Dystopia Tuesday: Twisted Versions of Perfection

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Dystopian novels are combination horror stories and cautionary tales, set against twisted versions of perfect societies. Dystopian heroes are discontented—they don’t fit in, and often lack the self-awareness to realize why.

Teens (like the little ol’ seventh-grade version of me) who aren’t yet ready for the heavy-hitting social commentary in the classics of the genre may find those same themes and messages, presented in the context of a YA book, much more palatable.

In YA dystopian societies, civilization is usually managed by absent adult authority figures. For teenagers who fear they’ve inherited a chaotic world, yet feel stifled by the rules, these fictional societies resonate. Dystopian societies take rule-making to the extreme. Extreme control. Extreme censorship. Extreme surveillance. No dissenting ideas. In these societies, parents and children are often subjected to the same controls and restrictions.

The classics of adult dystopia tends to be more apocalyptic, more dire. YA dystopia can be apocalyptic and scary—but it can also feel a lot like high school, where everyone feels pressure to conform. To escape the fear, alienation, and danger, protagonists band together with others like themselves.

YA dystopian fiction opens a pathway to explore and appreciate the genre—and appreciating makes it easier for teens to fully absorb the classics when they’re assigned to read them at school, or choose to read them for pleasure.

Next up: I’ll compare Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Matched by Allie Condie

 

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Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published at www.counteractbook.com and is used with the permission of the author.

 

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TRACY LAWSON has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

Tracy is also the author of Counteract.

Counteract: Book 1 of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy and Careen learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government. The second book in the series is slated for release in 2015.

For more about the book, check out Tracy’s website for a synopsis.

There’s even a book trailer!

Dystopia Tuesday: The Year of My Dystopia

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I spent seventh grade in a dystopian haze, haunted by thoughts of totalitarian regimes, privations, curtailed personal freedoms, ubiquitous surveillance technology, and nuclear war.  Oh, and those awful utilitarian jumpsuits everyone had to wear.

And why, you ask? Well, it was like this…

Back in the 70s, young adult fiction as we know it did not exist. I read series like Trixie Belden and Sweet Valley High, which meant I was one step off from reading books about bunnies and rainbows.

But that year in English class, we were assigned Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, On the Beach, Fail-Safe, Brave New World and Flowers for Algernon, the bulk of the classics in the dystopian genre, with a science-fiction chaser and a couple Cold War propaganda novels and their film versions thrown in for good measure.  (Thank God they didn’t assign Clockwork Orange until high school.)

I was twelve, and I was terrified by what I read. I’d never seen a scary movie in my life. I had no frame of reference for the suffering in those books, didn’t connect with the characters, and found it hard to imagine societies and worlds so different from my own. I didn’t see these books as social commentary, as warnings, or as calls to arms. They were English assignments, and dreaded ones at that.

Years later, I choose to write in the young adult dystopian genre. Because now I get it, and I can tell an exciting story to share what I think. Frankly, writing YA dystopian fiction…rocks.

I’ve been re-reading the classics with great interest, and I’ll be taking a look at old v. new dystopian fiction in future posts.

Some of my new favorites:

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Matched by Ally Condie

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

The Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

The Farm by Emily McKay

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Gone by Michael Grant

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Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published at www.counteractbook.com and is used with the permission of the author.

 

TRACY LAWSON has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

Tracy is also the author of Counteract.

Counteract: Book 1 of the Resistance Series (2014) is the story of a guy, a girl, the terrorist attack that brings them together, and their race to expose a conspiracy that could destroy their country from within. What Tommy and Careen learn about the true nature of the terrorist threat spurs them to take action, and their decisions lead them to run afoul of local law enforcement, team up with an underground resistance group, and ultimately take their quest for the truth to the highest reaches of the United States government. The second book in the series is slated for release in 2015.

For more about the book, check out Tracy’s website for a synopsis.

There’s even a book trailer!

The True Injustice of Cases Like Eric Garner

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Libertarians and limited-government advocating conservatives and Republicans frequently reference the fact that government is force. They say government policies, laws, and regulations are enforced at the barrel of a gun. And that’s about the point when liberals and progressives snort with derisive laughter and say that “it’ll never come to that” or “go wrap your head in tin foil, without government who would build the roads?”

