The “Hunger Games” Genre

j andersenBy  J. Andersen

When I say I’ve written a dystopian novel, many times I get the funny looks. You know the one. It says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I’ll just nod and smile to make it seem like I’m following our conversation.” Then I say, “You know, like The Hunger Games or Divergent.” Finally, the lights come on.

Basically, dystopian can be defined as the opposite of a utopia. Wikipedia defines it as, creation of an utterly horrible or degraded society that is generally headed to an irreversible oblivion, or dystopia.

I’ve loved dystopian literature since I first picked up Orwell’s 1984 in high school. There was something about a society that creates such an oppressive living place for its people that captured my attention. It’s still intriguing now because there is always the possibility of fiction coming to life. Every day we’re bombarded by these ethical dilemmas that could easily bring us into such a society. The possibility that it’s entirely possible to have a society like this is what draws so many to this genre.

I think there’s part of the writer (at least of me) that creates a fictional society that really wants to make things better for its people. But as perfect as we want our society to be, humans are fallible; therefore their creations are fallible. Perhaps not all dystopian writers would agree that the original intent of our fictional government is to create the perfect society, but I think it is human nature for us to always be searching for something better; therefore, striving for perfection is the underlying motivation.

We see such motivations in books like The Giver,the giver by Lois Lowry, one of my all-time favorite books. The characters want the best for the next generation. But the plan they use to carry that out is flawed.

Such is the case with my novel, The Breeding Tree. The goal of the society is to eradicate diseases such as cancer and heart disease. They breed out physical malformations as well. But in doing so, they touch on ethical topics such as manipulating DNA and disposing of fetuses who are not considered perfect.

So, we’ve discussed the atmosphere of a dystopian novel, but there’s something special about the characters in dystopian literature as well. There’s always a rebel. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good rebellion story? Who doesn’t love to read about the underdog who goes up against the big bad government? We cheer for characters like that. Characters in these situations need to be strong, smart, and resourceful. Imagining ourselves as these characters motivates us, especially in situations that feel helpless. After finishing The Hunger Games, I was practically cheering and thinking, “What would I have done in that situation?”

Our lives are filled with difficult, sometimes helpless situations, so we can identify with a character who overcomes adversity. I think this is the very reason this genre is so popular within the young adult population. This is also the reason I write in this genre. I want to give hope to young people who feel they’re in hopeless situations. If my writing can do that even a little bit, I’ll consider myself a successful author.


Writing Prompt: Now, it’s time for you to write: Write about a situation where you (or your character) feels helpless.

Remember: If you leave an answer to the prompt, you earn an entry for our blogaversary gift card for $100!

The Breeding Tree

the breeding treeIs the opportunity to create the next generation of life a dream come true or a deadly nightmare? 

When seventeen year old Katherine Dennard is selected to become a “Creation Specialist” in Sector 4, the opportunity sounds like a dream come true. But Kate soon discovers the darker side of her profession – the disposal of fetal organs and destruction of human life. It makes sense, really. In a society where disease and malformations don t exist, human perfection demands that no genetic “mutants” be allowed to live. For Sector 4, “survival of the fittest” is not just a theory – it’s The Institute’s main mission. 

When Kate discovers that The Institute is using her DNA to create new life, her work gets personal. In order to save her unviable son, she’ll have to trust Micah and his band of underground Natural Born Rebels. The problem is, if The Institute discovers her betrayal, the next body being disposed of could be hers.

There’s not much to do growing up in a small town in Western, NY, so J. Andersen wrote stories and won high school writing contests. But in college her writing was limited to term papers. While teaching middle school she began to read young adult books and got serious about writing. She now writes full time, volunteers at the town library, helps to run a School of the Arts at her church, and sings in the church band. She enjoys good coffee—read: home roasted by her husband—crafts, baking, and chasing after her children. You’ll rarely see J. without a book in her hands, and that’s the way she’d like to keep it.


THE BREEDING TREE: Amazon pre-order






Snapchat ID: jvdlandersen




Women’s Fiction

I’ve always been a writer. I haven’t always known I was a writer. I’ve also always been a reader, but I have always known that. I’ve loved to read as long as I can remember. B is for Betsy series is my earliest memory of favorite stories. A Wrinkle in Time has stood the test of time, and remains a favorite story (so much so that I gave a copy to my ten- year-old grandgirl for Christmas).


