Behind the Scenes 6 - YA Fantasy Showdown

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Downed Dragon by John Powell [How To Train Your Dragon soundtrack].

Today I want to touch a little on the real Hunger Games, the ones Suzanne Collins created. When I said I wanted to do the YA Fantasy Showdown in part to honor the series she created, I didn't realize how wrong that could be taken. Thankfully no one has said anything like this but the thought occurred to me.

There is nothing "celebratory" in Suzanne Collins Hunger Games. She took all of the shiny and "fun" of epic fighting and squashed all of that away, obliterating the glamor and supposed glory from it. Instead she left us with something far more real. And real can be a scary thing.

Anyone who knows a little of the history of how the Hunger Games series came to be knows it started when she was flipping between a war documentary and a reality tv show. It was late at night and slowly the lines between the two began to blur...

In her series, she doesn't make the fighting of her stories fun or something to revel in. It is something gruesome and real with real consequences. Children have to kill other children. People die, and you rarely get to hear their last dying words as they cough them out while the main character lovingly holds them in their arms. They get stabbed through with a spear in front of their eyes and that is the end of them. Sometimes you don't ever know what happens to them. No romance exists in it. I admire and applaud her writing it this way. It changes it from a simple action-adventure story into something with complexities, depth, and substance. Which is why I can see how something like the showdown could be taken as a mockery of everything the Hunger Games was meant to be.

It pits good characters against each other just to see what happens.

It is funny and sometimes absurd.

It relishes in the characters and their fighting styles.

Which makes it important to show the differences between the two and their intents. The Hunger Games took off the rose-colored glasses of the romantic view of what fighting is like and made it something terrible and beautiful. The showdown was meant to show what kind of amazing stories exist in this genre. It is meant to be an honor, a homage, and a celebration of them by bringing them together, highlighting everything that makes them unique and wonderful and showcasing them in a fun and fantastic way.

Neither is wrong. They are just different in their approach and intent. And that is something important to recognize. Because one thing I love about The Hunger Games is that besides being great reading, it makes you really think.

I'm ALIVE!!!

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Outside the City by Young Galaxy.

Hey guys. Thanks for your well wishes. I'm almost back to a full tank, so to speak. I can see straight at least, and I call that good in my book. :) A squee-fest for Mockingjay is soon in order, but first I have a lot to still wrap-up on the most epic YA Fantasy Showdown (I can't thank you guys enough. You made it so wonderful and a veritable joy to do). And there is of course the big question bouncing around everywhere of

Is there going to be another one?

So it looks like the party is going to continue all through next week. Any maybe a giveaway. Who knows. I'll see ya there. Have a fantastic weekend everyone!

Radio Silence...

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Must Be Dreaming by Frou Frou (yes, I picked that one on purpose).

Hello everyone! Congratulations on the YA Fantasy Showdown! You guys truly are the ones that made it that incredible. I can't thank you enough for that.

However. Because of two weeks of almost non-stop writing, brain-wracking, html-ing, emailing, messenging, organizing, and the like, I am now (quite literally) shaky without sleep. And yes, I was insane enough to go to a midnight release party (how could I not?), but am now so tired because of all this, I cannot read the book. Yes, I do believe this is the very definition of irony.

So! I will be on radio silence until I finish Mockingjay and catch up on a millennium's worth of sleep (rip van winkle, where've you been buddy?!). But I will be back. There are a few more wrap up posts to do for the YA Fantasy Showdown, and still more adventures to come.

Oh, and...


*squees and runs around*

*promptly passes out from expending the energy*

Behind the Scenes 5 - YA Fantasy Showdown (Feature Fun Friday Edition)

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Iris by Goo Goo Dolls.

I can't believe I'm doing this. I really can't believe I'm doing this. I'm pressed for time and I need a Hunger Games-based video (I mean really, I can't NOT put one up when Mockinjay releases in FOUR DAYS). The trailers don't thrill me, and I did interviews with Suzanne Collins last year...

*shakes fists at the internet gods*

So.. you get to see a video of... me. Really. For those of you who don't know, I invent recipes. Call it a hobby of mine or some weird affliction. I took two years of pre-professional cooking classes, and I have been creating recipes since I was six (no joke. Ask my mom). So I like to invent recipes in honor of books. And the first book everyone decided on when I opened this up to the great voice of the internet? You got it. The Hunger Games.

