Friday, May 31, 2013

Well For Crying Out Loud

By Peg Brantley

I 'm almost finished with the first draft of my next book and I already know I'm in for some crazy revisions because of (gag me) timelines. And with my other books? Yep… timelines were an issue.

My sister has a saying which she has used on her sons quite a lot and her husband from time to time. It goes exactly like this (I know because I'm hearing it in my head):  The failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

The photo above was when I had a clearer head and a story that I don't think will ever see the light of day, but look at the pretty timeline picture I made. (The timeline worked a lot better than the story.) The photo below shows a sort of "seat of the pants while still plotting" style but no timeline.


Here's Norman Mailer's Character Timeline for Harlot's Ghost:

And this is J.K. Rowling's impressive spreadsheet for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

I was sure my scene list and plot stream of consciousness work would eliminate the need to also require a timeline. In fact, my timeline folder is filled with important ceremonial dates for the religion featured in the manuscript. And pages and pages of blank calendar months. Nothing else. 


I will be experimenting with what I think might be a lovely piece of software for my next book. It's called Aeon Timeline. I sure hope I remember it early on…

What about you? What do you use to keep track?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Language of Reviews

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers

Odd thought of the day: What exactly does it mean when readers say in reviews, "You won't be disappointed," or something similar. I get that sometimes lately, and I see it in a lot of reviews for other authors. 

I understand and appreciate that the phrase is meant to be positive. In fact, it could be part of a terrific review. But sometimes the line worries me, because it feels like a euphemism for "This book is okay. You won't be disappointed, but you might not be impressed either." The absence of a negative is not quite the same as a positive.

The feeling could just be misinterpretation or paranoia on my part. I suspect that authors like myself with ten or more books published hear it more than new authors with just a few. It could be that readers who stick with a favorite author for a long time start to worry that eventually the author will disappoint them—because it's inevitable that eventually it will happen. Believe me, as a reader, I know!

So when someone is reading my tenth or eleventh book and they get to the end, they might be thinking "Great! She wrote another story that didn't disappoint me." Then that thinking/language becomes part of the review or feedback or blurb.

Of course, I'd like to do better than just not disappoint my readers. I'd like to thrill them, mystify them, and make them think—among other things. I'm also grateful for every reader who has stuck with me through ten books...and for some, two additional unpublished manuscripts.

So I'm not complaining, just musing out loud and trying to understand.

Readers/reviewers: Do you use this phrase? What do you mean by it? Does the meaning varying depending on your expectations of the author?

Writers: How do you feel about this response to your work? Am I the only one who worries that it's not quite a compliment?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Write the Damned Story you Want to Write

By Andrew E. Kaufman

One of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make as an author happened early in my career. I had made the choice to jump genres—that is to say, going from being a perceived horror writer to a perceived thriller writer. I never saw myself as belonging to a particular genre. I just wrote what I wanted to write. I don’t think it was so much a matter of consciousness as a matter of instinct.

Then my audience began to grow, and then I started thinking from inside my head. I became worried that the change might force my readers away, that they might not follow me to the next book. Luckily, I trusted those instincts and the next book did significantly better than the last.

Fast forward to about three years later. Apparently, I still hadn’t learned my lesson. I was trying to decide whether to continue on with a series after the first two books and feeling a similar dilemma: once again, I was overthinking, trying to put my head on the readers’ shoulders instead of keeping it where it belonged. I was worried they would feel disappointed if I didn’t continue on with the story. In other words, I wasn’t following my instincts. A road that by now I’ve learned is always a bad one.

Then one day, while having lunch with a colleague, I explained my concerns, and she gave me what I now consider to be among the soundest advice I’ve ever received:

She said, “Don’t worry about all that. Write the damned story you want to write. Brand yourself, not your books—if you do that, it won’t matter what you write. Your audience will read it.”

It was one of those statements that instantly snaps into place, sticks there, and shorty thereafter, you understand it to be the plain and honest truth. I’ve always believed that, if you feel what you write, so will your readers. After all, it’s not necessarily what you write that matters most—it’s who you are as a writer, what inspires you, and if you stick with that, the rest always takes care of itself.

As with most authors I love, it doesn’t really matter what they write about or what genre their work falls under. It’s their execution and talent that draws me in each time I open one of their books. In those cases, I believe they followed their passion instead of their head, and as my colleague said, they wrote the damned story they wanted to write.

And with the publishing industry being as wobbly as it is, and with the concept of “what will sell” changing all the time, it makes sense that longevity is attained not by following trends or trying to guess what your readers want—it’s attained by trusting your instincts. Books change all the time—but the writer is a constant.

This time, I finally followed that advice, and the result has been one of the most rewarding and seamless writing experiences I’ve ever had. More than that, I’m having the best time, and each new day, I can’t wait to sit down and get back to work. This book is a complete departure from anything I’ve ever written up until now, but somehow it doesn’t matter to me.

Because I’m writing the damned story I want to write.

