes they talk about come in different sizes and colors, and their powers vary, which gave me a lot of freedom while not having to veer too far from the myths. I also looked for ways the stories matched up. For example, in China and South America, there are similar stories about four brothers, but only the Chinese tale includes a Phoenix. The South American story simply mentions a “red brother,” so I made him a phoenix.

In Phoenix Child, my heroine, Sara, is a Child of Fire—a modern girl descended from a phoenix king and queen who lived on Earth 4,000 years ago. The Children of Fire have different abilities evolved from the phoenix king’s original powers. For example, in myths, the phoenix has a magical voice. I turned this into his descendants having the ability to influence people with their words. They’re also talented in singing and understanding foreign languages, and are able to read and write in any language.

I did this with all the various phoenix gifts of healing, fire, immortality, and psychic abilities, which gives my characters a rich variety of powers. So with a little tweaking and artistic creative license (or what I like to call amazing writing 😉 ), I’ve created a world based strongly in legends from around the world that works for my novels.

And one of the great things about writing a series is I get to have tons of magical creatures in my books. Book one takes place in California, where Sara meets unicorns, fairies, and beings from Native American myths. In book two, which I don’t have a title for yet, they travel to Argentina and Peru, which have some really fun mythical creatures to play with such as shape shifters, different types of fairies, and dwarf-like creatures, and the gods and goddesses of Aztec stories. In book three, which I just started, they will be in Great Britain. While I don’t know all the magical creatures I’ll use, there will definitely be selkies. Maybe even selkies in kilts 🙂

When you read a fantasy do you prefer a story that sticks closely to the original mythology or do you like when the writer adds a twist or reinvents the original myths and legends?

Phoenix Child by Alica McKenna-JohnsonPhoenix Child—Sara’s dream is to find her family but she doesn’t count on discovering magical creatures or catching on fire. On her fourteenth birthday a surprise inheritance changes her appearance, abilities, and identity. Welcomed into the family of the Phoenix she is taught to use her new powers. Will Sara embrace being a Child of Fire or will the evil that killed her parents destroy her as well?

You can buy Phoenix Child on Smashwords or Amazon, and connect with Alica on her website or on Twitter or Facebook.

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Why I’m Changing Up My Blog

Marcy Kennedy's BlogI’ll be making some changes to my blogging schedule starting April 1, 2012.

As many of you already know, I think Kristen Lamb and her WANA (We Are Not Alone) methods are the smart road for writers to take when it comes to balancing the load of writing and platform building while still making time to live your life.

In her post Sacred Cow Tipping – More Common Blogging Misconceptions, Kristen points out two pitfalls we often fall into as new writer-bloggers. We feel we need to have separate blogs for separate topics and we give all our energy to a group blog at the expense of our own. I did both these things, and I was burning myself out, leaving little time for my novel or my life away from my computer.

Lisa Hall-Wilson and I have absolutely loved the year and a half we gave to Girls With Pens, and we don’t regret a moment of it. But it’s time for us to take the next step. We will no longer be blogging at Girls With Pens. (We’re also not getting rid of it entirely—read on.)

So with Girls With Pens shutting down, instead of posting here Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (which I have been), I’ll be posting Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Instead of having separate blogs for separate topics, I’ll be loosely grouping my topics into days. If you’re only interested in one of the topics, I won’t be offended if you ignore the others 🙂

Mondays will be where fantasy, science fiction, and real life collide in posts like Who’s Your Unicorn and The Lie of Helen of Troy.

Wednesdays will be devoted to posts on writing, editing, platform building, and blogging like 6 Grammar Mistakes that Will Cost You Readers and What Do We Mean By “Strong Female Characters?” If you’ve also been following Girls With Pens, you already know what to expect on these days. I’m simply moving locations.

Friday will be the new day for interviews with fantasy and science fiction authors to help you pick your next weekend read, behind the scenes looks at the worlds within the books (like my Bertie Botts posts), v-logs, and mash-ups.

I’ll still be bringing you excellent guest posters, but they won’t have a set day.

What about Girls With Pens? Even though we’re shutting down the blog, you can sign up for our monthly Girls With Pens newsletter where we’ll be bringing you interviews with industry professionals.

I hope that you’ll sign up for my blog here, and if you’d like to hangout online, you can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. I’m also on Pinterest, and would love to have you follow my boards and get a chance to see your boards in return.

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The Missing Hunger Games Line

The Hunger Games movie posterEven though I loved The Hunger Games movie that released Friday, I couldn’t help but notice that the screenwriters left out one of the most important lines in the book.

The night before the Games begin, Katniss finds Peeta on the roof of their hotel, watching the Capitol celebrate.

Peeta tells her, “I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.”

This makes no sense to Katniss. In the book, she replies by telling him to care about staying alive, and in the movie, she explains that she can’t afford to think that way. Although that particular line wasn’t in the book, it was a perfect addition because that’s the way things are in District 12, where Katniss lives. Thinking of what might be only leads to disappointment. You have no chance of bettering your situation, nothing you do changes anything significant, and the best you can hope for is to survive.

And that’s the best she hopes for from the Arena as well. Only one of the twenty-four who compete comes out alive. To Katniss, any expectation that something might change this year would be futile.

Yet it’s Katniss who, by the end of the book, thumbs her nose at the Capitol and forces them into allowing two winners of the Hunger Games for the first time ever. And over the next two books, it’s Katniss who, without even meaning to, ignites a revolution and changes her world.

She learns one person can make a difference.

I’m not sure whether the scriptwriters missed this theme running underneath all the books or whether they didn’t catch the line that brings out the deepest facet of it, but in Chapter 7 of The Hunger Games, Peeta and Katniss are arguing about which of them has the better chance of survival and of getting sponsors. Each believes it’s the other.