And it was also DEMANDED I dress up in my Halloween costume as Katniss *facepalm* So for your viewing pleasure/pure laughter is my first vlog ever, detailing how to make Katniss' favorite meal from the Capitol - the Lamb and Plum stew. (I'll also include the recipe below, in case anyone wants to make this for a HG party).


This is why I don't write blog posts at 11:30 at night. I get into trouble. Enjoy, everyone! My humiliation isn't all that bad. Really...

And the recipe!

Lamb and Plum Stew

1/2 large onion, cut
1 Tb olive oil
1 lb lamb, cubed (stew meat or neck meat) -
it all depends if you want to cut around bones or not. Neck meat is cheaper, but more time consuming.
2 tsp red wine vinegar

2 C water
1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
10-13 dried pitted plums (prunes)
3-4 large carrots, sliced
1/4 (more) onion, cut
*3-4 potatoes, cubed (with or without skin)
*1 stalk celery - optional
1/2 large red bell pepper, cut
salt - to taste
pepper - to taste
rosemary - 1 Tb
*(cinnamon) - optional, to taste
(I'd recommend 1/4 tsp if you want to try it)

Plum Gravy:

Juices from the stew
Additional water (as needed)
Flour (1/4 C to start is usually a good place)
Salt and pepper - to taste
1/4-1/2 C prune juice (start with 1/4 C. Be careful not to make it too sweet. Lots of tasting is involved in this step).

Pour the olive oil and cut onions into a saucepan. Turn on the heat to med-low and stir around until they are soft and translucent (caramelizing). Turn the heat to med-high. Add the meat and red wine vinegar. Brown the sides of the meat quickly. Do not allow it to cook all the way through. This is called searing the meat. It will help seal in the juices. Put into a crock pot.

Add the water (to help keep it moist and makes for more juices for the gravy), brown sugar, dried plums, rosemary, salt and pepper. Keep it on low for 4-5 hours. Have fun waiting. Learn to knit or something. :)

Three hours before you are ready to eat, add the carrots, potatoes, the remainder of the 1/4 of an onion, red bell peppers, and celery (optional). Also add the cinnamon if you are going to at this time (optional).

When you are ready to eat, it is time to make the gravy. In a small pot, start heating the prune juice. This is to boil of some of the water and to condense the flavor. In another pot, suck up all of the juices from the stew (yummy). Add flour in small amounts, by the teaspoon, and whisk like crazy. Try to make it smooth and keep it from clumping. Depending on how much stew juices you have, you may have to add water to help supplement it, or to thin it out if the gravy has become too thick. Add salt and pepper. Add the now-boiling prune juice. Taste and tweak until it is the desirable mixture of sweet and savory. Pour back in with the meat. Stir and serve. You can also pour it over a bed of "wild rice" if you so desire (that part is in the book if you want to be really authentic).**

Congratulations! You just made The Hunger Games Lamb and Plum Stew!

You will notice a common phrase ringing throughout this. To taste. That is because this really is a personal exploration. You get to decide what you will like best. From the infamous words of Barbossa the pirate. "These are more guidelines, that actual rules." :)

Hoped you liked it!

*not in the original video. You need the potatoes though.

**rice needs to be cooked 20 minutes before you are ready to eat if you are taking this option.

Behind the Scenes 4 - YA Fantasy Showdown

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Shut Your Eyes by Snow Patrol.

Things I've Loved about the YA Fantasy Showdown So Far...

The Comments - There have been some amazing, insightful, and fierce comments so far. I really think that has been one of the best parts of this entire tournament. More than the battles, more than the votes, it's YOU engaging and being engaged, having new worlds opened up to you and connecting with fellow readers and lovers of bookish-type stuff. Reading is predominantly a very solitary activity and to see people bust out and bust a move like this is quite frankly, fun. I love it.

The Passion - Wow, you guys have some SERIOUS hardcore love for these characters. Many answers were logical and well thought out, others were more, shall we say, primal. :) And by the way, any of you who voted against a favorite character because you were thinking of who would really win, you get double brownie points in my book.

The Results - Sure, we predict the battles, and write them out for fun, but everyone knows (or hopefully knows) its all only meant as fun. To write accurate battles between any of these two characters would take weeks of preparation and careful writing and rewriting (and rewriting...). That being said, I've been shocked more than once on who some of the winners have been. Some have been insanely close, and others, the wide margin is jaw-dropping. It was enough to make me click refresh more times than a button that said "free chocolate". Heck, people were voting within MINUTES after I uploaded a new round. You people made me lose an extra half hour of sleep, you know, because I just *had* to see if there was a new vote in. Shame, shame on you. :)

The Community - YA (and all children's lit in general) is like the ultimate secret club that everyone is invited to. Seeing so many people come together for this is... incredible. I'm at a loss for words. Again, reading is solitary, but to come together and see your favorite place has been visited by thousands of others and that you have kindred spirits out there, that's powerful. I have been losing sleep and sanity (ah, who am I kidding? That was lost long ago) with this thing, but it has been so worth it. But no, you still don't get to see a picture of me until like, a month after this thing is over.