What I read, I read without regard to genre. I loved a story that tells a compelling story, but I paid no attention to genre.

So when I started writing, I just wrote. And I wrote without regard to what genre it might be. Which, as it turns out, is rather important when it comes to marketing, and, as it turns out, is Women’s Fiction—my stories are Women’s Fiction. Feels rather comfy, having a genre to fit into.

And yet…

It’s rather a loose fit, sort of like an old favorite pair of sweats. According to Wikipedia,


 Not a list of parameters, really, that qualifies a work as Women’s Fiction. Just that it’s about women. “Trying to wrap a definition around women’s fiction is a little like trying to put a fence around a band of wild mustangs.” 1

No wonder it took me so long to find my genre, to realize where I fit!

Other genres have a more established set of elements that we look for and expect. If we pick up SciFi, for instance, we don’t expect it to be set in year 1458, unless time travel is involved, or perhaps there are robots running around. Romance, too, has certain elements we want—a swoon-worthy hero and a damsel, in distress or not. Women’s Fiction can and does incorporate these same elements. Or not.

Women’s fiction can be historical, or it can be contemporary. It can also be futuristic. Women in space, in galaxies never before seen or heard of. It’s the story about the women that drives the story versus the romance or the issues of space or time travel.

One common element in Women’s Fiction—although not requisite—is generational issues, a saga, even, that spans a few or several generations. My story did that. Turned generational. It’s about the issues these women face in life. It’s about sisters, and mothers and daughters, a heritage that has passed down for more than a hundred years. Classic Women’s Fiction, a comfy fit indeed.

Literary Agent Linda Hyatt of the Hyatt Literary Agency explains, “Good women’s commercial fiction usually touches the reader in ways other fiction cannot.” 1

There’s a bond with readers, characters facing things we as real people (shhh, don’t tell my characters I said that!) face in real life. It’s not that the affair led to the break-up of a years-long marriage and subsequent swoon-worth hero and happily ever after romance. Women’s Fiction is the issues that allowed the affair to take place, the issues that broke the years-long marriage. It’s the mix of family and friends who are part of a woman’s life, who are there in her darkest moments as her allies. Or, perhaps, as her foes. The mother-in-law who blames the wife that the husband cheated. There’s a dynamic that blazes through Women’s Fiction and stakes a claim. It’s the wife’s reaction to the failed marriage. Perhaps the affair was hers, perhaps she’s the one who broke the marriage. The story, the point and definition of Women’s Fiction, is that it is her story. The cheating husband or the wounded husband is secondary to her story. Whether hero or fallen woman, she is our main character, our protagonist. Women’s Fiction is real life issues that we all can relate to, and yet remains fiction.

Maybe it’s not romance at all. Maybe it’s a struggle as a woman in a man’s world. Mona Lisa Smile by Deborah Chiel comes to mind. Very much a story of a woman’s struggle against the standards set for women of the day.


There is not always the happy ending or easy resolution we expect in most other genres. Women’s Fiction draws the reader’s emotions into the story, a well-written story has a reader laughing out loud, or crying uncontrollably. Truly, though, any genre wants that reaction from the reader.



Jane Austen is classified as writing Romance, but thinking of her stories, they’re about the women as much or more than the romance. Lizzie, for instance, as she judged Darcy for his pride and prejudice, discovers her own pride and, well, her prejudice. In the end of course, they end up happily ever after. I think their love never would have seen light of day, though, if Lizzie had not made her self discoveries. Darcy too, of course, but this was really Lizzie’s story more than anything else.


Women’s Fiction reverberates in a way other fiction does not. It leaves a mark, an impression. All good fiction draws us into the story, to walk along with the characters as they travel through the weft and weave the author has woven. But Women’s Fiction is deeper, longer lasting, memorable.


“I often think about these stories as the type women will sit around and talk about. The stories that allow women to say, ‘Hey, I’ve gone through that.’ ” 2



Place your own life in a different era. How differently would your life play out? What would be different if you had been born a hundred years earlier? If you were a contemporary of Jane Austen? If you were alive during Biblical times?

Share your story.

“I once said I should write down all the story ideas in my head so someone could write them someday. I had no idea at the time that someone was me!

ME - 041115

Ms. Mason has been writing since 1995, and began working in earnest on her debut novel, Tessa in 2013. She resides in the Upstate of South Carolina since 1988. Besides Tessa, she has Clara Bess, book two in her unsavory heritage series. She is currently working on Cissy, the third and final book in the series. It will be released in June of this year.