Then we have the case of Eric Garner, who NYPD officers accused of selling “loosies” or single cigarettes. (This is not only illegal in New York City, but also a federal crime, by the way.) Police chose to engage Garner physically instead of simply issuing him a citation and court summons. When Garner appeared to resist arrest, five officers engaged in a take-down, which led to Garner’s death as one of the officers applied a “choke hold” in an effort to subdue him.

Much has been said and written about the incident already, and we don’t want to focus on the specifics of the case other than to say clearly the police engaged in an excessive use of force that resulted in the death of someone they were taking into custody. There must be consequences for this action. In our view, this is not a racial issue; it is a human one. The issue calls to question how much force the government should be permitted, especially when responding to non-violent offenses.

The Garner incident joins many other, and often not widely reported, incidents of police resorting to violence against citizens in what should be routine law enforcement matters. The Cato Institute publishes a map of such incidents, which you can view here:

Government’s willingness to go overboard and use armed and sometimes militarized types response units to respond to administrative, and sometimes imaginary, violations of law is alarming. All citizens of all ideological persuasions should be outraged and demand that this activity stop immediately and impose criminal and civil liabilities for government officials who act inappropriately.

In 2013, the federal code alone stood at some 43,000 pages of text (the Holy Bible, often decried as imposing too many harsh rules, by comparison is 1,100 pages). The federal code is only a collection of laws enacted by Congress; it does not include tens of thousands of pages of regulations and administrative rules imposed by executive and regulatory agencies. And that’s only at the federal level, and doesn’t include additional layers upon layers of rules and laws imposed by state and local governments.

It is indisputable that “government” laws, whether imposed by federal, state, or local authorities, have grown exponentially since World War II. A frequent complaint of many small government and freedom advocates is that law-abiding citizens could at any point be breaking several laws without knowing it. In fact, John Baker, retired law professor was quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying, “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime. That is not an exaggeration.”

At a recent graduation speech, President Obama encouraged graduates from the Ohio State University to reject voices who suggest “that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner.”

In response, we’ll offer a quote from Atlas Shrugged :

“There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.” – Dr. Ferris

The president insists that tyranny is in fact NOT lurking just around the corner. But for a growing number of people who have encountered the government’s machine of law enforcement by breaking petty rules like selling single cigarettes, buying cases of water that look like alcohol, or simply feeding the homeless, it just might be.

A Busy Few Weeks

It has been a busy few weeks here so we once again disappeared from “the Internets.”
So just what have we been up to?

Cover Front1. We released a children’s book under our Children’s imprint, Bellows Books. Cora Cassidy and the Craven Corgi is a children’s picture book written in verse and beautifully illustrated. The freedom theme is freedom from fear and how Cora’s pet dog Raven learns that getting over her fears about different times of the year help her to enjoy a more full and exciting life.

 

 

 

 

Cut_From_Strong_Cloth_front2. We released a novel! Cut from Strong Cloth is an adult novel set in 1860 Philadelphia where Irish immigrant Ellen Canavan pursues her dream of owning a textile business.

But it is 1860 America, and women just don’t “do” that sort of thing. Or do they?

 

 

 

 

 

Cover3. We released our speculative fiction anthology, Forging Freedom: Dimensions. As with all of our anthology projects, this was a tremendous amount of fun. Following our first anthology, we went out with another call and noticed so many science fiction and fantasy submissions that told compelling stories about freedom lost, won, and fought for. So we thought why not make it a stand alone book?

 

 

 

 

4. And last but not least, we’ve made some improvements to our publisher store. We’ve gained the ability to offer special deals, coupon codes, and add on items that we didn’t have before. Of course all of our titles are still available from Amazon.com, bn.com, booksamillion.com, and local stores who place orders for customers as well.

As a thank you for subscribing to our email updates enter code “15OFFDEC” (without quotes) at checkout and take 15% off your order total now through the end of the year. Tell us what you think!

And as always, Let Freedom Ring!

 

 

 

Review of Atlas Shrugged Part III

2014_08_08_Wallpaper_WIJG**SOME PLOT SPOILERS BELOW**

A few notes before I begin my review. I am a huge fan of the ideas and ideals of Ayn Rand, yet I always had issues with her long-winded method of storytelling. I realize she wanted to maintain complete artistic control and kept detailed journals, but I argue that her ideas could be more effectively spread through a more conscious awareness of her audience. In fact, before we even knew it was being made into a film trilogy, my father and I discussed the fact that it would be great for a talented filmmaker—who truly understood the unique language of cinema and the ways it differs from a novel, and who also understood the true points Rand wanted to make—could bring Rand’s ideas to the big screen.