And perhaps more important,

The Finding - When you found a new book you'd never heard of before, when the chance at a new world was opened up to you, that filled me with real joy. If you took nothing else away from this, that would be enough. It would be more than enough, by far.

Behind the Scenes 3 - YA Fantasy Showdown

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Gravity by Vienna Teng.

Simon (The Mortal Instruments)
Ender (Ender's Game)
Moriboto (Moriboto)
Maximum Ride (Maximum Ride)
Rose Hathaway (Vampire Academy)
Tobias (Animporph's series)

These are just a few of the names being thrown around among the characters we've "forgotten" to include in this YA Fantasy Showdown. So why didn't your favorite character X not make it into the tournament?

Well, for a couple reasons, most likely.

Equality - Keeping everything even between boys and girls was a challenge in its own right. There are a ton of awesome, strong female characters that are necessarily fighters. I'm thinking of Dashti from Shannon Hale's Book of a Thousand Days (or Miri from Princess Academy), Ella from Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted, Sophie from Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle, or Mitsuko from Kara Dalkey's Little Sister.

There was also the problem with them being in the same series as another competitor. Such was the case with Lirael (from the Abhorsen Chronicles) or Yelena (from Maria Snyder's Study books) who otherwise would have most assuredly been in. So, besides having to be a fighter, there were a ton of great male characters that had to be looked over because we wanted it to be even.

Variety - Besides being gender equal, we wanted to make it as diverse as a group as possible. Because really, fantasy is all about the possibility, and for the life of my I have no idea why it is so hard to find the kind of diversity that exists our world in a fantasy setting. Did you know that Eugenides has dark skin? Same with Ged? Eona, Ai Ling, and Goranu are all Asian (the two former being an AU Chinese and Goranu being Japanese). Even our dear Katniss is described as having olive skin and black hair. In fantasy, anything is possible, and we wanted to show that meant anyone can be a hero as well.

This variety also pertained to showing just how diverse fantasy can be. We wanted to include sci-fi, traditional sword and sorcery, magic, non-magic, old school, new releases. We wanted to cover the gamut of just how cool this genre is.

Not Fantasy - Nothing personal. They probably would have died half a minute into the battle, if that. Think the opening of the Hunger Games with the cornucopia. Just like with the freakishly awesome girl characters not represented, it goes back characters that could survive a battle. Some of my well loved characters in fantasy, Like Jonah from The Giver, are not on here because, well, they'd have a target painted on their head.

I'm sure there's a few more, but gotta run so I can check up on the stats and you know, start writing the next round soon. Yipee! :) (and no, there is no way anyone is seeing a picture of me until at least a week after this thing is over. I have such dark bags under my eyes I look like the creature from the black lagoon, and it's a miracle I'm not stuttering when I talk). More behind-the-scenes coming soon!

Behind the Scenes 2 - YA Fantasy Showdown

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Discombobulate by Hans Zimmer [Sherlock Holmes soundtrack].

I thought this would be a little fun because several people have already asked "why didn't so-and-so make it?" Don't worry, we'll get to that in another behind-the-scenes post. But here is something to show you the kind of work and thinking that went into this. Because it wasn't just randomly thrown together. Much planning and scheming and mustache twirling abounded. Promise. (okay, except for maybe the mustache part).

I wanted this to show the breadth and incredible range of YA literature, and that in fantasy, everyone has a chance to do something awesome, to play nice and kick butt equally, so to speak. So part of the challenge was to decide how to represent that kind of scope. Here are some stats you might not have realized that went into the weighing process of who would compete.

