If Your Mom Tweeted

One of my favorite language-focused blog series has been “If They Tweeted,” with posts on quotes from Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Martin Luther King, Jr., and several others. It’s interesting to imagine what some would do with 140 characters or less, if only they’d had access to Twitter.

Some of your moms may already be tweeting, but others have moms who are still getting to know their cell phone and haven’t dipped their toes into the Twittersphere. Still, there are plenty of momisms around, that I believe I can offer what your mom would say if she tweeted. So in honor of Mother’s Day here in the United States — If Your Mom Tweeted.

Fake Tweet from Mom

  1. Cover your mouth when you cough.
  2. Whatever you do, don’t touch the toilet seat. #publicbathroomtip
  3. Don’t make that face, or it will freeze that way.
  4. Eat your vegetables.
  5. Your shirt is not a napkin.
  6. If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?
  7. Be home by curfew!
  8. I’m not buying that for you. Put it back.
  9. Do your homework.
  10. You will not talk back to me that way.
  11. Don’t make me come in there.
  12. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
  13. Of course I have eyes in the back of my head.
  14. That thing you lost? It’s right where you left it.
  15. All this gray hair? That’s from raising you.
  16. Go ask your dad.
  17. Say please and thank you.
  18. Would it kill you to get along with your [brother/sister] for just one day?
  19. How many times do I have to say something before you hear me?
  20. You are not going out dressed like that.
  21. No one ever said life would be fair.
  22. Come here and let me give you a hug.
  23. You can do it. I believe in you.
  24. If I had a choice? Yes, I’d do it all over again.
  25. I love you . . . more than you can imagine.

Back atcha, Mom!

Happy Mother's Day

I’ll be celebrating with my family by giving my own momisms and avoiding all cooking. While I’m doing that, here’s my weekly report for A Round of Words in 80 Days.

ROW80 Update

1. Read 12 books. Read After the Scandal by Elizabeth Essex (historical romance). Her books are so well-written! 5 of 12 knocked out.

2. Finish editing SHARING HUNTER, a young adult contemporary novel. See the next goal, because improving my short stories has been keeping me from editing the novel like I should. But sometimes (sigh), you have to take one project at a time. Nope.

3. Edit one short story to publication quality. Editing that same short story I was working on last week. I thought I was done, but there were still problems. It’s been a frustrating process to figure out how to rework this story, but I honestly see it getting better every time. I think I’ve finally nailed down the bones and muscles of it, so I’m going to set it aside for a while. Three chapters rewritten.

4. Publish and promote two short stories. I decided to take Gwen Hernandez’s newest Scrivener course on compiling (I’ve highly recommended her general Scrivener course before) and started that last week. Based on her excellent lessons, I reworked some compiling options for my upcoming short story, My Sister’s Demon, so the ebook will be well-formatted for readers. Progress.

5. Stay on top of ROW80 sponsor duties. Visited another 10 blogs this week. We have some new participants! Done!

What momisms do you remember from childhood, or that have come out of your own mouth? And how was your week?

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Tips for a Photo Shoot and ROW80 Wrap-Up

For years, I’ve used a photo here on this blog and on my social media sites I took myself. It worked fine, since it was a pretty decent picture and really did look like me. However, it was time to update the photo and get a professional involved.

So I recently hired a friend whose photography I admire to take author photos of me. Before going for my shoot, I consulted online articles and asked fellow authors for advice. Here are some helpful tips I received:

Choose a good time and place — both for the look you want and for making sure you’re comfortable for the shoot. If you’re taking an outdoor photo, the best lighting is usually at sunrise and sunset.

Wear make-up a little darker and heavier than normal, but not too heavy since you want to look like you. Even if you don’t wear make-up (girl or guy), you may still want some powder to take off the shine.

Bring more than one outfit. Certain colors may clash with the background, and you don’t always know what will look best ahead of time.

Wear solid, darker colors, long sleeves. Avoid black with a black background, but otherwise a darker color keeps the subject from looking washed out. Stay away from busy patterns and heavy jewelry. Keep it simple.

Find ways to relax — whether by sipping some wine, listening to music, chatting with the photographer, etc.

Be clear about what you want. Communicate expectations so that you and your photographer are on the same page about the look you’re going for.