Come visit me at:

#womensfiction, #storiesaboutwomen, #noboundaries, #wildmustangs, #generational, #saga, #thewomanisthehero, #emotionalresponse

The Human Side of YA Fantasy

aaronBy Aaron Gansky

Ever wonder why YA fantasy is so popular, and has remained so for so long? Why is it that fantasy readers are so rabid, so committed to the genre? Here’s the way I see it.

YA fantasy, by tacit consent of the genre, features teenagers or young adults as the protagonist. They will often have few friends, or no friends at all. But through their journey, they find loyal companions. Simply put, fantasy often features the outsider—something readers can empathize with. Even if they’re not completely unpopular, readers understand what it is to be alone, what it is to be shy and timid, to be afraid, to be mocked and ridiculed. It’s something we can all feel, and that empathy breeds a connection to the protagonists that other genres simply don’t always have.

And these outsiders are thrust into situations that are far larger than they are. Often, the fate of nations and kingdoms, worlds and dimensions, rest in their hands. Though they may feel overwhelmed, our heroes pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get to work, no matter the odds. They inspire those around them, and by extension, the reader as well.

Bdwarvesut perhaps the most intriguing aspect of fantasy is the familiar comfort of the unfamiliar. Think about elves and dwarves, two common staples in the genre. They are not human on the outside, but they do seem to reflect our humanity. While elves may worship nature and dwarves their metals, they both worship, as do humans. Some elves fall in love with humans, some humans with dwarves. Regardless, they all fall in love. Some dwarves betray their brothers; some elves are betrayed by humans. Regardless, we know what it means to be betrayed.

This is the true heart of fantasy—its humanity in all its unfamiliar packaging. Yes, there are more than a handful of rabid fantasy nerds who fall in love with that packaging—they want to know the entire history of the kingdom of the elves, the entire lineage of the dwarf nobility, the deep, rich history of a strange and foreign land. They want to know cultures and customs, rituals and religions. Why? Because it helps them to better understand the humanity of the creatures. They want to ascribe familiarity to the unfamiliar.

And what can be more human than the quest for power—or more specifically, the quest to overthrow an evil power. It’s a particularly American ideal, isn’t it? When you consider our nation was founded in direct rebellion to a corrupt government, it makes perfect sense that so much of the genre has that at its heart. The Declaration of Independence makes it very clear: when a government becomes tyrannical, it is the right and responsibility of the people to overthrow it and institute a new government that will care for its people, rather than exploiting them. Of course, I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

Whether it be Katniss overthrowing the capitol, or Luke Skywalker striking down the emperor, or Frodo destroying the ring—they all have one thing in common—an outsider finding a loyal group of friends who help him (or her) overcome insurmountable odds and rally an entire people (or peoples) behind them to establish a just government.

No matter how strange and unfamiliar the setting or the people within it, it is their humanity that keeps readers coming back for more.

These are tenants to which I sought to ascribe while writing Hand of Adonai: The Book of Things to Come. The main characters, Oliver and Lauren, are outcasts in their schools. They have few friends, save for each other, and soon find themselves in a strange land where they are loved. But, of course, the stakes are high, and the world they created together now faces an incredible threat from overwhelming odds.

mistbornIf you’d like to read some great books in this genre (other than my own), try the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson. Or, if you’re up for an incredibly long journey, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is beloved by its fans.

WRITING PROMPT: Develop a race of people (other than elves or dwarves) who are uniquely inhuman on the outside, but who possess very human hearts. Then, let them interact with normal humans.

The Hand of Adonai: The Book of Things to Comehand of adonai

At first, Lauren Knowles is thrilled to wake up in Alrujah, a digital fantasy world she created with her best friend, Oliver Shaw, but the exhilaration of serving as a magical princess fades when she senses a demonic force lurking in the shadows. Though they designed a world of wondrous beauty, blue-leafed forests, shimmering silver rivers, and expansive medieval castles, Lauren and Oliver soon find their secret realm to be an ever-changing land of dark oppression and deadly sorcery. With the help of Aiden Price and Erica Hall, two friends from their high school in North Chester, the four teens must find a way out, a way that can only be discerned from the dusty pages of the ancient leather-bound tome, The Book of Things to Come. Faced with questionable allies, invisible enemies, and increasingly dangerous levels of difficulty, the four must learn to work together, to trust each other … or be forever lost.

