I think the eyes have it

I’ve been thinking about eyes this morning. As with many things right now, mostly influenced by my critique partner. But somewhere in the last few years I remember reading a blog post of writing craft, highlighting 10 things one author found most annoying. One of them was characters with eyes that drop and slide. In it, the author said something like: “every time I read about the heroine’s eyes dropping… or the hero dropped his eyes… I get visions of two eyeballs rolling around the floor and everyone scurrying to pick them up.”

Good point. But I feel like the authors I read have characters with eyes that slip and slide, especially some of the cop thrillers I love, like anything by John Sandford. He always writes shady, seedy characters who don’t want to answer Lucas Davenport’s questions and so their eyes slide away…

My CP made some comments in my manuscript about ‘eyes sliding’… which my characters tend to do a fair bit. Although they don’t always slide. They drop or flick or, you know.

So I’ve been consulting another oracle this morning (Jennifer Crusie), but in a reasonably quick scan of some first chapters, this is all I could find:

“I need somebody who doesn’t care about the way things are supposed to be,” he said, his eyes sliding to her neck. Jennifer Crusie, Maybe This Time.

And even Sandford, who I thought did it a lot? I couldn’t find that many references when I really started trying.

So I think I have my answer. It’s time to do a search through my book for “eyes” and see how much slippin’ and slidin’ and droppin’ my characters’ eyes actually do. Maybe they need to look more, or follow (which Crusie does), or hold, or evade.

Maybe they can slide once or twice, or look sideways, just not fall to the carpet and hide under the furniture for the rest of the book. 🙂

In the meantime, I thought of a little ditty. You have to sing it in your head in tune with “Do your ears hang low.” Warning: you may have to be mother (or father) of kids under 5 to remember the tune!

Here goes:

Do your eyes slide and slip?

Do they drop and fly and skip?

Do they flick left and right?

Do they bug and screw up tight…

I won’t inflict anymore of my lousy Keats upon you!

What about you? Do you write characters with eyes that almost deserve a gymnastics medal? Any other favorites? I have this vague memory of another blog post about eyes where a publisher said, just once, she’d like to read about a heroine with ordinary hazel eyes or brown eyes… or any eyes except green, or violet, or ice-blue. Her point being, the vast percentage of women (and men) on the planet have very ordinary-coloured eyes and yet writers tends to want to make their characters’ eyes anything but normal. She said she was looking forward to the day she read a submission about a heroine with ordinary, plain, hazel-coloured eyes.

More to remember!

Hooked on a prologue

I had a lightbulb moment with His Brand Of Beautiful today, and I have two things to thank for it. Two people actually. Stephen King and my critique partner, Kathy. I’ll thank Jennifer Crusie too for this phrase I read on her blog on a topic completely unrelated to prologues. She said something like: The character isn’t in the same location, but I want her to be strong on the page.

I love that. Strong on the page.

So I have a villain in His Brand Of Beautiful who is only in teeny segments of the book, but he’s a huge part of the backstory, and I want him to be Strong On The Page.

My CP said that my villain isn’t ‘bad’ enough, that to raise strong emotions in my characters I have to give strong reasons for those emotions. Because she didn’t read my villain as nasty as I wanted him to be, she felt that my hero’s reactions were then all too far-fetched, or over the top. She didn’t think he had enough reason to hate the villain like he did (does).

So I wrote a prologue in about two hours of writing this morning. My three-year-old was blessedly, beautifully behaved during this time and played with his dinosaurs and came across for the occasional cuddle and generally, just let me get on with it while my muse was flowing.

And here’s where Stephen King comes into it for me. I’ve just finished reading The Dead Zone. King starts it with a prologue. He gives both his hero and his villain a segment in the prologue then kicks off into Chapter 1.

I re-read the prologue this morning.

His villain, Greg Stillson, is gradually climbing the political ladder throughout The Dead Zone and towards the end of the book the hero Johnny has a psychic flash that Stillson is going to become President and that as President, he’ll unleash nuclear war.

In the prologue, King shows a scene with a much younger Stillson, working as a door to door salesman. He rocks up to sell someone encylopedias and when they’re not home, the homeowner’s dog objects to a stranger on his turf. Stillson then proceeds to kick the dog to death.

Nice guy huh?

So because we’ve seen this side of Stillson early in the book, no matter what happens through the next pages we’re all convinced Stillson is an arsehole and that come what may, Johnny Hero has to find a way to prevent Stillson becoming President. It’s brilliant.