Make sure the photographer takes enough photos, so you have plenty to choose from.

Don’t freeze up during the photo session. Instead, shift your pose a little here and there, trying to get the best and most natural pose you can.

Consult others if you need help choosing which photo to use. When you receive your final pictures, ask someone who knows you well which pose does you justice. You want a photo that represents what you truly look like, while also putting your best foot forward.

By the way, August McLaughlin, author and former model, has an excellent article on Mastering Your Author Headshot with more suggestions.

Armed with great tips, I headed to my photo shoot last week.

I’d requested an outdoor photo, both full body and head shots, and wardrobe changes. My photographer friend and I met at a local park around sunset. I wore jeans and boots and brought four long-sleeved shirts, so switching clothes was easy. My make-up was a little heavier than usual, but only enough to make my facial features stand out. The photographer took several photos with each outfit and in different locations with different poses. It was a relaxing experience, and I’m very happy with the results.

And since it seems wrong after all that not to share a few photos from my shoot . . .

Julie Glover - author photo

Julie Glover - author photo 4

Julie Glover - author photo 3

Julie Glover - author photo 2

Julie Glover - author photo

My photographer did an amazing job!!!

ROW80 Update

This is IT — the final check-in for this round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Participants choose their own goals and report weekly or twice weekly on their progress. Here are my round’s goals and how I did for the round:

1. Read 12 books. Read 15 books, the last one being Solstice by P.J. Hoover.

Goal exceeded.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. I drafted two young adult paranormal stories and worked on some others. My plan is to begin publishing shorts during the next round.

Goal met.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. I missed a week in my sponsor responsibilities but checked in every other week. Loved hearing about all the fabulous progress from my writing peeps!

Goal met.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary. I went through Good & Guilty and made a bunch of notes, so it sort of went through an editing process. I did not, however, complete all those changes before getting drawn over to Sharing Hunter. I worked on Sharing Hunter some as well, but didn’t complete a full edit there either. All in all, I felt frustrated that my short story goal and this editing goal didn’t mesh as well as expected. This will be a primary goal in the next round.

Some progress, but not fully met.

Have you ever had your photo taken professionally? What tips would you give for making sure you get a good shot? And how was your week?

Dancing Bacon and My Three Degrees to Kevin

Jimmy Fallon has a knack for producing interesting clips on his shows. Now the host of the The Tonight Show, he recently hosted guest Kevin Bacon on the 30th anniversary of the 1980s movie Footloose. Check out Bacon’s fabulous entrance:

Lest you think that whole premise was ridiculous (a small town banning dancing), I attended college in Abilene, Texas — only a half-hour drive from Anson, Texas. Anson may, or may not, have been the inspiration for the movie FootlooseA 1933 city ordinance banned dancing and spurred the common phrase, “No dancin’ in Anson.” The law was finally removed in 1987 (a year after I started college), although some continued to warn against the perils of dancing.

Speaking of Footloose, I remain three degrees from Kevin Bacon. I’m friends with someone who worked on the set of 24 with Kiefer Sutherland, and Sutherland starred in Flatliners with Kevin Bacon. If anyone can get me closer, let me know! 🙂

3 degrees of Kevin Bacon
Photo credits: the1secondfilm.com & David Shankbone, via Wikimedia Commons

ROW80 Update

Now let’s look at how close I am to completing my goals for this round of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Participants choose their own goals and report weekly or twice weekly on their progress. Here are my round’s goals and progress on each:

1. Read 12 books. Read #13, Stronger Than Magic by Melinda VanLone, and #14, This Matter of Marriage by Debbie Macomber. Goal exceeded for the round, but I still have plenty more books in my reading queue.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. The first story is finished, and I wrote more on the second story. I expect to meet this goal in next few days, as long as I can stay on track. Doing fine.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. Checked in on the Sunday and Wednesday posts from my peeps. The reports I’ve seen range from lots of progress to some progress to oh-my-gosh-do-we-only-have-one-week-left! Yes, we do. Done.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary. This goal and the short story goal haven’t gone together as well as I’d hoped. Very little progress.

Are you a Footloose or Kevin Bacon fan? How many degrees of separation do you have from Mr. Bacon? And how was your week?

