Monthly Archives: June 2013

Introducing a Character

I’m currently reading “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell since it was the 99 cent deal-of-the-day on Amazon’s Kindle books a few weeks ago. I’ve never read it nor seen the movie; everything I know about it, I know from pop-culture references and a few discussions from film/screenwriting classes in college. I’m having fun catching up on who Scarlett O’Hara is and being uncertain of what’s going to happen between she and Rhett Butler.

(Confession: I saw “Django Unchained” recently, and that view of the south is messing with my ability to read this novel very seriously. I keep half-expecting one of the slaves to pull out a gun and start mowing everyone down).

Anyway :) the introduction of Rhett Butler is powerful. Even someone with no background whatsoever in the story can understand that he’s important. Look at this thing!

From page 96:

“As she chattered and laughed and cast quick glances into the house and the yard, her eyes fell on a stranger, standing alone in the hall, staring at her in a cold impertinent way that brought her up sharply with a mingled feeling of feminine pleasure that she had attracted a man and an embarrassed sensation that her dress was too low in the bosom. He looked quite old, at least thirty-five. He was a tall man and powerfully built. Scarlett thought she had never seen a man with such wide shoulders, so heavy with muscles, almost too heavy for gentility. When her eye caught his, he smiled, showing animal-white teeth below a close-clipped black mustache. He was dark of face, swarthy as a pirate, and his eyes were as bold and black as any pirate’s appraising a galleon to be scuttled or a maiden to be ravished. There was a cool recklessness in his face and a cynical humor in his mouth as he smiled at her, and Scarlett caught her breath. She felt that she should be insulted by such a look and was annoyed with herself because she did not feel insulted. She did not know who he could be, but there was undeniably a look of good blood in his dark face. It showed in the thin hawk nose over the full red lips, the high forehead and the wide-set eyes.

She dragged her eyes away from his without smiling back, and he turned as someone called: ‘Rhett! Rhett Butler! Come here! I want you to meet the most hard-hearted girl in Georgia.'”

I’ve gathered a very distinct picture of Rhett, both visually and with a good sense to his character overall. The imagery and similes are great. Keeping an eye out for the way authors introduce their important characters can be an important study for writers; I always “knew” that, but when I reached this page and read that chunk of text all about Rhett, it felt really hammered home.

Now, “Gone with the Wind” is about 1,000 pages, and that’s not my goal with any of my novels. But Mitchell takes the time to describe the places and people so her readers get a solid sense of what everything looks, sounds, and even smells like. It breathes a lot of life into the story and is done in a bright, interesting way. She never gets dry with her descriptions like even dear Tolkien can get with his. (Of course, I’m only about 15% through the book, so my opinion is subject to change). Overall, though, it’s teaching me a lot about how to add description into my own novels. I don’t take a lot of time to set the stage, and while I describe character’s features, I never hint at what they’re wearing, and that’s a huge part of who they are too–especially since Varankai is a coastal town and has very different standards of dress than somewhere like the Kingdom nestled in the mountains. Once again, I have to slow down, stop focusing so much on action and dialogue, and remember to paint the scene with my words so the readers can be fully, totally, drawn in to the experience.

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to glimpse the Ocean

Ah, Neil Gaiman, you clever boy.

He is truly a brilliant author. I don’t like everything he’s written (and was rather relieved to see that his own wife, Amanda Palmer, feels that way too, as she wrote in this blog post–“American Gods” is also the example I use of what I didn’t enjoy, in addition to the frustrating ending of “The Graveyard Book”), but what I do like, I love. “Stardust?” Absolutely beautiful, in the prose and the love story and the sprinkles of comedy. “Anansi Boys”? Hands down the best example of character growth I can think of, aside from maybe Samwise Gamgee. Plus so much more, like “Neverwhere” and “Coraline” and “Fragile Things.” He’s quirky, creative, and a magical blend of English and American sensibilities.

I finished reading his newest novel, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” It didn’t unseat Anansi Boys or Stardust as my favorites, but it’s high up there. There’s just this amazing spirit that Gaiman is able to imbibe into his books, and he really makes the words and images stick with you. I could picture everything so well as it happened. The characters and their speech are each distinct, which is another writing trick I admire and am struggling to improve on in my own stories.

A lot of reviews had plot spoilers, and I hope most people are able to avoid those before they read it so they can fully enjoy the mystery as it unravels. Suffice it to say that it’s a story about a first person narrator (a boy, never named), his friend Lettie Hempstock, and an adventure. There’s a lot of empathy it draws out of the reader, and lots of lovely quotes I couldn’t help but underline–many about adulthood from the eyes of a child. It’s much shorter than his other novels; I expected something the size of Anansi Boys, but the hardback is even slimmer than the Graveyard Book’s hardback.

the American cover

the American cover

the U.K. cover

the U.K. cover

It’s more along the lines of “Neverwhere” than anything else, so if you liked that, you should like this. But even if you like any Neil Gaiman in general, or “urban fantasy” (the closest genre I can think of to fit this book), or… Peter Pan (haha you’ll see), it’s worth reading. It’s strange and beautiful, like most of Gaiman’s writing, and will draw you fully into it. I finished the book, closed the cover, and was almost surprised to be sitting on my long green couch in my tiny living room in the real world.