This afternoon I visited one of my favorite blogs, Nathan Bransford. He has a great piece on the pros and cons of prologues.

Here’s what he says:

The most common question I get about prologues: are prologues necessary? Personally I think the easiest litmus test is to take out the prologue and see if your book still makes sense.

(I would think given I only just put the prologue in, the answer to that is that I kind of fail this litmus test because I’m sure my book made sense yesterday… but is it better now??? Will this prologue resonate for me right through the book, like Stephen King’s does in The Dead Zone? I think that’s a yes, too.)

Bransford then says:

If you can take out a prologue and the entire plot still makes perfect sense, chances are the prologue was written to “set the mood”. But here’s the thing about mood-setting: most of the time you can set the mood when the actual story begins. Do you really need to set the mood with a separate prologue? Really? Really really?

Sometimes the answer to those four reallys is: “yes, really.” Or the prologue is to be used as a framing device around the plot or to introduce a crucial scene in the backstory that will impact the main plot. So okay, prologue time.

(There’s me. A crucial scene in the backstory that will impact the main plot. Got it in one).

Bransford again:

What makes a good one?

Short, self-contained, comprehensible.

The reader knows full well while reading a prologue that the real story is waiting. A prologue makes a reader start a book twice, because it doesn’t always involve the protagonist, and starting a book is hard because it takes mental energy to immerse oneself in a world. You’re asking more of a reader, so they’ll want to make sure it’s worth it.

You can read Nathan Bransford’s entire post on prologues here. http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/03/prologues.html

For the moment at least, I’m hooked on my prologue. I wonder what my Crit Partner will say?

What about you? Are you a prologue fan?

So I still think I can write…

Well. Much as I’d like to begin this entry with a huge WOO HOO and lots of smiley faces… I didn’t make the top 25 (28) of Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write. It was a top 25 as voted by the public with three wildcard entries as voted by the HQN editors.

Given I have a total of three Facebook friends who know me as Lily Malone, (which isn’t the name I entered the competition under) and given I don’t Twitter AND I am extremely shy about telling any friends that I’m trying to make that leap from ‘writer’ to ‘author’… I knew I was always hunting one of the Wildcards. I was never going to get anywhere when it came to the public vote.

I just read the best blog entry about SYTYCW. http://www.run-janie-run.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/so-you-think-you-can-write-then-shut-up.html and I’m filled with empathy and I guess sympathy, for the blog author, Janie Crouch. What she got up to in terms of getting votes makes for funny reading, but as I’m sure any of the co-dreamers who hoped for one of the spots in the top 28 will tell you – we were all there too, fingers (and toes) crossed along with Janie, voting for our own entries. Only I wasn’t so darn imaginative as Janie when it came to garnering other votes. Why didn’t I think of running down to the nearest Harvey Norman computer section and logging on to every computer terminal to vote for His Brand Of Beautiful! Gol-darn.

The hardest thing for me is the let-down, having not been picked. There is something so exciting about that beautiful vast unknown. Any writer who has a query out, a submission in, a contest as yet un-won, will know how much you both dread, and anticipate, hearing news about that story. It’s far more fun having something out in the ether and being on the roller-coaster I call ‘waiting to hear’ than not having any balls in the air (so to speak.) No matter how hard it sometimes gets to juggle that feeling of fear when there’s an email coming in, and the let down when it’s my husband’s golf partner making a golf date; or my weekly butcher specials from The Chop Shop – I’d still rather rush to the computer on the hour in case there is something.

And the best thing about SYTYCW for me? Well, perhaps because the only votes I engineered for myself were the three I got from my sister-in-law… I was truly thrilled when 7 people clicked they LIKED my entry; and one person – the lovely Jo Fereday from New Zealand – even tweeted that she liked it. YES – I have been the subject of a positive tweet. (Now that’s worth a WOO HOO in anyone’s little black book!) And Jo became my third Facebook friend, and one that I’m looking forward to get to know.

So to Janie Crouch and anyone else suffering withdrawal from SYTYCW I say, hang in there. Keep writing. Keep honing that craft and enjoy what you do. Write! just do it.

Last days of SYTYCW

Voting closes (GMT) in about an hour on Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write competition. The top 25 stories as voted by the public over the last week or so go through to the next round, plus a Wildcard 3 entries as selected by the Harlequin editors.