Veronica Mars and TV-Inspired Movies

Veronica Mars TV series posterThere once was a teenage private detective named Veronica Mars who lived in the coastal town of Neptune, California and wowed viewers with her spy skills, quick wit, and tumultuous relationships. The Veronica Mars TV series aired from 2004 to 2007 and was cancelled, to the massive disappointment of many faithful viewers — I among them.

So when creator Rob Thomas and series star Kristen Bell launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $2 million to make a Veronica Mars movie, I thought, What a good idea. Which was followed immediately by concern that this was a bad idea. Because TV series brought to screen are sometimes not all they’re cracked up to be.

Take, for instance, one of my favorite television series, The Avengers, starring Patrick Macnee as John Steed and various co-stars including Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. Years later they decided to make the movie, with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman in the starring roles. I couldn’t wait to see Steed and Peel together again. Bad, bad idea. None of the chemistry, the quirkiness, the magic of the original British series translated at all to the big screen remake. Not only was I disappointed, I was miffed at how badly they had desecrated the iconic TV show.

But then again, there was Dragnet, the original series created by and starring Jack Webb as detective Joe Friday. When the movie remake came out with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks, I was skeptical. Would the film capture the spirit of the original while treading new ground as well? Indeed, it far exceeded my expectations. And provided a marvelous villain performance by Christopher Plummer as well. Well done, Dragnet.

To me, the record on other TV-to-movie offerings has been mixed. Here are a few I’ve seen:

Bewitched
Charlie’s Angels
The Flintstones
The Fugitive
George of the Jungle
Get Smart
Mission Impossible
Popeye
Serenity (Firefly)
Star Trek

There are plenty of others I haven’t seen — like The Brady Bunch Movie, Dukes of Hazzard, MaverickScooby Doo, and Sex and the City. But it’s a risk to take a beloved TV series with 30-minute to one-hour episodes and then find a big enough story worth telling on the big screen.

So how did this one measure up? Was Veronica Mars worth the over $5 million ultimately raised on Kickstarter through 91,000+ donors?

Julie w/two friends & marshmallows in their mouths
We had our marshmallows ready!

I went into the Saturday afternoon showing with low expectations and emerged very happy. The film makers did a good job of maintaining the characters, paying homage to the TV series, and yet recognizing that we’re several years down the road. If you weren’t a fan of Veronica Mars, I think the movie still holds up on its own. But if you were a fan of Veronica Mars, you should find something in here that stirs up good memories and sucks you back into the fictional community of Neptune and its residents.

And now I’m a little more hopeful about the trend to take good TV series and make them into movies. For the times that it pays off, it’s worth the risk.

ROW80 Update

Now let’s look at the payoff of my last week with A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Participants choose their own goals and report weekly or twice weekly on their progress. Here are my round’s goals and my week’s progress on each:

1. Read 12 books. Read #12, A Marine to Remember by Danette Fogarty (fiction), and #13, Writing from the Middle, a short book by James Scott Bell (nonfiction). Goal met for this round! But of course, I’ll keep reading.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. First story is done, and I reworked a couple of chapters in the second story. Thanks to a wonderful idea from my lovely teenage friend “A” this week, I resolved one remaining story issue. I can see it all coming together now, and I’m close to having a full draft. Good progress this week.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. Checked in on the Sunday and Wednesday posts from my crew. Good weeks overall. Done.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary. This goal has been taking a back seat each week to my short stories, which I expected to take less time than they have. Here’s hoping I can tackle this with greater fervor this week, especially since my kids’ Spring Break is over and they’re returning to school. Progress? Not so much.

So what do you think of TV shows made into movies? What are some of the best and worst you’ve seen? Are you a Veronica Mars fan? And how was your week?

Do You Have a Book Twin?

I have recently discovered a fellow author who substantially shares my taste in fiction. We’ve had a marvelous time breaking down books we liked and books we didn’t like and discussing why. Our reasons align so well, it’s a little eerie.

Consequently, I’ve been calling her my “book twin” in my head. I’m fairly confident that if she recommends a book, I’ll enjoy it. And if she pans a book, I can safely stay away.

Do you have a book twin?