In addition to being a loving father and husband, Aaron Gansky is an author, novelist, editor, mentor, teacher, and podcast host. In 2009, he earned his M.F.A in Fiction at the prestigious Antioch University of Los Angeles, one of the top five low-residency writing schools in the nation. Prior to that, he attained his Bachelor of Arts degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing where he studied, in part, under Bret Anthony Johnston, now the Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University. His first novel, The Bargain, was published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas in December of 2013. The first book in his YA fantasy series, The Hand of Adonai: The Book of Things to Come, was published in August of 2015. The second book, The Blood Sword, is due out in 2016. He can be reached at or on Facebook or Twitter. Additionally, he hosts a weekly podcast called Firsts in Fiction.

Romance from a Classical Point of View

By Karen Jurgens

What emotion comes to mind when you hear The Classics?  Do you revert back to high school or college where you were “forced” to read Dickens, Hawthorne, or Mellville in order to collect graduation credits? Or were you savvy, refusing to read the book but still gleaning enough information from Sparks Notes to pass those tests and compose essays? Now that you’re a writer—and even published—you congratulate yourself that you pulled it off and will never again have to face reading a dry piece of literature written before the twenty-first century.

rtc_The+Adventures+of+Huckleberry+Finn_Priscilla+Parizeau (1)

I remember those days of mastering college Shakespeare courses while attempting to dissect the tangled word webs of great authors like T.S Eliot (I admit The Wasteland was never my cup of tea). But who couldn’t delight in Twain’s wonderful tales of adventure with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn? Or suffer through Steinbeck’s Oklahoma dust bowl with the Judd family as they limped through the desert to California?  Or bite your nails with Scout and Jem as they sat in the courtroom balcony one hot Alabama summer, sweating through Tom Robinson’s trial?

A true lover of classics reads and rereads those favorite novels—always gleaning new truths, always feeling like the characters are real friends who have once again come to pay a visit in your own living room.


As I reviewed a list of must-read classic authors (found here), lightning struck as I regarded the romance category. Novels such as Gone with the Wind and The Great Gatsby come to mind first, but these are unlike today’s romances with happy endings.

I vividly recall the weeks of absorbing every one of Margaret Mitchell’s 1,037 pages and reading one night into the wee hours to finish—followed by a good, long cry. Why were those unresolved endings so bittersweet, so much more satisfying than those happy fairytale endings? Probably because it kept my imagination turning, planning that perfect ending I longed for just over the horizon or around the bend. Striving for resolve, but never arriving. The struggle is continually ongoing, carving the story forever in my heart.


To me, that’s the power of a good classic book. It often reflects the reality of our ordinary, everyday lives. No fairytale endings here. Instead, don’t we all yearn for what “could have been?”

Think about it—the majority of The Great Love Stories of All-Time didn’t resolve happily. Romeo and Juliet, Daisy and Gatsby, Pip and Estella—all eternally memorable for their losses in love. Perhaps that’s the key to creating something great today—to keep readers wondering how it will end as they work it out in their own imaginations.

Should we return to the Masters’ blueprints for a truly unforgettable romance?


CyranoVHS01 courtesy of

As we entertain the idea, let’s compare character development in these all-time favorites with that of contemporary romance. The moral fiber was so strong in Cyrano de Bergerac, for example, that the main character kept his love for Roxane a secret, even to his dying breath. Not wanting to let her know his true feelings, he pretended that her dead husband, Christian, was the one who had composed all those flowery love poems and letters, while he (Cyrano) was the real author. Although Roxane loved Christian’s physical handsomeness, she unknowingly loved Cyrano’s poetic soul. After Christian’s death on the battlefield, she resided in a convent where Cyrano visited her every Saturday but never confessed his love directly to her. All for the sake of honor. (Sigh.)

Talk about a life of suffering and unrequited love. But along with Cyrano, doesn’t it break our hearts, too? The bittersweet injustice borne out of a sense of loyalty to his friend’s memory strums a minor key on our heartstrings and memorializes the story forever in our souls.

Moral duty and honor were the key character elements around which the story wove—the very elements we must use if we are to emulate the Masters.

Writing Prompt: Enter in the comments section for a chance to win a blogaversary prize!

What is your opinion? Do you prefer the happily-ever-after resolution of a romance? Or do you love a bittersweet ending that you must resolve in your own imagination?

Photos courtesy of and