I mentioned in a previous post that I donated to the Kickstarter campaign for Atlas Shrugged Part III and was anticipating the film. I showed Part I to my high school students one year, and they seemed to enjoy it, and although I saw flaws from the transition into the book, I was pleased overall. So it pains me to admit that Part III was a disappointment. Rand, in her books, harshly criticizes those who applaud effort or intent—instead, she emphasizes the importance of judging results. The result of this film is that people who already love Ayn Rand were given a film to watch; those who don’t already embrace her ideals were not given anything to help them do so.

First, the film only seemed to cater to those who were already fans. I do appreciate the filmmakers getting Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck for guest appearances, but I’m not sure what this does to open Rand’s ideas to the general population. Nothing screams crazy to a liberal like either of those two. (Of course, I did enjoy seeing Ron Paul in there, as he was dedicated enough to name his own son Rand). But in general, the film did little to show characters’ motivations. As an example, the pirate Ragnar’s actions barely seemed justified. In the book, it is clear that Ragnar was only taking goods that the government—or private companies with government intervention—essentially stole from those who produced the goods. He would not touch a private ship doing private business. The movie did not communicate this clearly.

Second, the film ineffectively used the language of cinema—when it attempted to use it at all. There was too much “telling”—direct narration—rather than showing. I enjoyed how in previous films, background information was communicated to the viewer through media clips (news reporters). In this case, the narrator simply used voice over to directly tell us things that had happened not only in society, but among characters as well. It felt lazy—as if the filmmaker simply wouldn’t or couldn’t be bothered to find a more effective way to communicate that information. It made the whole story flat. Dagny, to me, was too passive—not strong enough as a character. I also felt no chemistry between Dagny and John Galt. There could have been a few inexpensive scenes inserted in the film to show how harmful the government policies were. Instead, the filmmaker assumed the viewers all hated government policies and understood how they could harm the economy.

For instance: how about having a little boy sitting at dinner in a working-class home and asking for a second helping of his paltry meal. His mother, in tatters, could tell the boy there was no more food for seconds. She could then glance at his father in the corner, who is sitting, ashamed. The little boy, tearful, could ask “why?” And the mother could explain, “Your daddy can’t work at the factory anymore. The metal broke down and there’s no way to fix it. Until the metal’s fixed, all the workers have to stay home.” Something like that to show how government policies directly impacted the common man.

Third, the acting was lackluster, compounded by the fact that the cast is ever-changing. These actors have not worked with each other in the other two parts, so there was no background, no chemistry. D’Anconia’s actor was far too old and overweight for the character in the book. Rand’s “hero” characters are always fit, a physical representation of their abilities. This to me was a terrible casting decision. The characters seemed like empty shells that recited important parts of Rand’s ideas. With no soul beneath, they were unconvincing to an unconvinced.

Finally, it seemed that the way this movie was created—even more so than the first two—was a string of major points from the novel without heart. Yes, Rand said use your head and not your heart, but in the language of cinema, we must consider the audience’s emotions if we are to be effective. If not, then why make a film in the first place. The torture scene was ineffective and “small” compared to how magnificent it seemed in the book. The radio address, too, seemed out of place because things weren’t established as “bad enough” in society to warrant it. In the book, people are literally starving and freezing to death. A few cutaways could have helped establish this. At the end of the book, the country is in desperation for someone to lead them—someone like John Galt. This film made it seem like things were just a little bad. Without preparing the viewer, the ending was ineffective. When New York went dark, there wasn’t anything to it.

I understand that the people working on the film faced many challenges, but there are plenty of independent films that are done effectively. My biggest complaint is in the film’s failure to use the language of cinema to communicate Rand’s ideas in a new way—a way that would appeal to visual learners who would otherwise be fearful of tackling the huge tome. But it seems the only people to enjoy the film were already fans. With disappointment, I encourage you to read the book instead of seeing the film. It’ll be much more rewarding.

Cover Reveal: Cut From Strong Cloth by Linda Harris Sittig

We are very excited to share the cover for our next book release: Cut From Strong Cloth by Linda Harris Sittig and forthcoming on December 1 later this year.