Who is that person who can reliably give you a book recommendation? Where do you turn for suggestions on what to read next? Do you ever read books at the same time as someone else — knowing you’ll enjoy the ensuing discussion almost as much as the book?

Julie reading
One of our recent simultaneous reads.

For years, I was involved in a book club, but we disbanded a while ago due to changing schedules and dwindling attendance. Even within that club, there were people with whom I was more likely to agree than others. I took their recommendations seriously and thus discovered some fabulous books.

It’s a good idea to have a book twin (or triplets, etc.) — someone who shares your reading taste and is willing to discuss what worked and what didn’t in a particular book. That interaction encourages me to read more and deepens my experience with the novel. As a writer, it also gets me thinking about what makes a good story.

So thanks to my book twin! (You know who you are!) I really look forward to reading our next joint pick — well, right after I read my book twin’s latest novel first. 🙂

ROW80 Update

And now for my A Round of Words in 80 Days family — a whole group of writing “siblings” (or are you the weird cousin at the reunion?) dedicated to achieving our individual goals over the 80 days of the round.

1. Read 12 books. Read #11, Dirty Magic by Jaye Wells, and #11 1/2 with a noveletteOnce Upon a New Year’s Eve by Kait Nolan (both fiction). Almost there!

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. One story is already done for this round. I worked on the second story, yet struggled because something just felt off. Then I brainstormed with some fellow writers on Thursday, and they helped me figure out where I’d gotten off track and where to go with it. I expect to make far better progress next week with a clearer direction. Worked on it, but not quite there.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. Combed through Sunday and Wednesday updates, saw lots of progress, and made comments. Done.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary. Since it had been a while since working on this novel, I had to reorient myself a bit. I did a little tweaking then delved in. Reworked a chapter. Nothing exciting, but headed in the right direction.

How do you get reading recommendations? Do you have a “book twin” or a book club? And how was your week?

Story? Novella? Novel? What Am I Writing?

This past week, I worked quite a bit on a short story — a young adult paranormal about a shape shifter. I really got into it, and the ideas and words and excitement just spilled out on the page.

At some point, however, I realized  was dangerously close to 15,000 words — which was, as I’d seen, the outer limit of short stories. Indeed, short stories are often preferably less than 10,000 words. Yet, the story wasn’t done! The characters were still going. So I kept writing.

While I finally typed THE END, I scanned for word count again and realized this.

Facebook status update

Oops! So I started researching exactly what I’d written. Here’s a general summary of word counts I found:

100 to 1,000 words

You’ve written flash fiction. Flash fiction is a particularly good way to warm up the writing juices. English teachers often use flash fiction by providing a story prompt for their students as a classroom exercise. Writers can also run an Internet search for flash fiction and find plenty of prompts. Flash fiction tends to be a single scene or two, a teaser for a larger story, and/or a mood piece.

1,000 to 10,000 words

For the most part, this is a short story. There’s some debate about where that outer limit is drawn, and you can find anything from 7,500 to 15,000 words as the maximum for a short story. Short stories usually follow a single plot and don’t delve into subplots; there just isn’t time and space for that layering. Shorts are great at honing in on a specific storyline.

10,000 to 20,000 words

I prefer Emma Burcart‘s response to my Facebook status update and want to call this a novelita! But my research finally turned up the term novelette. (I suppose the difference is whether you want Spanish or French to have a say in the suffix.) Acknowledging this rare category, my “short story” actually fell into this camp. Why write a novelette? I don’t know generally because I see so few of them, but in my case there were two plots, even though they substantially interwove, and I needed more time on the page to resolve both of them.

20,000 to 40,000 words

Welcome to the novella, a story length that has been enjoying quite a bit of success in the ebook world. Novellas are long enough to have more than one layer, even follow multiple characters, and tell a pretty substantial story. But they’re also quick reads, which is quite appealing to many people in our fast-paced world. Novellas weren’t that practical as a story length when printing costs and bookstore shelf space were restrictive, but ebooks require less upfront cost, making shorter length fiction more viable. When all was said and done — that is, when I revisited a scene and beefed it up — my “short story” became a novella, its first draft currently coming in at 21,600 words.