It has been an eye-opener watching the promotion of writers involved in the competition. Twitter on the Harlequin site was ballistic. I only just graduated into Facebook, so I’m not as yet ready to join the Twittersphere, but there were a heap of writers who’re obviously very familiar with using Twitter for promotion, and using it to connect.

Personally, I didn’t see any bad blood. But I did read a blog post of one entrant that when reading between the lines would seem she’d copped some flack about all the self-promotion. http://fortheloveofwritingwords.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/for-love-of-putting-it-all-out-there.html

She wasn’t the only one doing it by any means and there were tweets from husbands saying vote for their wives’ entries and friends and colleagues and you name it. I think if you’re out there and you’re doing it, well good on you. In some respects the use of social networks is part of what Harlequin would look for (and other publishers) to see that you are prepared to take on some self-marketing for your work.

What some people got up to was eye-opening. I read about one writer who printed business cards with the competition address and her entry link details and left them all through her office building with a ‘please vote’.

I’m very relaxed about the next phase. I don’t expect to get through, given I’m really battling for a wildcard as I’m sure I won’t have the votes, but I’ll look forward to seeing what does get chosen by the editors. (That’s if the wildcards are separated from the Top 25 somehow, so you know which ones the editors picked).

Meanwhile, I’ve been working through my critique partner’s 56,000 word story, and enjoying the process (and I enjoyed the story). We swapped very quick emails with initial responses. I really like her heroine in the book which surprised my CP, she said so far, “no one has”.

This is what she said about my book:

So far my impression of His Brand of Beautiful is one of clever writing, really strong concrete description and fun innovative situations.  I am finding it hard to follow the character’s motivations but I will explain that in my notes.  This looks like it’s going to be a fun, emotional read.

Critiquing has been very much on my mind and once again my favorite author blogger, Jennifer Crusie, has a timely post for me! (Okay so I’m sure it’s not just for me, but it’s still timely). A lot of the comments were interesting. She asked what people fear about having their work critiqued and the pros and cons. http://www.arghink.com/2012/10/09/critiques-some-questions/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ArghInk+%28Argh+Ink%29

Meanwhile, it’s off to wait for the Harlequin tally-keepers and editors to score their votes. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve chosen to go through. I can only imagine the next round of Twittering once they’ve narrowed down a short list. I think the Twittersphere might melt down!

What’s the best bit of social network self promotion you’ve seen? Share a tip in the comments!

A weekend for firsts

FIRST first: I opened my emails this morning to a request for a FULL of His Brand Of Beautiful, which makes it the first request for a full I’ve ever had. Which means someone read three chapters of my writing and WANTS TO READ MORE… (breathe, remember to breathe). But I’m trying to keep a lid on this, and so I’ll just plough on through to the next first.

SECOND first: I took the plunge last week and joined the RWA Critique Partners member service and I had some lovely back and forth email exchanges with my trial partner on Saturday that resulted in us deciding to share complete manuscripts. Hers is a YA of about 56,000 words… I wonder how she feels at having my 80,000 word contemporary romance thump into the inbox… I hope she’s enjoying it. Above everything I hope that reading it isn’t a chore for her. I’d hate that.

Anyway, I just finished (over lunch) reading the book by my trial partner and have been thinking about my comments and what and how to provide these. I wanted to read the book right through first as a ‘reader’ to make sure I wasn’t tempted to pull out the red pen, because I don’t think red pens are the point of critiquing… And I went back to re-read an old post I wrote about a conversation/comment on Jennifer Crusie’s blog that dealt with critiquing. I subscribe to JC’s theories (err Crusie that is, not Christ). https://lilymalone.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/httpwww-arghink-com20120607the-12-days-of-liz-day-nine-the-words-and-me/

THIRD first: Today was my son’s first day of pre-school. He looked so cute in his uniform, and he seems so very grown up!

FOURTH first: Home Opens… looks like this Sunday is the first one for us; we have the house looking so spic and span, I don’t think I want to sell it. 🙂

Playing God (Agent) for a day

There was an interesting article on Nathan Bransford’s blog today: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2012/10/empathizing-with-literary-agents.html and it’s inspired me to play agent for a day, plus I have the perfect opportunity, a wet Saturday and Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write competition – voting now on.