Stats of the battles:

Number of competitors: 32
Male: 16
Female: 16 (This was a complaint many had in the Suvudu Cage Matches, and something I was adamant about keeping equal)
Number of characters per series: 1
Authors with multiple characters competing: 1 (It's Diana Wynne Jones. She has Howl and Chrestomanci both, and is the only author to have two characters represented)
Boy-Boy fights: 5
Girl-Girl fights: 5
Boy-Girl fights: 6 (I love how that worked out)
Characters of ethnicity: 6 (Ged, Eugenidies, Ai Ling, Goranu, Katniss, Eona)
Children fighters: 3 (Nobody Owens, Kendra Sorenson, and Thorgil)
Characters with dragons: 3
Characters with magic: 9 (Roughly. It depends on your definition of "magic")
Sword wielders: 16
Sci-fi characters: 4
Old school characters (pre-1980): (Aragorn, Ged, Lessa, Westley, Edmund, and Christopher - barely)

Behind the Scenes 1 - YA Fantasy Showdown

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): All the Right Moves by One Republic.

Today has been mind blowing. Literally. I had to be scooped off the floor a couple of times. I never imagined the kind of response that has happened for the YA Fantasy showdown. It is going on hot, and some of the battles are insanely close. Others have completely taken me by surprise. It. Is. Awesome.

So, to begin this insanity venture (because, really that is what this is. Never underestimate the kind of work it takes to put something like this together, or the kinds of problems that can rear their ugly heads. Murphy and me? Yeah, we are well acquainted by now. He might as well be living on my couch), so we'll start by looking at the progression of just some of the notes that ended up on paper because I couldn't keep all of it straight in my head.*

You can even see some of the notes I took trying to lay out the logistics of how to make the battles work.

Here is a note for the Eugenides vs. Westley battle.

And another side note to myself.

This was another tricky one, listing all of the capabilities of the characters to see who might actually win. This is for Ai Ling vs. Nobody Owens (look, I even made a mention that she likes food. :) Couldn't figure out how to weave that into the battle though...)

(p.s see those cute little doodles on the side? Those are for a character of mine I'm writing. I needed to find sanity somehow). :)

If you look closely you will be able to see A LOT of changes happened throughout this whole process.

For example:

-Edmund Pevensie was not in the original lineup at all. (Yes, I know, a travesty on my part. I don't know where my brain was at all).

-The dates. This was a recent change, haha, actually last night. I realized I had miscalculated the final battle. I had basically four hours to write it because there was no break in between the second-to-last fight and the final round. That was not an easy thing to rearrange at 11:30 PM last night. Sleep and me are buds. I missed my bed dearly. Because we're tight like this.

-Originally it was going to be Harry from Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword and not Aerin from The Hero and the Crown, but Beth put up a very convincing argument why it should be Aerin (I mean, dragon killer against unicorn killer? Can you get cooler than that?)

-There were originally 36 competitors and eighteen rounds. Genius girl here didn't do the math until AFTER she'd sent the invites to all the authors and publicists and realized in the third round there was a person with no one to fight. *facepalm* Yeah... turns out tournaments stacking is a very delicate science. It's almost an art. So, four people had to be cut, and that was brutal for me and the others to decide.

I really wish I had the original sticky note where I wrote down all the potential characters on it. I'll see if I can think of some contenders that were on there that didn't quite make it off the top of my head

Thomas - James Dashner's The Maze Runner
Ender Wiggins - Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series
Paul Atreides - Frank Herbert's Dune
Lirael - Garth Nix's Abhorsen trilogy (I really wanted to include her, but alas, only one character per series).
Yelena - Maria Snyder's Poison Study (couldn't include her for the same reasons, though her gymnastic skills would have been awesome to see in action).

But a lot were really close. Deciding who made it in was hard. That was probably two weeks of planning alone. Then trying to pair them up so they were evenly matched? Hoo boy.

So there you have it. A first day's glimpse. But there is still a lot more to come. Now get back out there and advocate for your favorite character. :)

* Good luck reading my handwriting. No, seriously.

Whoa. Looking for other words... Nope, not finding them.

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Final Countdown by Europe.


Okay, as most of you know, I'm heading up the YA Fantasy Showdown and here is where you come for any secret, behind-the-scenes "insider" information. Seriously, what better way to (barely) bide the time until Mockingjay comes out than to have some of the coolest, most hardcore, and beloved characters in YA Fantasy duke it out in a battle of the ultimates? I thought it was an awesome idea. But I had no idea so many other people would think so too.

The word is abuzz and it's positively terrifying.

I may need a whole lot of chocolate for this.

So, without further ado, a video you've probably already seen, but at this point I can't do anything that isn't Hunger Games-themed. Plus I missed Feature Fun Friday. So here is the best fan video of the Hunger Games I could find. Watch and enjoy while I run off and make sure everything is pretty, perfect and ready to go. And I may have to check and see if everything is cinched down tight. Because things are about to bust loose in a few hours.