40,000 and up

We’ve finally arrived at a novel. Of course, different genres call for different lengths. For instance, you won’t find much in the way of adult fantasy at 40,000 words, but that’s a great length for a middle-grade read. Epic novels are much longer, maybe 110,000 words or more, while cozy mysteries will be far closer to maybe the 60,000-word mark. To get specifics, you can search “word count by genre” and find plenty of resources on that question.

Of course, there are always rule-breakers. Like Margaret Mitchell writing Gone with the Wind at over 410,000 words and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea at only 26,600 words.

And where a story falls within these word counts can also depend on how the publisher wants to market. For instance, a middle-grade book that’s 30,000 words isn’t going to be called a novella, period. Because for a fourth grader, that is a novel, and he sure isn’t going to refer to his book as a “novella.”

Whatever I just wrote — short story, novelette, novella — I’m not sure the reader really cares. The reader simply wants to be swept up in a great story that compels them to turn the pages and savor the tale.

So whether I hack away at my shape shifter story and return it back to its novelette or even short story length, or keep it solidly in novella territory, what matters is: Did I write a wonderful story?

And that’s not so easy to pin down until I get it into the hands of readers.

ROW80 Update

Now let me pin down my writing progress for this past week. I participate in A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life, and here are my goals for the round:

1. Read 12 books. Read #10, The Up Side of Down by Megan McArdle (nonfiction). Just two more books to meet my goal. Doing well here.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. One draft done, and the other halfway done. I’ll be working on it next week. Made progress.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. Checked in for Sunday and Wednesday updates and heard lots of good stuff! Of course, life sometimes still gets in the way of our goals, but we’re making progress. Done.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery. Not this week. I focused on my short story/novella. Nope.

Bonus. I entered my opening chapters of Sharing Hunter, a young adult contemporary novel, in two RWA chapter contests. Since contest participation is a goal of mine for the year, I felt pretty good about finally pressing SEND on my entries and entering the contests. This is my first shot at writing contests, so we’ll see what kind of feedback I get.

What length of story do you like to read and/or write? Do you care what label a story is given? And how was your week?

The Beauty of Online Learning

One of the awesome features of the Internet (this fancy-schmancy invention in my lifetime) is the opportunity to learn so very much. Information and education are literally right in your face and at your fingertips, if you can just click around a bit and find it. From online encyclopedias to blogs to TEDtalks to online courses, the flow of information is a veritable ocean of discovery.

And I remember when I wanted to know something so very much that I called the public library, spoke to the information desk, and gave the librarian my phone number. She’d look up the information among her vast resources and eventually return my phone call. It could take a half day or more for me to hear the answer I sought. So yeah, I’m still in a bit of wonder at the beauty of online learning.

When it comes to writing, I’ve been thrilled with the online courses I’ve taken on using Scrivener writing software, Internet security for writers, and writing short stories. But this weekend took the cake. The three-tiered, plastered with frosted roses cake.

I attended WANACon.

WANA Con on my laptop
My cat came too!

How is this even possible? I ask myself. But it worked. Worked great, in fact. WANACon was a two-day online conference (Friday and Saturday) with presentations that covered craft, social media for authors, publishing know-how, and more. The online classroom allowed PowerPoint type presentations with the presenter on audio or webcam. During the presentation, attendees could interact through a chat window and ask questions to be answered as the presenter went or saved for Q&A at the end. All sessions were also recorded, so anything I missed, I can still listen to that class, see the slides, and download any handouts.

In between sessions, you could also text with others in the “WANACon Lobby” — through an open chat window. This was also where attendees hung out to find out when the next session was open for entrance to the online classroom.

Before and after the conference, there was an online gathering, like a conference cocktail party, where you could turn on your microphones and audio chat with your author friends.

And yes, there were even agent pitches! I moderated agent pitches on Friday and had the pleasure of entering the classroom and webcam chatting with the agent for a few minutes.

I still return to How is all this possible? Or rather HOW COOL IS THIS!!!

One of the best ideas for any professional is to attend conferences in your field. If you want to make it to the top and remain on top in your industry, you need to stay sharp, keep learning, make connections. And with WANACon, you don’t have to go to the conference because the conference comes to you. You can attend in your pajamas. Even your pink bunny pajamas if you want.

Ralph in pink bunny pajamas, from A Christmas Story movie
I’m ready for WANACon!

