Pride & Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge Finale

pride-prejudice-bicentenary-challenge-2013-x-200It’s been awhile since I’ve written about the Pride & Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge. The last time was my review of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries vlog series on Youtube. How much fun was that? I have really enjoyed the year-long bicentennial celebration of one of my favorite books, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, by Jane Austen, and I loved discovering what a vast fandom her books have. So many works inspired by the fictional relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, such an amazing achievement for an author! One could read nothing but these works if one so chose.

To end the year with a bang, and in the month of Austen’s birthday no less, I crammed in as much P & P action as I could. As the new year approached, I finished reading the original text and then watched two movie versions of the novel. Austen’s use of language to vividly portray such wonderful, flawed characters, was by far, my favorite part of this year-long celebration.

Speaking of characters, some of my favorite lines from the book involve the frequent discussions of character:

  • “I did not know before,” continued Bingley immediately, “that you were a studier of character. It must be an amusing study.”

“Yes, but intricate characters are the most amusing. They have at least that advantage.” (Elizabeth Bennet to Mr. Bingley.)

  • “There are few people in this world whom I really love, and still fewer who I think well. The more I see of the world, the more I am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense.” (Elizabeth Bennet to her sister Jane.)
  • “I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so well able to expose my real character, in part of the world, where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire – and give me leave to say, very impolitic too – for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out, as will shock your relations to hear.” (Elizabeth Bennet speaking with Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy.)
  • “I write without any intention of paining you, or humbling myself, by dwelling on wishes, which, for the happiness of both, cannot be too soon forgotten; and the effort which the formation, and the perusal of this letter must occasion, should have been spared, had not my character required it to be written and read. You must therefore, pardon the freedom with which I demand your attention; your feelings, I know, will bestow it unwillingly, but I demand it of your justice.” (Letter from Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet.)
  • “When my eyes were opened to his real character – Oh! had I known what I ought, what I dared, to do! But I knew not – I was afraid of doing too much. Wretched, wretched, mistake!” (Elizabeth Bennet speaking to Mr. Darcy.)
  • “Allow me to say, Lady Catherine, that the arguments with which you have supported this extraordinary application, have been as frivolous as the application was ill-judged. You have widely mistaken my character, if you think I can be worked on by such persuasions as these. how far your nephew might approve of your interference in his affairs, I cannot tell; but you have certainly no right to concern yourself in mine. I must beg, therefore, to be importuned no farther on the subject.” (Elizabeth Bennet speaking to Lady Catherine de Bourgh.)

Ah, such fantastic language, and oh, what a beautifully written heroine, don’t you think?

Watching the movies just let me revel in my favorite bits of the story, with some lovely eye-candy to boot. As many in the challenge have said, you always love your first P & P movie the best, and mine is the 2005 version with Kiera Knightley and Matthew McFadyen. Although I did enjoy the 1995 Colin Firth mini-series as well, (who doesn’t love that swimming scene, right?) I felt the emotional impact was stronger in the 2005 version. I mean, come on, Matthew Mcfadyen’s trembling hand after he helps Kiera Knightly in to the carriage? Who didn’t feel weak at the knees right then?

(Let the debate begin!)

P and P 2005

P and P 1995

Have you been following this celebration? What are your favorite parts of Pride & Prejudice?

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New Year, new #writemotivation – Goal up!

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The new year is approaching. It’s time to start thinking about those goals. This year, #writemotivation is sparkling new, with its own dedicated website. Feel free to join in the fun and receive amazing support from this great group of people. If you’re anything like me, you need a group like this to keep you honest with your goals and to keep you motivated through the rough patches. Sign up for January ends on January 1st. Hope to see you there!

Here are my goals for January:

  1. Move MG novel into Scrivener and plot out all revisions still needed. Bonus points for finishing it and sending it off.
  2. Make progress on first draft of new YA project.
  3. Prep and plan out all blog posts for the next month. Bonus points for sketching out posts for February.
  4. Read at least four books.

I may add another goal about submitting my completed YA to at least five agents. Why not?

Do you have any goals for the new year? Let’s hear them!