At nineteen, Ellen Canavan lives for the dream of her late father: to succeed in business. But being a woman in 1861, she finds the path to entrepreneurship blocked many times over. The threat of war, her mother’s disapproval, and even a malicious arsonist threaten to limit the aspiring textile merchant to the status of impoverished Irish immigrant.

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As she travels from the factories of Philadelphia to the riverfront wharves of Savannah with her business mentor, James Nolan, the Civil War explodes amidst their blossoming love, and the two are separated. Can Ellen’s undaunted, fiery strength guide her through a divided nation, or must she abandon her dream in order to save her own life?

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“Sittig has brought the past to life with a fascinating look into the textile industry of pre-Civil War Philadelphia and the unshakeable spirit of a young woman who fought to change the status quo. Superbly researched,… this is a story that you will not forget and will leave you longing for a sequel.”
-Jeanne M. Cumiskey, Director, Fabric Research & Development, Abercrombie & Fitch

Cut From Strong Cloth is Linda Harris Sittig’s first novel in a series, Threads of Courage, which will feature strong female figures from history who battled a status quo that was aligned against them and deserve to have their stories told.

Between now and December 1, the book is available on pre-order from our publisher store. You can pre-order the book for $15 (shipping included). For a limited time, there is also an option to add our first anthology Forging Freedom, a collection of 35 fiction and non fiction short stories, for an additional $5.

About Linda Harris Sittig

Born in Greenwich Village, New York City, and raised in Northern New Jersey, Linda was lured into reading by Lad, a Dog and Nancy Drew, Girl Detective. Later her attraction to history and a bit of wanderlust led her to study in Switzerland, before returning stateside to earn a B.A. in History and a M.Ed. in Reading.

Combining her passion for history, stories, and the need for literacy, she began publishing commentaries on how parents could encourage the love of reading with their children. That led to a twenty year weekly newspaper column, “KinderBooks” (Loudoun Times-Mirror); a non-fiction text, New Kid in School (Teachers College Press); and writing for a nationally syndicated educational newsletter, The Connection (PSK Associates).  Linda has been recognized twice by the Virginia Press Association with Certificates of Merit for her journalism.

Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Reston Connection, and The Purcellville Gazette, in addition to numerous professional journals and short story anthologies. From 1982 – 1994 she received three separate distinguished educator awards from local, state, and international organizations. Linda currently teaches at Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA where she works with educators on how to implement the best practices of literacy instruction.

Currently promoting her novel, Cut From Strong Cloth, Linda is paying tribute to an ancestor who in 1860 Philadelphia struggled to become a successful textile merchant as the Civil War exploded around her.

Linda lives in Loudoun County, Virginia with her husband, and where the Blue Ridge Mountains are the first to greet the dawn. In her spare time she travels with her family and enjoys her grandchildren.

To find out more about Linda, follow her on twitter at @lhsittig, at her blog featuring Strong Women in History, and at her author website.

Writing Tip: Indirect Characterization

Power of WordsIndirect characterization is a technique used to develop characters in which the author provides clues that allow the reader to experience a character in more depth. Indirect characterization is showing rather than telling. Instead of saying, “John walked to his seat. He was tired,” I would provide clues that communicate the same idea, but in a way that would help readers figure it out on their own. I might write, “John shuffled through the door a moment before the bell. He yawned as he took his seat and rubbed his eyes, squinting up at the clock. Red pillow lines still marked his face, and his disheveled hair looked like he’d run his fingers through it maybe once.” In this example, I never told you John was tired. But you can probably assume it—from the yawns, the bed-head, the shuffling.

We could make the above scene even more interesting by adding a deeper point of view. Let’s say I’m in the point of view of the teacher. Maybe she’s having a rough day and is tired of students shuffling in late. We’re still going to stay in third person POV, but we’re in the teacher’s head:

“John shuffled through the door, a moment before the bell. Ms. Williams cringed as she put down her box of tardy slips. How that boy always managed to come in right before the bell, she’d never understand. He couldn’t be so lucky every day, though, could he? One day he’d be late, and then it would be detention for him. She suppressed a smile. While the rest of the students got out their homework, John squinted up at the clock. As if he didn’t know the bell always rang at 8 a.m. sharp. Teenagers. She marked him down as ‘present’ before calling the class to order. She’d call on John first. With those pillow lines on his face and the ridiculous bed-head, he looked half asleep still. If she couldn’t get him for being tardy, she’d get him for being stupid. The rest of the class would enjoy his sleepy attempts at analyzing Edgar Allen Poe.”