For me, this won’t replace in-person conferences. I will be attending the Romance Writers of America Conference in San Antonio this summer. However, I am convinced that online learning is a fabulous thing and an online writer’s conference is a great value for the money you spend.

If you have a chance, check out online conferences — whether you’re a writer or in some other profession. You might be surprised how much you can get from the experience.

ROW80 Update

And now I hope to surprise myself with oodles of progress this past week. Following is my update for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life — with my goals for the round:

1. Read 12 books. I finished book #8, Spirit and Dust (YA fiction) by Rosemary Clement-Moore; read book #9, Cress by Marisa Meyer; and started book #10, The Up Side of Down by Megan McArdle (nonfiction)I expect to check this goal off at the end of the round.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. I wrote three full chapters on one short story and dabbled some in two other stories. I may abandon one of those latter stories, at least for the time being. Honestly, it’s a little too like another story I wrote. But . . . consider this goal back on track.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. I dropped the ball. Intended to check in with everyone on Friday and got happily sucked into the online conference. My apologies, y’all! I’m rooting for everyone, though. My bad.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery. Oddly enough, I returned to my former WIP instead, Sharing Hunter, and edited a chapter there. I think it’s calling me back. Maybe I need to flip-flop working on these. Hmm . . .  Any thoughts, anyone? Not exactly on track, but still progress on a track.

What do you think of online learning? Do you have a personal experience with an online class or conference? And how was your week?

Need a Laugh? These Videos Might Work

Sometimes, you just need a laugh. Maybe it’s been a hard day. Maybe you received bad news. Maybe your to-do list is longer than a roll of toilet paper. Oh, and maybe you’re out of toilet paper. (That’s not good.)

I woke up this morning feeling grumpy. Probably because it was something like five-way-too-stinkin’-early o’clock and my cats were being spastic. I needed a quick pick-me-up, so I turned to something I know always makes me laugh: How It Should Have Ended.

Have you seen these videos? They are quick parodies of movies and point out plot holes or curiosities or quirky what-if issues. Just in case you could use a laugh too, here are a few of my favorites. Enjoy!

For more How It Should Have Ended videos, check out their YouTube channel — where you can get more smiles and potentially waste a lot of time. 😀

ROW80 Update

Each week, I hope I don’t waste time and have lots to show for my writing goals. Now let’s see if I can put a smile on my own face about my progress. Following is my update for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life — with my goals for the round:

1. Read 12 books. I finished book #7, Making Love in the Microwave (nonfiction), by Aja Dorsey Jackson, and I’m about 70% through #8, Spirit and Dust (YA fiction) by Rosemary Clement-Moore. Still doing fine on this goal.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. Once again, I wrote a little more on one short story last week, but I need to focus on this goal this coming week. Meh.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. My guest post for the ROW80 blog, When the Book Isn’t Working, went up last Monday, and I did indeed check in with participants this week. Call it a win.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery. Absolutely no progress whatsoever this past week. *sigh* Not good.

This is the first week in the round that I’ve not had much to show with my goals. I need to refocus and hit it hard this coming week.

Have you seen the How It Should Have Ended videos? Do you have a favorite? What easily puts a smile on your face or a laugh in your gut? And how was your week?

No Second First Impressions: Book Covers

You’ve heard that line:

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

I read a great book years ago, still on my bookshelf, titled You’ve Only Got Three Seconds, about making that first impression in your business and social life. It was written by Camille Lavington, a woman whom executives hired to “enhance” their image. As Camille presented it:

“Get used to it. The real world has your number. It only takes people three seconds to know where you’re coming from. Within a few seconds they can size you up. It’s not a comforting prospect to be judged so hastily, but that’s the way it is.”

She goes on to describe how quickly and automatically we really do size each other up, trying to glean information about others from clothing and hairstyle, posture and carriage, grooming and accessories, manners and mannerisms, etc. Of course, we hope to adjust our impressions as we learn more or discover discrepancies with our assumptions, but if we think we aren’t making those snap judgments, we’re fooling ourselves. Some scientists suggest this tendency is a survival instinct, which allowed us to quickly determine friend or foe and act accordingly.