Hannah Harrison, Author/Illustrator- Interview

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I met Hannah Harrison a few years ago at one of our local SCBWI OK conferences. I was immediately struck by her open, friendly demeanor and her amazing artistic talent. Also by the fact that she had a head of hair even curlier than mine. Hannah won the Illustrator’s Best Portfolio award that year and the next. Still, she remained grounded and humble and just as sweet as ever. As some of you may remember, Hannah gave the keynote speech at this fall’s Agent Day Conference where she told us all about her journey to publication, culminating in a two-book deal with Dial Books. 

Hannah’s first book coming out is EXTRAORDINARY JANE, releasing this February. We’re all so very proud and excited for her.

Extraordinary Jane cover

For anyone with a beloved pet, this delightful and heartwarming story set at the circus shows that quiet qualities like friendship, kindness, and loyalty are important and worthy.

Jane is an ordinary dog in an extraordinary circus. She isn’t strong, graceful, or brave like her family. When she tries to be those things, Jane just doesn’t feel like herself, but she also doesn’t feel special. Is she really meant for this kind of life? Her Ringmaster thinks so, but not for the reasons Jane believes. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Hannah was gracious enough to stop by for an interview, going into even more detail about her work and her life.

Valerie Lawson: I loved reading in your bio how your kindergarten teacher recognized your obvious artistic talent and put you in “Special Art” with the fifth graders. How huge an impact did that teacher make on you and in helping to develop your craft?

Hannah Harrison: So huge! Marlene Witham just made me feel so, well…special! She made me feel like everything I created was really something to behold—whether it be paint, or clay, or dry macaroni. It was so kind of her to have such confidence in me—to single me out the way that she did. Here I was, just a frizzy-haired pip-squeak in hand-me-down clothes, and she noticed me, and believed in me, and made me feel like my talent was unique. So, yes, her impact on my life was huge.

VL: She was bound to single you out when you drew yourself in profile when asked to draw a self-portrait. What Kindergartner does that? Incredible!

Smoking Bunnies
Bunny Smoking Pipe (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall) by Hannah Harrison 1.25″ x 1.25″ acrylic on museum board. This won Best in Show 2013, awarded by the Cider Painters of America

Your miniature paintings just fascinate me – some as small as one inch by one inch! How did you get into this “small” world of miniature painting? 

HH: Well, I realized that it would probably be a good idea for an aspiring children’s book illustrator to know how to paint children. So I started doing little paintings from old photographs of me as a kid. Since they were just studies, I painted them small (I figured it’d be faster). I thought they turned out kind of snazzy, so I hung a few of them up in the artist co-op that I was a part of as an example for commissions. One of the other artists in the co-op, Irene Goddu, was a miniaturist, and when she saw my tiny portraits, she invited me to join The Cider Painters of America. Before this, I didn’t realize that miniature painting was something people did! There’s a niche for that? Turns out, there’s a pretty big niche with miniature painting societies all over the world. There’s even a World Federation of Miniaturists! Who knew?! So now I’m a Signature Member of The Cider Painters of America and The Hilliard Society, and I feel pretty fancy.

VL: They are really incredible – so much detail for such small works.

HH: Aw, thanks! What is it Bob Ross used to say? Three hairs and some air? It’s kind of like that.

VL: The number of paintings you have of animals far outweigh those of humans and yet the animal pictures tend to have human characteristics, wear clothing, etc. Are you more comfortable with animals or are they just more fun to draw?

HH: I love painting animals and people. But for illustration, I think I am more comfortable with animals—it’s easier for me to paint them from my imagination. People are hard to get just right (painting flesh tones is tricky business, and it’s hard to keep continuity of character), but with animals, as long as they’re good and fuzzy, and have soulful eyes, they’ll at least be endearing (I hope). A badly painted person? Not so cute. Sometimes creepy. Plus I love animals for picture books because 1) they can get into whatever kinds of shenanigans you want them to without too much regard for personal safety or rules or parents, 2) any kid, regardless of race, can relate to and identify with animals. I will also confess that as a kid, I often enjoyed dressing my pet cats up in doll clothes (I was an only child, leave me alone). The cats were not amused. I, however, thought it was stinkin’ hilarious. I still think animals in clothes are funny.

Kitty Victoria by Hannah Harrison, image from artist's website.
Kitty Victoria by Hannah Harrison

VL: Ah, those are excellent points. It’s really important for kids to be able to identify and connect with the characters. (I also can’t imagine someone wrestling a tempermental cat into a costume. That would take special talent, or little concern for danger.)