This POV gets us into the teacher’s head, and boy does she have issues! It’s much more interesting than the first, more neutral, scene, because it automatically adds tension. The teacher is out to get John. Whether John knows it or not, we aren’t yet sure, but I’d like to keep reading to find out. When working on each scene, think of it as a belt in a motor, or a rubber band if you don’t want to get your hands greasy. If there isn’t enough tension, the belt won’t be able to do its job. If there’s too much tension, it will eventually break. Readers like tension, but you don’t want them to have a heart attack while reading. Still, if there isn’t enough tension, there’s nothing to keep the reader glued to your book.

Announcing New Imprints for Young Adults and Younger Readers

We are excited to announce Freedom Forge Press’s two new imprints: Apprentice Books and Bellows Books! Both imprints will open to submissions on October 1, 2014.  

Apprentice Books

apprentice logo colorApprentice Books is our young adult line. These are stories targeting readers ages 13 (for younger YA) to 18. As always, we’re looking for stories with a strong freedom theme that are not dogmatic about it. Think The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Giver. But while we love dystopias, we are also looking for books that address freedom by celebrating the spirit of the individual, free to achieve his or her best. For instance, we love the innovation and strength of Gary Paulsen’s characters as they face survival situations that force them to find their inner power. We also love coming-of-age tales and well-researched historical novels that highlight strength and freedom—or the fight for freedom—of past eras.

These books would ideally be rated the equivalent of PG-13, though there are always exceptions for well-written stories (violence in The Hunger Games, for instance, is pivotal to the story). With books meant for the older end of the YA spectrum, we’re willing to push the boundaries a bit.

Specific submission guidelines and announcements for this imprint can be found on the Apprentice Books page of our website.

Bellows Books

15_1405.i032.014.P.m003.c20.blacksmith iconBellows Books are meant for readers under age 13. Primarily, we’re interested in middle grade works—books for readers ages 7 – 12. These would be chapter books meant to be read independently by developing readers—or read aloud to younger readers one chapter at a time. These stories should empower young readers to find strength in their abilities and celebrate all that freedom allows. Like any good middle grade book, adults should disappear into the background, allowing the younger characters to make decisions and confront and solve problems on their own.

We’d love historical fiction that highlights strength and freedom—or the fight for freedom—of past eras. We’d consider survival stories, mysteries, and any other tales of the perseverance of the individual.

Bellows Books will also consider books for younger readers; however, illustrated books are expensive to produce. For illustrated books, we will only accept works from authors who have already found an illustrator and either have either already purchased rights to the illustrations, or have found an illustrator willing to work for a share of royalties. When querying for an illustrated book, please provide details about illustrations you have acquired or hope to acquire as well as artist contact information.

Specific submission guidelines and announcements for this imprint can be found on the Bellows Books page of our website.

Celebrating One Year Anniversary of Forging Freedom Anthology!

Anthology CoverThis week a year ago we released our first book, Forging Freedom.

Thirty-five authors joined us for the journey, representing 7 countries. They shared stories from their family history, stories from their hearts, and even some stories they made up for fun. There’s fiction, true stories, science fiction, romance, and yes friend, there’s even a zombie story.

But one thing unites them all. Each story you will find shares a connection to freedom and the spirit of the individual.

Looking back on our first project, we are extremely proud of the excellent contributions from our authors. And we continue to want to share these stories to do our humble part to keep the flame of freedom burning.

This week, Forging Freedom is on sale now through Friday 9/19/14. You can get the Kindle version for $0.99 this week only at Amazon or the paperback for $11.00 with free shipping at our publisher store.

Cover Reveal: Cora Cassidy and the Craven Corgi

We are very excited to share the cover for our next book release: Cora Cassidy and the Craven Corgi!

Cora Cassidy and the Craven Corgi is an illustrated children’s picture book in which Cora shows her little corgi companion that many of the things she fears actually make life enjoyable. Through her journey, Raven the corgi finds freedom from fear, opening the way for a lifetime of possibilities.

The book will be the debut release of our new children’s book imprint – but more on that later.

Cora Cassidy is written in verse by the talented Val Muller, author of the Corgi Capers children’s mystery series.  Val teams up with the artistic talents of illustrator, artist, and all-around awesome gal, Yuming Cao.

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