Like it or not, we draw conclusions based on first impressions. And we give first impressions too — intentionally expressing our personalities and priorities by how we wear our hair, what clothing we put on, the jewelry we choose. The expensive-suited man with custom cuff links and well-trimmed hair driving a Jaguar is saying something about himself to the world, while the black-clothed, multi-tattooed and pierced man riding a motorcycle is saying something else altogether. And while it’s only a glimpse into who they are, it still suggests something about the person inside.

Which is why book covers matter.

Book cover examples
Stories I’ve Read Recently

Of course, the book cover is just a glimpse, but it makes a first impression — another promise about what the novel itself will be. You can even look at many covers and know their genre. Otherwise, why bother with the shirtless, muscular man and his swooning, bodice-ripping lady? Or the warrior holding a gleaming sword? Or the rusty ax and the blood-dripping font?

I’ve been following a marvelous series of blog posts from the marvelous Melinda VanLone of Book Cover Corner about book covers and what they should include. I encourage writers to check it out: The Amateur’s Guide to a Professional Book Package: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four to Come. As a book cover designer, Melinda understands the importance of making that first impression and gives authors specific tips on what to look for when designing or requesting a cover.

Book covers have also been on my mind because my local RWA chapter, Houston Bay Area RWA, hosts the annual JABBIC (Judge A Book By Its Cover) contest. Official judging of submitted covers has ended, but now it’s time for Reader’s Choice voting. I encourage you to vote your own first impression on the book covers there. Here’s the official announcement:

Judging for the Readers’ Choice Award in Houston Bay Area RWA’s 2013 Judge A Book By Its Cover contest is now open. The Readers’ Choice winners will be featured on HBA RWA’s website at hbarwa.com.

Anyone can judge, so spread the word. Voting will be open until midnight CST on February 9, 2014. We will announce the Grand Prize Winners, judged by booksellers, as well as the Readers’ Choice Winners on February 10, 2014.

The following link will take you to the Readers’ Choice page. Follow the instructions there to vote on all the covers.

https://jabbic.hbarwa.com/readers/

Vote quickly. Judging ends tonight at 12:00 midnight Texas time (CST).

ROW80 Update

Speaking of judging, I’ll let you be the judge of how I did with my writing goals this week. Following is my regular update for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Here are my goals for the round:

1. Read 12 books. I finished book #6, Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza (fiction), and also read half of #7, Making Love in the Microwave (nonfiction), by Aja Dorsey Jackson. On track.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. I wrote a little more on one short story, but not as much as I’d hoped. A little off track.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. Visited blogs on Sundays and Wednesdays. What’s amazing about this particular challenge is to see writers at all stages of the journey: from first draft of first book to multipublished authors! And everyone supporting each other each step. On track.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery. Deep edited two chapters. I also won a first chapter critique from a fellow author, so I sent those pages to her for feedback and received some great tips. On track, but I wish the train moved faster.

What’s your opinion of book covers? Are you swayed to read a book or even the book blurb based on a fabulous cover? And how was your week?

Kickin’ It Off Right: A Novel’s First Line

In the last couple of weeks, I re-read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. The first chapter is an excellent opening — weaving the setting, creating a mood, and illuminating the main character. But it all started with a great first line:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

Simple enough, right? Surely nothing too special about it. But that sentence sets up the whole novel. It tells the reader quite a lot actually. Here’s what you get from that one line:

Manderley mansion

  • The main character is in the present, yet looking back on events of the past. (She is.)
  • Her story revolves around a place called Manderley. (It absolutely does.)
  • The name Manderley itself has a tone, a rhythm, a ring to it that sounds important, classic, and perhaps rich. (It is all that.)
  • She has a recurring dream, so something that happened at Manderley haunts her still. (With good reason.)
  • She is well-spoken and direct, connoting something about her background, education, socioeconomic status, and/or personality. (Contrast that tone with a teen fiction or horror novel narrator.)

Writers, agents, editors, and publishers all talk about the importance of hooking a reader at from the first page. Even from the very first line.

In an Immersion Class last year with writing coach Margie Lawson, I took my first 15 pages of Sharing Hunter, a young adult contemporary novel still under construction, and sifted down to about 3 pages. I originally thought I had a pretty good first line, but when I reconsidered it from a broader point of view, I realized that it didn’t tell you much:

To this day, Chloe blames tequila and Mrs. Schiller.