HH: Ha! It helps to use the element of surprise!

VL: Your paintings are so detailed and yet you are also such a prolific painter, your website has pages and pages of exquisite paintings posted in the gallery, how long does it take you to complete each piece?

HH: Thanks, Valerie! It’s hard to say how long it takes to complete a piece—they all vary so much. But I will say that the plethora of paintings on my website are a result of 10+ years of portfolio building in an attempt to break into the business combined with artwork created for various exhibitions. Show deadlines have a way of bringing the prolific-ness out of you! And being a “starving artist” doesn’t hurt, either.

VL: Ah ha ha! Yes, I agree. Hunger can be quite a motivator.

As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?

HH: On the whole, I think I was a pretty good kid. My mouth, on the other hand, liked to get me into trouble. And when it did, into the corner I’d go! We spent a lot of quality time together, me, my mouth, and The Corner.

But I do remember this one thing….

Royal Pig Hannah Harrison
Royal Pig by Hannah Harrison

It was winter in New Hampshire, and me and the little boy that lived across the street (let’s call him Ishmael), were in my back yard playing and shoveling snow. We were probably about seven or eight. Anyway, I had this kid-size shovel—probably about three feet long—and the blade was made out of blue metal. Anyway, I got it in my head that Ishmael would be impressed if I got a big shovel full of snow and hurled it over my shoulder—you know, show off my big Popeye muscles. So I got a big shovel full of snow, hurled it over my shoulder, and… THUNK, nailed poor Ish (who was standing right behind me) square in the eyebrow with the metal blade. Oops. Well, if Ishmael was impressed by my super-human strength, he didn’t take the time to say so. He was too busy crying and running back to his house across the street. I knew I was in for it. I had been showing off, and I might have even killed Ishmael. Forget the The Corner—that was kid stuff. Surely the dreaded spoon was more befitting. But I didn’t get the corner or the spoon. No. My punishment was much, much worse. My mother marched me through the snow over to Ishmael’s house and made me…APOLOGIZE! Apologize? The horror! By this point, I was crying pretty good myself. But I did manage to stutter out a snot-filled apology. And, despite his scar and my wounded pride, Ishmael and I were able to stay friends.

VL: Is it wrong that I find that story hilarious? I can relate to poor Ishmael, though. My brother once thought it would be a great idea to throw a shovel up in the air. I caught it with my forehead.

HH: Oh nooo! I’m glad you lived to tell the tale.

VL: What did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?

HH: Oh, man. I have always wanted to be a children’s book writer and illustrator! I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to draw. As a kid, I would spend hours on the living room floor sketching out the stories from my Little Thinker Tapes (do you remember those?). And then, when I was in second and third grade, I won the Young Author Book Awards, and got to represent my elementary school at a statewide conference. I was able to hear real-life authors speak about making books, and I was hooked. I knew that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. I couldn’t think of anything better!

VL: When did you know you wanted to be a writer/or to pursue the career you chose? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

Black Cat in Ridiculous Green Hat by Hannah Harrison, image from author's website.
Black Cat in Ridiculous Green Hat by Hannah Harrison

HH: Like I said, I’ve always known I wanted to do this, and so I’ve been taking baby steps towards the dream for pretty much my whole life. I always took art classes in school. And whenever there wasn’t an art class that fit my schedule, my teachers let me make art classes that fit my schedule. I took private art lessons, too. I majored in art, and minored in creative writing at Colby College. I created an independent study in children’s book writing, and did an internship with Kevin Hawkes. As a Senior Scholar, I explored the connection between writing and painting. After graduation, I worked for a sign company and in an art gallery, I painted theatre sets, and worked in an elementary school—all jobs that, to me, related back to the ultimate dream of doing books. But I guess you could say that I really got serious in 2002, when I joined SCBWI. That’s when I realized just how much work I still had cut out for me if I ever wanted to get published. Who knew there was so much to learn about the craft and the industry!? Who knew it was going to be so competitive?! Who knew it was going to be so…hard? I pursued children’s books seriously(ish) for 10 years before I got my first offer on a book.

VL: It’s amazing that people think writing books for children is easy, isn’t it?

Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?