Andrew E. Kaufman, author of whatever inspires him.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Anne Allen on 12 Things NOT to Do When Self-Publishing

By:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of, an ebook production company that has produced over 2,000 books for over 1800 authors and imprints.

Today, I would normally be boring you with formatting "stuff," or relaying various and sundry disputes over publishing versus self-publishing, but I stumbled over this blog from Anne R. Allen (author of Food and Love and The Gatsby Game, amongst others), whose site is recognized as one of the Best Writing Sites by Writer's Digest, which is saying something.

Anne writes about the "12 things not to do" when self-publishing, and I think her list is worthwhile reading for any newbie, or even any traditionally pubbed-author switching over to self-publishing for the first time.  I am particularly fond of her advice for #1:  don't publish your first novel before you've written your second.

I'd sit here and regurgitate everything she said, and make myself sound smart, but you should hop on over to her blog and read it in its original place and from its original author.  I highly recommend this article (and don't skip over #3, her sage wisdom about ensuring that you use professional cover design and formatting!!  ;-)  You can read Anne's article, in full, here:  How Not to Self-Publish: 12 Things for New Indies to Avoid

Thanks, and see you next time.

Monday, May 27, 2013

To Review or Not?

by Marlyn Beebe.

I've often been asked what I look for when I review a mystery. At first, I thought there was no way for me to do that, because my decision depends on how I feel about a book.

But let me try to take you through my process and see what happens.

When I receive a book (from a publisher/author/PR firm), the first thing I do is decide whether I want to read it. If it’s a mystery, chances are good that I will. Of course it’s important that the book be well-written: if the book is filled with grammatical errors, I’m probably not going to get past the first chapter.

Another thing that turns me off is a large number of characters, especially if they are similar. Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express each have a dozen or more passengers who figure in the story, but their names and occupations vary enough that there’s minimal confusion.
If a story requires a large number of characters that could be mixed up, a cast list at the beginning or end of the book helps a lot. I have not reviewed (and sometimes not even finished) books in which I couldn’t keep track of who was whom.

Too much technical detail is another problem. I’m a librarian, and if I don’t know something, I know how to find out about it. But I’m not going to enjoy a book if I have to keep looking stuff up. Medical and legal mysteries that focus on a complex procedure rather than how they affect characters, relationships or plot don’t hold my attention.

Some reviewers love writing scathing reviews, and I must admit that constructing these can be sort of fun and cathartic. My thinking is that I’d rather not alienate those who provide me with the material I work with. People send me books because they believe I’m skilled at what I do, and that my opinions might be helpful, and I certainly don’t want them to stop because they’re afraid I’ll rip them to shreds.

At the same time, I’m not a sycophant. I do try to make my reviews positive, but if there’s a little thing that bothers me, I will mention it, along with the fact that it is just my opinion.

Because, in the end, a review is nothing more than one individual’s reaction.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Have you Hugged an Author Today?

Up until last summer, I spent nearly every weekend in a bookstore signing books. I did that for nearly three years. It was hard on the feet and the back and I put a lot of miles on my car, but I met some incredible and often very funny people. 

The following is an experience I had at Barnes & Noble in Palm Desert one weekend.

A woman and her mother came into the store. The mother, I would guess, was at least in her 70's, maybe more. When I asked them if they read mysteries, the older woman shook her head, made an "icky" face, and said very adamantly, "Oh, no."

I had just handed them each a bookmark and the daughter realized I was the author. She said to her mother, "Mother, you're insulting her. She's the author."

The mother said, "Oh, I'm sorry.  Let me see your book."

They walked over to my table and started reading the blurbs on my books. The mother said, "Oh, my daughter, Wendy, would love these. She loves books about legal stuff."

"Is she an attorney?" I asked.

"Oh no," she said again. "She works for an attorney. She does all the work, and he gets all the money."

I smiled and said, "That's the way it should be, right?" When she frowned at me I said, "Sorry, I'm a lawyer."

Her daughter turned to her mother and said, "Now, you've insulted her twice!"

The mother said, "Would it help if I told you I'm not from this country? I'm Canadian."

They bought two books, and we were all laughing about it before they left. A while later the older woman came back to my table to apologize one more time. I said to her, "I thought you came back to insult me again." Of course I explained to her that I wasn't insulted at all. She gave me a big hug. I love those hugs.

When was the last time you hugged an author? How about an attorney? They need hugs too, you know.

Teresa Burrell, Author, Attorney, Advocate

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Listen (do-wah-do). Do you want to know a secret?

By Gayle Carline
-Mysterious Humor Author

"How do you come up with your ideas?"

Some authors claim to hate that question. I'm merely flummoxed by it because, honestly, where DON'T I come up with ideas? Every bush in my neighborhood could hide a body. Every sharp edge could be used as a weapon. In southern California, we have oleander plants all over the place - hello, Mr. Heart Attack.

The crime's not that hard. It's winding your way through the plot and subplots to get to the finish line that's difficult. This is where writer's block rears its ugly head.

No, not this ugly head.