So what? All I know from that is there’s some girl named Chloe who drinks tequila, knows someone named Mrs. Schiller, and something happened in the past that she blames on other stuff/people. Is Chloe the only main character? No. Is Mrs. Schiller especially important in the novel? No. Is tequila an ongoing theme? No. Do I have any idea from this line where and when Chloe is in her life? No.

Part of my rewrite was the realization that I needed a new first line! Now the opening reads:

When Chloe suggested sharing a boyfriend their last semester of high school, Rachel didn’t completely freak. 

This one works much harder. What does this first line tell you?

  • Who the main characters are — Chloe and Rachel.
  • That it’s a young adult novel since they’re in high school.
  • Who instigated this crazy idea (Chloe), and thus a little about the kind of person she is.
  • The age of the main characters — high school seniors.
  • The novel’s premise — Good heavens, they’re going to share a boyfriend?
  • Rachel didn’t completely freak, meaning she freaked a little. But not enough.

There’s actually quite a lot packed in that first sentence.

I’ve been focusing more and more on crafting my first lines and paragraphs just so, making sure the set-up is there. Not simply for the opening scene, but for the whole novel. That first line makes a story promise — a promise to the reader about what this particular novel will be like. Will it be serious? Funny? Snarky? Scary? Is there a theme or setting the novel revolves around? If so, what is it? What is the novel’s genre? Is this teen fiction? Horror? Romance? What kind of person is the main character or the antagonist (if you start with him)?

First lines don’t have to give the reader a ton of information, but they do need to foreshadow what’s coming. They promise something to the reader, and the novel must fulfill that promise. Here are a few other wonderful opening lines from novels I pulled off my shelf:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen

“As an interactive horror experience, with beasts from Hell, mayhem, gore, and dismemberment, it was an impressive event. As a high school prom, however, the evening was marginally less successful.” – Prom Dates from Hell, Rosemary Clement-Moore (two lines, but still…)

“I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods.” – Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis (indeed, it’s a retelling of the Cupid & Psyche myth)

“You wouldn’t think we’d have to leave Chicago to see a dead body.” – A Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck (from the prologue, we know this is a middle-grade book about kids visiting their grandmother, so this opening line is particularly intriguing)

“I was thirteen when I found out why my mother left me.” Red, Kait Nolan

“Digging graves is hell on a manicure, but I was taught good vampires clean up after every meal.” Red-Headed Stepchild, Jaye Wells

“In the great green room, there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon.” Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown

That first line should signal what will be important in this particular story and the kind of person who is narrating it. It should reveal something about the plot, the character’s longing, the tone of the novel, or the theme. If the first line doesn’t do one or more of these things, it isn’t working hard enough.

ROW80 Update

And speaking of working hard enough, here’s a look at my own writing progress. Following is my weekly update for A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Here are my goals for the round:

Sweet Dead Life book cover1. Read 12 books. I finished book #4, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and read book #5, The Sweet Dead Life by Joy Preble. I’ve been meaning to read Preble’s book for a while, but I got a fresh jolt to finally do so with news that she’ll be at the Montgomery County Book Festival — which I’m hoping to attend. Next book on the list: Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. I rewrote the first chapters of two different short stories, then sent one of those to a fabulous beta reader (and marvelous author himself, Chris Hill) and received his feedback.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. Visited blogs on Sundays and Wednesdays. It was great to see all of the fabulous progress happening in ROW80 Land! Call this goal done. 

By the way, I sometimes have difficulty commenting on certain ROW80 blogs, which frustrates me. Here’s some advice I posted on Facebook — which got 24 likes, so I’m not alone.

Facebook status update

Also, for mid-aged and older folks like me, those fuzzy numbers and letters can be hard to read. You might want to recheck your blog settings. Consider which security measures will keep your blog spam-safe yet encourage easy interaction.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery. Finished making notes on the last 67 pages. Done for this week. For this coming week, I need to start making the actual edits! Wish me luck rainbows-and-fairy-dust courage and perseverance. Here I go!

What are your favorite first lines from novels? As a reader, what do you want to see in that initial hook? And how was your week?