Peeta turns to Haymitch (their mentor) in exasperation and says, “She has no idea. The effect she can have.”

They left this line out of the movie, and without this line, part of the message is missing.

Not only can one person make a difference, but sometimes we make a difference in others’ lives without even knowing it.

Katniss didn’t set out to change the world. She just did what was right and change followed. She had no idea of the chain of events her seemingly small actions would cause.

It works the same way in real life.

When I was twelve, the boy who sat behind me in class would ask me to explain all our school work to him. I dreaded feeling that pesky tap-tap on my shoulder. When I finally lost my temper, he confessed—he couldn’t read. Somehow he’d slipped through the cracks, dismissed as either stupid or lazy, when he wasn’t either.

So I taught him (and felt guilty about snapping at him). At the time, I didn’t think it was anything important, but a couple years later, I overheard him telling a teacher how much I’d helped him and how much it meant to him.

I treasure that memory. So often I struggle with feeling insignificant and like nothing I do really matters, and that memory helps remind me that I won’t always know how something small I did positively affected someone else. If I hadn’t overheard, I would never have known I made a difference.

We’re not all destined to be famous leaders or world-changers, but that doesn’t mean we’re not making a difference in the individual lives we touch, sometimes when we least realize it, often just by doing the right thing. And that too is important.

Do you ever struggle with feeling like what you do doesn’t matter? Has someone made a difference in your life, probably without realizing it?

(If you’re looking for a movie review of The Hunger Games, Karen Rought at The Midnight Novelist has a mostly spoiler-free version, and Jessica O’Neal–the sexy little nerd–does a great job of analyzing the actors and the flow of the movie.)

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Wrath of the Titans

Set to release next Friday, March 30, Wrath of the Titans is the sequel to Clash of the Titans (2010) starring Sam Worthington and Liam Neeson.

Ten years after he defeated the Kraken, Perseus is trying to live in peace with his young son. Unfortunately, the gods have been so weakened by humanity’s lack of devotion that they’ve lost control of the imprisoned Titans. Perseus’ grandfather, Kronos, one of the Titans, plots to capture Zeus (Perseus’ father). Perseus must go on a quest to rescue Zeus, defeat the Titans, and save the world.

Does anyone plan to see Wrath of the Titans when it comes out next weekend? Do you think it will live up to Clash of the Titans?

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Does Thank You Mean We Forget? – Dealings with Fairies

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, his laugh broke into a million pieces, and they all went skipping about. That was the beginning of fairies.”The Little White Bird (1902) by J. M. Barrie (creator of Peter Pan)

Disney has fairies all wrong.

Disney and other modern renderings make fairies young, tiny, beautiful, winged. They’re playful and sweet. In the game my best friend’s daughter plays, they care for plants and animals. Every little girl wants to meet a fairy.

But it wasn’t always that way. In ancient Ireland and Scotland, fairies were feared. They stole babies, misled travelers, and kidnapped people, only to return them years later, after all their loved ones were dead. Fairies belonging to the Unseelie Court enjoyed causing misfortune to humans, including paralysis and mysterious illness, simply for the fun of it. Even the more-benevolent fairies of the Seelie Court were still dangerous if angered or offended.

Folklore focuses more on protection from fairies than it does their appearance. The most common means of warding off their malice were decorating with cold iron like a horseshoe, planting rowan bushes (small mountain ash trees) by your doorway, and keeping charms made of gorse, rosemary, dill, and St. John’s Wort under your pillow or around your neck. You didn’t seek fairies out. Instead, you avoided places where they might congregate and all chances of giving offense.

And if a fairy did you a good turn, you were never, ever, under any circumstances, to thank them. Fairies believed that, if you thanked them, it meant you’d forget the good deed they’d done for you.

I wonder if they weren’t at least partly right.

I’ve done it—said thank you, moved on, and never thought about the help I received again. But if I so easily forget, I have to wonder if I was ever truly grateful at all. So even though I think thanking people is still important and polite, I’ve been trying to come up with ways to put the meaning back into it.

Revive the Art of Thank-You Notes

I’ve heard this advice over and over again, but I’ve often dismissed it as old-fashioned—until I thought about why thank-you notes are perfect…and why they’ve largely fallen by the wayside.

Writing a thank-you note costs you time, money, and effort. It takes longer to select a card, write out a message by hand, address the envelope, and take it to the post office than it does to send off an email, Facebook message, or tweet. True gratitude should cost us something.

Writing thank-you notes properly is also an art form unto itself. My mom was mortified when I hadn’t sent out all the thank-you notes for my wedding gifts within the month after my wedding, but I wanted to take the time to do them right. For each gift, I wanted to choose a specific reason I appreciated the gift and what I liked about it rather than sending out a generic “Thanks for the glasses. I’m sure we’ll use them.” In writing a good thank-you note, we’re forced to think deeply about what the other person has done for us.

Praise Publicly

Public praise gives something back. I don’t believe in doing favors just so someone will do a favor for me in return (that’s selfish). I do believe that, if someone has done something lovely for me, I should try to help them out as well, even if it’s just through putting a smile on their face by letting others know what a great person they are.

Pay It Forward by Doing a Favor for Someone Else

Hold open a door. Bring your co-worker a coffee. Call up a friend and offer to run an errand for them. Each time we do something for a new person, it reminds us of the times others have done something nice for us too. In a way, it makes their good deed immortal.

Do you think we sometimes say thank you by rote and too easily forget what’s been done for us? What other creative ways can you think of to express true gratitude?