HH: Yes, yes, and YES! That’s why I always remained under the covers up to my nose, and never, ever, let an appendage drift too close to the edge of the bed. Ever. And if I had absolutely no choice but use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I leapt like a gazelle from said bed in order to completely clear the grabbing zone. And then I scampered. I scampered like my little life depended on it. Because it did.

VL: Ha ha! I would do the same thing. One of the drawbacks to having a very active imagination is that you can visualize monsters right into being.

Did you ever have a clubhouse or secret place of your own? What did you do there?

HH: Yes! My dad built me the most amazing treehouse in our back yard. It had stairs, a wrap-around porch, a skylight, a dutch door, windows with shutters, gingerbread trim, and carpeting…it sounds a lot nicer than the house I live in now, actually. Did I mention my dad’s the best? My friends and I had a lot of macaroni and cheese lunches up there. And I do remember my cousin and I camping out up there one night…until our imaginations got the best of us (see above), and my dad pretended to be a bear. It was also my favorite place to practice my flute. I’m guessing it was my parent’s favorite place for me to practice my flute, too (not so sure about the neighbors).

Top Hat Terrier
Top Hat Terrier by Hannah Harrison

What was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?

HH: I was once attacked by a bear in my tree house.

VL: Yikes! I hope the bear was your dad.

What was the worst job you ever had while going to school?

HH: The summer I spent in a factory packaging up heat-sinks was pretty awesome.

VL: Did your friends ever come by while you were working and embarrass you?

HH: Nope. Strangely enough, no one wanted to spend their summer afternoons hanging out in the dark, windowless, unconditioned, heat-sink factory. But fortunately, the three older ladies I worked with took care of the embarrassment factor by giving me the nickname “Sasquatch”. Apparently, the work boots at the end of my skinny little legs were quite becoming.

VL: Oh, what an unfortunate nickname!

HH: Tell me about it.

VL: What are you currently working on?

HH: I’m currently working on raising our four year old daughter. I am also working on the illustrations for my second book with Dial, Bernice gets Carried Away.

VL: How exciting! I can’t wait to see it.

What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?

HH: Hmmm. I’m not really sure! Maybe something with a koala bear in it? Oooh! Or a duck-billed platypus? They’re kind of adorable. See, it’s dilemmas like these that remind me just how much I LOVE MY JOB!

VL: We’re so very glad that you do! I sense there will be plenty more books from you coming our way. Thank you for being here, Hannah. I look forward to seeing your work in print very soon!

HH: It’s been my pleasure! Thanks so much for having me, Valerie!

Learn more about Hannah Harrison and see more of her artwork on her website here.

EXTRAORDINARY JANE is now available for preorders. Click on any of the retailer logos below to order your copy, today.

Extraordianry Jane art

Pub date – Feb 6, 2014 by Dial

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Christmas Flash Fiction Contest

tgnalogorevampOver at The Great Noveling Adventure, we are celebrating Christmas the best way writers know how, by writing some Christmas-themed flash fiction.

But that’s not all, we’re inviting you to do the same. From now until December 22nd, we are having a flash fiction contest. Using the picture prompts, write a 500-1000 word piece to enter. We’ll be posting the top three submissions on Monday, December 23rd and the voting will begin. The winner will receive a shiny gift package. Visit our site for details.

You can also stop by and read my own flash fiction story, The Christmas Train.

Post NaNo Blues and How I Conquered the Turkey

Anyone else having a bit of trouble adjusting to life after NaNo? I find myself a little directionless without the ticking clock of the relentless NaNoWriMo countdown to face each morning. My pace has slowed to a crawl without the timed writing sprints to look forward to. Now that I’m responsible for my own motivation, I’m finding myself to be a less than ideal coach. Hey, there’s snow outside and Christmas decorations to put up and gifts to buy.

Distractions, distractions, distractions!

This much snow meant we were snowbound.
This much snow meant we were snowbound.
Great time to decorate the tree.
Great time to decorate the tree.
Perfect weather for cozying up next to a fire.
Perfect weather for cozying up next to a fire.

Maybe we all deserve a little downtime after the craziness of last month.