Highly, highly recommended.

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the future is bright

Another blog post so soon?

Yes! Because I have WONDERFUL news!

My Pitcharama entry caught the eye of Lauren McKellar, who will be sharing my Copper pitch with a bunch of small publishing houses! If they think it sounds like a fit for them, I’ll be sending off the full manuscript into the world.

I’m so excited! See? Hard work pays off! Even if nothing works out with them, it’s still forward motion and motivation to keep working harder. My writing will get published, my stories will be told, and I will never give up.

I’m following my dreams and quite happy about that. :)

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thanks a lot, Athena

It’s story time!

Unfortunately, this story is true. :( You’ll see.

One of my students lent me the first book in the Percy-Jackson-sequel-series  (“The Heroes of Olympus”) during the last week of school. I’d read all the original Percy Jackson books (“Percy Jackson and the Olympians”), so I was excited. I finished it quickly and liked it, so I bought the 2nd and then the 3rd, which is called “The Mark of Athena.” I read most of that one this past Sunday.

(minor spoilers ahead)

Mark-of-Athena-Cover

The character Annabeth is a daughter of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. If anyone remembers their Greek mythology (woo 9th grade), Athena challenged Arachne to a weaving contest when the mortal girl claimed to be better than the goddess. Long story short, Arachne got turned into a spider.

In Riordan’s book, he elaborates that spiders are the enemies of children of Athena. Naturally, Annabeth gets attacked by some–whole swarms of spiders–before meeting Arachne herself.

Now, let’s back up one step to remember that I like Athena. I love mythology and learning (and owls), so Athena is my favorite of the Greeks and the inspiration for my Twitter handle.

Therefore I connect with Annabeth more than any of the other characters.

And I was lying in bed Sunday night, reading feverishly through the story on my Kindle, wondering if Riordan was actually going to kill off one of his characters and trying to finish before I fell asleep so I would know who lived or died. I wouldn’t say I have arachnophobia, but I really dislike spiders (especially in my house. NO BUGS ALLOWED), so Annabeth’s scenes were making me a bit squeamish.

Then a tiny spider crawled across my arm. I squished it and shivered. Haha, a real spider landed on me while I’m reading about Annabeth being attacked by spiders. So funny. 

I continued to read. Poor Annabeth! She was getting tangled in the evil webs of Arachne!

Then another spider lowered itself down from the ceiling and landed right on top of my Kindle. I squished it and felt my heart rate start to rise. Two spiders??

Not so funny.

Annabeth was trapped in Arachne’s lair. The setting was getting a little too realistic. I lowered my Kindle and stared up at my ceiling.

Four–five–no, seven tiny moving dots.

And one began to lower itself on a thread of silk.

I leapt out of bed and ran to retrieve the broom from the kitchen. I swept the spiders away and prayed they’d die in the fall, and also, fall onto the floor and not my bed. I tried to follow with my eyes the imaginary path they’d been walking, and looked in the dark corner of the ceiling.

A hundred spiders.

A HUNDRED SPIDERS INSIDE MY HOUSE WALKING TOWARD ME NO NO NO NO NO NO

It looked as though a spider egg/pouch/thingie had been laid in the corner and recently burst, and Charlotte’s-Web-style, the babies were trying to float their way to freedom. INSIDE MY HOUSE. They were slowly leaving their corner in a line, Harry-Potter-and-the-Chamber-of-Secrets-style (oh I feel ya Ron Weasley), and lowering themselves right above me in my precious sacred should-never-be-covered-in-spiders bed. 

Yeah so maybe I panicked.

“JEFFI’MBEINGATTACKEDBYSPIDERSDOWEHAVEANYRAID!!!”

*sleeping husband turns over* “…….. what?”

“JEEEEEFFFFF I’M BEING ATTACKED BY SPIDERS, DO WE HAVE ANY RAID?????”

“Maybe under the sink? Multiple spiders? What?”

There was no time to explain. I ran to the kitchen again to get Raid and paper towels. I climbed our dresser like a monkey and somehow didn’t fall down as I sprayed and squished and murdered those bastard spiders that dared to set up camp INSIDE MY HOUSE.

It was after midnight at this point, but my adrenaline had spiked so high that I knew I wasn’t going to fall asleep for a loooong time. I considered burning off my skin with a flamethrower to make sure there were no more spiders on me, but the repercussions seemed pretty heavy so I refrained. I cautiously began reading again. Annabeth overcame the spiders (mostly) as I had (mostly), so I felt encouraged. After that, and after playing a bunch of Bejeweled Blitz on my phone to try to calm down, I finally fell asleep. There didn’t seem to be any further sign of spiders in the morning.