The Harlequin So You Think You Can Write competition has more than 700 entries across all the HQN categories. In the category I entered, Harlequin Superromance, there would be about 50. So this morning and last night I’ve gone through every entry in the Superromance category, to see which ones I like best, and which one, if I was an agent, I’d select.

This is my short list:

Sierrra Sunrise http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/manuscripts/sierra-sunrise/ (I like this opening line).

Bow-Tie & The Boys http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/manuscripts/bow-tie-and-the-boys/ (This was the first chapter of any entries – superromance or other – that I read to the end)

Everlasting Inklination http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/manuscripts/everlasting-inklination/

Stealing Home http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/manuscripts/stealing-home/

Bride For The Batchelor http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/manuscripts/bride-for-the-bachelor/ (Another one with an opening line I really like). It only has one ‘like’ (it’s got two now) which surprised me because I think this is really good and she’s the first heroine I’ve really cared about. Maybe because my days with a newborn baby are not so long ago that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to walk the halls with a screaming child). It’s by M. J. Esber. I got to the end of this one too. I thought it was excellent.

And I’m not counting my own entry, His Brand Of Beautiful. I’m not the best person to judge it! http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/manuscripts/his-brand-of-beautiful/

If I have to pick just one – it would be Bride For The Batchelor. I like it because it lets the story and scene unfold through dialogue and action whereas in almost all these entries there seems a big info dump early on in the story.

It’s an interesting lesson in writing psychology, taking part in this competition. The Twitter chat is huge. As someone who has only just found Facebook, I’m not yet into Twitter and this is the first time I’ve watched a conversation. A whole heap of plugging is a-going on… At the end of the day they’re probably not pumping the right audience because I’d say the people watching that feed are people like me, other writers. We only get one vote to spread a day and I’d say every writer in the competition will be saving her vote madly for her own story… unless they’re saints if course, which I’m not 😉

So You Think You Can Write – I hope so!

Before I even start, that’s twice now that I’ve typed So You Think You Can Wright (seriously!) It’s not a great look! 🙂

If you’re in romance writing land, and especially if unpublished, I think you’d have to be hiding inside a non-internet connected igloo if you haven’t heard about Harlequin’s global competition, So You Think You Can Write. (There – wrote write without the ght but I had to really concentrate).

I first saw news of the competition on the RWA Cruisin the Blogs. I checked it out but I didn’t think His Brand Of Beautiful fit any of their categories. I confess that whether it fits any of their categories or not, I don’t feel personally that it fits Harlequin’s style – but then I figure there’s nothing to lose by entering. So it’s in as a Super Romance, which has a wordcount of 80,000 and is the longest HQN publish (other than MIRA I think but MIRA wasn’t offered as a choice for the competition).

So on Saturday morning I sat down before the AFL Grand Final to submit my entry. It took forever. You have to write (god I did ght again, what is going on this morning??) a 100 word pitch, which is harder than it sounds and apparently you were supposed to include the HEA in that 100 words too (oops). In recent days I’ve had to write a 200 word synopsis and now a 100 word pitch. Pretty soon I’m sure we’ll be down to 140 characters in a tweet to ‘hook’ readers/agents/editors/publishers…

Well, then I couldn’t seem to get a confirmation email which the site said I should get, and then the FAQs said any problems, email Tech Support… except Technical Support only work 9-5, Mon-Friday and the competition entries closed on September 30 (Sunday). All of which had me thinking I’d left it all too late and I was likely to miss out. So I emailed the lovely Tech Support people and said something along the lines of: “if I miss out so be it but this is what I did and perhaps you could let me know either way if it did, or didn’t make it…”

And this morning there’s notification that they’ve uploaded it on my behalf. So I’m in. Officially.

The public can vote on the entries. I think the top 25 go through to the second round and HQN have 3 wildcard entries they can pick. Some of the comments on the Twitter feed at HQN’s site talk about whether it’s a ‘popularity’ contest or a writing contest, but I think the 3 Wildcards are there to help that in some respects.

Anyway, let’s see how we go. Here is the link to His Brand Of Beautiful. If you have a chance to read it and you like what you’re reading, I would be thrilled if you’d give it the thumb’s up. When I look at it versus other stories it seems a world away from what people are entering. Which I guess either means I’m doing something wrong; or I’m just not in the style they’re looking for. Time will tell. Here’s the link and thanks in advance: http://www.soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com/manuscripts/his-brand-of-beautiful/