Here’s a wrap up of last month’s #writemotivation /NaNo goals:

1. Survive, nay, WIN NaNoWriMo.  I did survive NaNo, and even though I didn’t officially win it, I feel like I made great progress on my new project. I wrote a little over 25K words and have about 100 pages of a new manuscript to work with that I didn’t have at the beginning of the month. ALL WITHOUT EDITING.That in itself is a major accomplishment for me.
2. Attend at least three NaNo Write-Ins and take some dares. Goal made. This is what helped me make the most progress in my opinion. I loved the write-ins and meeting so many new writers. And all the dares worked into my project really well. Even the bonus Dr. Who one. 🙂
3. Before Nano starts and maybe even into the first week, prep some posts for the month. I did better with this at the beginning of the month than the end. Still, I plan on using this more in the future. One thing this NaNo has really taught me is how to be more disciplined. 
4. Try to look up every once in awhile and acknowledge family’s presence. Goal accomplished more days than not. There were a few where I failed to shower or make dinner, but I did peek out of my writer’s cave every day and spend some time with the most important people in my life. They love me even when I’m stinky and half-crazed from too much caffeine and when I’m ranting like a lunatic because I can’t make my story work out right, so I have to give them credit where its due.

One day I really tried to spend some quality time with my family was on Thanksgiving.

In support of my writing schedule and because he loves to cook (and I do not) my husband took on most of the burden of preparing our family feast. There was a lot of chopping and simmering that i steered clear of. My husband even did some fancy thing with the stuffing, using cornbread and wild rice that needed to soak in buttermilk like twenty-four hours before. I stayed out of the way in my office, working on my NaNo project, happy as could be. It was also in the middle of birthday week for me, which meant I could ask for special favors from my loving family members, smile at them and then scream at the top of my lungs, “Birthday week!” and they would have to do said task for me. (I love birthday week.) We came up with this a few years ago because my birthday always falls around Thanksgiving and we never really get a chance to celebrate it by itself. Now having a special week every year where I get to boss everyone around is the best gift of all. My birthday actually feels like a celebration. So imagine my surprise when on the evening before Thanksgiving, in the middle of all of these amazing preparations, my husband  turns to me and says that everything is ready to go. “All you have to do is cook the turkey.” I stared at him blankly.

“What?” I’m thinking, isn’t that like the main part of the meal? What did he mean by telling me at the last minute that I was responsible for the biggest part of the dinner? He did remember how much I hated cooking.

“No big deal, just toss it in a roasting bag and pop it in the oven.”

I thought about calling birthday week on that one, but my husband had to work. He wouldn’t be around to cook the damned thing. I think he planned this surprise attack beautifully.

“Sure. Okay.”

Besides, I could do it. I’d made a turkey maybe twice before in my life. Like eight years ago. After all, he was just making all this really fancy stuff, so what if I  just tossed a dry hunk of dead bird on the table as my contribution. How bad could I screw it up? I put my head between my knees to keep from hyperventilating.

After having bad dreams of naked, headless turkey carcasses chasing me, I woke in a panic. I couldn’t just throw the bird in the bag after my husband had worked so hard on everything else. I wouldn’t bring down this holiday. I started with some research. I searched the internet for some sage advice. I needed a great turkey recipe to save the day. What I found were a lot of complicated or even weird ideas. One said I’d need to brine my turkey before cooking it – no time for that! One sounded really tasty, but it would take over nine hours and I didn’t have half of the ingredients. Arg! Then I saw several links telling me I could just pop the damned thing in the dishwasher, and it would be done in an hour and a half. Really? I was sorely tempted by this point, although after reading the fine print, I learned I’d have to carve it up, wrap it in plastic, then broil it in the oven to brown it after it was finished cooking in the dishwasher. No real shortcut after all.

In the end, I found this lovely recipe by Gordon Ramsey that was very doable as I had all the ingredients and I could watch the video. Repeatedly. Rewinding every five seconds and taking notes like a crazy person. And it included bacon. Who doesn’t love bacon? I did have to rub down the turkey with a lemon and parsley butter, which was so not my favorite thing, but the smell was divine once it started cooking. It turned out great in record time. The bird was delicious.

Bacon Turkey

I decided that this is the only way to cook bacon from now on; on a turkey, basted in lemon parsley butter for several hours. And my turkey stood up to my husband’s fancified dishes like they were made for each other.

This experience was a little like my NaNo experience as a whole. Some panic, some experimentation, stretching my limits, and learning that I can do more than I thought I could once I pushed myself past my comfort zone. And I ended up with something pretty cool that I made myself.