Batten down the hatches. This is going to be a bumpy ride. :)

*whooshes off*

Mockingjay Release Parties All the Way

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Psychological Recovery... 6 Months by Hans Zimmer [Sherlock Holmes soundtrack].

Since my excitement for Mockingjay is reaching near core meltdown levels, I thought the best way to channel this insane amount of energy was to find a suitable midnight release party for myself. Seemed pretty straightforward. I immediately go to my favorite indie local bookstore, and my jaw drops. Nothing. They are giving away books streetside in the wee hours of the morning. But no midnight release? I was reeling. I was a bit woozy. I needed to chocolate to steady myself.

So, slightly more frantic, I search for any midnight releases in my area. There are only three in a 100 mile radius. The travesty! So, in my shell-shocked state I decided to create a list of all the events I can find, to see if I can piece together the ULTIMATE release party for anyone wanting to make their own, now or later. :)

(These are taken from actual events being hosted in bookstores and libraries across the nation)

-Mock Hunger Games, with a real cornucopia of Nerf weapons
-Break into districts and defend your district competitions
-Cornucopia Pinatas
-Plant identification
-Cupcake Decorating (from Peeta's Family Bakery)
-Hunting and Foraging for Supplies treasure/scavenger hunt
-Tribute Preparation Stations to help you survive the Hunger Games
-Hunger Games Trivia tests
-Costume Contest for Capitol or District characters
-Free pizza (who doesn't love pizza?)
-Archery contests - Nerf style
-Breaking into groups, draw names from a have and have 20 min to dress a tribute
-Make your own Mockingjay pin
-Face Painting and Camouflage techniques
-Magic and Tattoo art
-Jugglers and Street Performers
-A frickin' CLIMBING WALL and obstacle course at one library!
-A Cinna-inspired fashion design contest
-Hair-styling tip station
-(At 21 and colder parties - Haymitch signature cocktails)
-Pre-ordering from a certain bookstore comes with a Silver Parachute District Gift (can I say "HECK YEAH!"?).

And a link with ever more ideas at Youth Services Corner

Happy Hunger Gaming. Remember, the YA Fantasy Showdown is in 5 days!

A Tournament of HUNGER GAMES Proportions

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now) Such Great Heights by The Postal Service.

*Bum bum bum!* (Yes, that is epic, "big reveal" music in the background).

Are you ready to finally find out about this thing that has been in the works for four months and has consumed vast chunks my life?

I absolutely love The Hunger Games. Any of you who have followed me for any length of time already know this. Ever since finishing the first book, I've been on a slow and rather desperate countdown until the next book comes. Waiting for Mockingjay has been pure torture. It's like having a chocolate bar dangling in front of a treadmill. It's just wrong. Mere hours after Catching Fire was released, I was counting down again.

I considered making a paper chain calendar.

No, seriously.

So while my impatience built into a frenzy, an idea came to me. What if all of our favorite fantasy-type characters were pitted against each other in a Hunger Games-like tournament? It seemed so perfect, and the most awesome way to pass the time until Mockingjay comes out. I found sanity again (until, you know, I actually started planning the whole thing).

It is a tournament, of famous YA characters to see who would be the true winner in a battle to the last character standing. They are going to be paired off in duels and duke it out to the death (or very serious pain). The winner will move on to the next round, until there is only one. So, not exactly like The Hunger Games, but as close as we could get and still have readers involved. Because you see, you get pick the winners.

There will be stats and a mock battle for each set of characters, but in the end, it's the readers who vote and decide who will move on. A list of advantages and disadvantages of each character will be given for an easy reference for those who are not familiar with any particular character. But even cooler is this - we've asked the authors to participate as well. They have a chance to write out their own battle and advocate their character. I honestly don't know how many authors will participate, but the invitations have all been sent out, and there have even been a few nibbles.

There are 32 characters (which will become 16, then 8, then 4, then 2...) and it is going down one week from now, on August 10th--exactly two weeks before Mockingjay comes out. So keep your calenders marked and be prepared to to channel all your Mockingjay love! This is a battle of epic proportions. You don't want to miss it.

(Would you like a sneak peak? Here is the main page for the battle royale. No, no battles yet. That would be cheating, silly).

The Final Clue

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Caledonia by Celtic Woman.

Are you ready for the final clue? Like I said, this is a big one. Think you can guess it?

Alright, here are all the clues again. The Big Reveal comes tomorrow! :D