Worst experience ever.

Guys, I think I have arachnophobia now. :'(

Anyway… review of The Heroes of Olympus series to come after I finish all of them! [… is what I wrote until I looked up book 4 to purchase it, and saw that it doesn’t come out until October… Hrrm].

p.s. If I had any kind of Greek in me, I would be easily convinced to name a daughter Athena. But, my husband and I are Italian, which equals her Roman name, “Minerva,” which is McGonagall, and basically everything falls apart.

p.p.s. The Pitcharama post is bringing an overwhelming amount of traffic to my blog and makes me feel really shy! hahaha

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Pitcharama!

Here is my entry for Pitcharama, over at the Aussie Owned & Read blog (though it said I can submit my manuscript even as a non-Aussie)!

Manuscript Title: Copper (The Aster Trilogy, Book One)

Author: Catherine Hansen

Age group: YA

Genre: Fantasy

Word count: 56,000

250 word blurb:

Every child in Varankai knows the bedtime story: once upon a time there were stars in the sky, celestial diamonds that guided sailors home. But now those stars are no more than a legend; every night the skies are pitch black, save for the ever-changing moon.

And now even that is fading away.

Orphaned and fiercely independent Copper Llewellyn finds herself drawn into the mystery of the missing stars as she befriends an enigmatic mage, Shiloh, and his ship’s misfit crew. She’s never had a friend, much less an adventure, before, and must overcome fears big and small to help return her world to its full glory. Their travels will lead them farther, and quite literally deeper, into the history of their land, their magic, and Copper’s own family. Meanwhile a force is growing, darker than any of them expect… a force larger, closer, and more far-reaching than anything the kingdom has witnessed in hundreds of years.

All of Copper’s experiences–those whom Copper has loved and those she’s hated, her dreams and her nightmares, the non-magical skills she’s spent her life honing–will come into play as the crew fights for a way to bring back the stars.

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“I Write Like”

So, I had just enough free time to mess around with a site called “I Write Like,” where one copies and pastes their work into a little box that analyzes it to say whose writing style it’s closest to.

I put in the first five paragraphs of Copper and got…

“Stephenie Meyer.”

So then I tried to think about where the nearest bridge was that I could leap off of, but got over it fairly quickly once I’d decided to (frantically) do a “best 3 out of 5” thing.

Different paragraphs: Ursula K. Le Guin (Wizard of Earthsea).

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 12.03.14 AM

Later paragraphs: Neil Gaiman (Anansi Boys, Stardust, and one million other things).

I kept copying and pasting different sections of text from all throughout the novel until I’d received Neil three times and Ursula five times. Stephenie never came up again.

So, I feel much better than I initially did (I mean, seriously… I want to write YA fantasy with humor, so Ursula K. Le Guin + Neil Gaiman??? I know these results aren’t a perfect truth–it’s just one guy’s little site–but I WILL TAKE IT AND SQUEEZE IT AND CALL IT GEORGE), and now understand that I have to rewrite my first page…

because the last thing I want is a publisher reading my work “with chagrin,” quitting after the first page, and tossing it onto the NO pile. ;)

P.S. Plugging my various blog posts into the site, including short stories like “Homeless & Horses” and the Fairy Tales, kept spitting back Gertrude Stein, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Anne Rice. I guess I’m quite a mix! Hopefully with all the work I plan to do in the next few weeks, I’ll be further solidifying my own unique style.

P.P.S. Then I realized I should use book 2, the in-progress Copper book of the trilogy, to see if I maintained consistency in my writing style this time around. And I got back Ursula four times and Neil Gaiman once! So yesss… I’m onto something here…

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search terms

I get blog views for the weirdest things sometimes. (And I’m going to tag this post with all of them, for good or ill…)

Top searches have been Mr. Bean (you’ll recall that I talked about him because one of Van Gogh‘s naked lady paintings looked like him. Sigh) and Sookie (yet I only wrote that one review, which nobody commented on… because I thought who she ended up with was fine, and the full searches were often things like “I hate ____” <–the man she ends up with).

A huge one that I don’t understand is “word count Fault In Our Stars.” That’s another book that I reviewed, but why are so many people interested in the word count? (Well, if/since you got here… there are about 67,000, according to random information I could find around the Googleverse).

Anyway. My “picture inspiration” post gets a lot of hits too, since people want “character inspiration” or “character looks.” Hopefully my idea to picture actors as your characters has helped.

“Fairy tales” or “dragons” are another huge search term, which lead to my fairy tale stories. I hope you enjoy those!

That’s all. Short blog for today. I just laugh every time I click the Stats bar and see another Mr. Bean search.

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