I don't think I've ever had writer's block, but I often experience writer's dread. It's that feeling of ambiguous yet impeding doom, as I approach my laptop and open the file. I want to reach my word count for the day but I need that word count to contain the right words, the good ones, the brilliant words that will propel the story forward instead of spinning in a verbal hamster wheel.

How does a writer push forward with their story, and make it interesting for the reader? Here are some of my go-to dread-busters:

1. The Soupy Sales approach. For those of you youngsters, Soupy Sales was a comic who had a children's show. It was crazy, zany, and I loved it. The set looked like a kind of house, with a door at the back. At some point, there would either be a knock or a scream or some kind of noise, and Soupy would open the door. There might be a celebrity behind the door, or they'd show a clip of an elephant stampede, or something wacky (once the crew hired a stripper). Much like the rest of the show, it was unexpected.


In my own manuscript, I might have Peri in her office. There's a knock at the door. Who can it be? (No, it's never the elephants.) Usually, someone with information or a clue shows up. Lucky me.

(Down, Fella.)

2. The 15-year-old boy approach. They like car crashes and explosions and heavy gunfire on the screen, like, every ten minutes or more. 

I don't usually blow things up, but I might hit Peri with a golf club or get assaulted by a suspect. This is not gratuitous action, like in Transformers. First of all, getting to the action requires writing the preparation for the scene. Second, mysteries must always be ramping up the stakes for the main character. In any case, I'm now writing through the dread.

(Every time I hit someone in the head in my books, I think of this scene for some reason.)

3. The left-turn-at-Albuquerque approach.

By that, I just mean I think of something surprising for my character to do. I'll warn you, this kind of writing might not appear in the finished story. Sometimes it helps me to loosen up the words and get the plot moving if I just have Peri get drunk and sing karaoke, then have Benny show up and sing a Dino duet with her. It's not a scene I'll use... or maybe I will, eventually. I have to say, it's pretty freakin' funny.

Now you know my secret. Well, this one. I'm still not telling you about the time I... oh, yeah, what do other writers do when writer's dread sets in?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Back cover blurb

By Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and thrillers

I consider myself fortunate.

For the past eight months, I've been reading and reviewing pre-publication novels for the New York Journal of Books. Every month, NYJB reviewers get a lengthy list of books to peruse. Anything containing great suspense and great storytelling grabs my attention, but with only a few lines of back cover blurb to go on, making a decision is still a bit of a gamble. I don't have time to waste and once I've selected a book I'm committed to reading the whole thing, whether I like it or not.

Usually, I'm not disappointed with my choice. Only one book I've read for NYJB has received an unfavorable review (I'm not going to name it, but the review will post on the NYJB site upon the books release in September). This is the book that prompted my little outburst in my last CFC blog post. Quite frankly, the book sucked, but I credit the author for the incredible back cover blurb that pulled me in. If the blurb had been written in the vein of the book, I'd have skipped right past it on the list.

Of course, back cover blurb isn't enough on its own. The cover is the mannequin in the window, the thing that gets readers to stop. Once they have stopped and picked the book up, the blurb is what keeps it in their hand and propels them to look inside. Authors can give a great pitch at book festivals, but the blurb is usually what sells (or doesn't) the book. It hurts when a reader decides to pass and sets it back on the shelf, or the table. Yes, that's happened to me in the past, and I questioned if it was my pitch or my blurb that failed me.

At book events, I love and loathe the question: "What's your book about?" Mostly, I love it, but I get that panicky feeling inside: how do I condense the whole 300+ pages into a succinct ten second pitch? It's the same thing authors face when writing the blurb. It's tough.

I've been asked by other authors about writing a back cover blurb, and I hesitate to give advice, usually because I don't know their story. All I can say is, the blurb that pulled me in on the aforementioned sucky book included emotion, intrigue and suspense. The plot seemed simple and told me a little about the victim. It hooked me and roused my curiosity.

When I write my own blurbs, I find the best hook in my story and use it on the back cover. I think a good blurb includes conflict and identifies the main character. It must speak to the intended audience. A reader looking for romance won't be happy with a romantic blurb that disguises a thriller. If the book includes both, make it clear.

Back cover blurb is as much of an art as the novel itself. A tight, crisp blurb makes it easier to pitch at a book festival. It makes it easier to love it when a reader asks that question: What's your book about?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Not Going With the Masses...Music and Writing

Tom Schreck, author of the Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries

Doing what everyone else does and feels is boring.

You can sense it in an author's writing when they're being unimaginative and you can sense it in every day life when you talk to people who absolutely "L-o-v-e" what they're supposed to love. It's why the malls are filled and why you can always get a parking place at the museum.

When it comes to pop culture I experience this every time I choose my art by what the reviewers say. I read, listen or watch something that is supposed to be classic and I feel disappointed.

Well, I've quit doing that. Now, I like what I like without apology.

No where does this ring truer for me than in music.

Here's some examples:

Give me Etta James over Aretha Franklin

I don't think this is even close. Etta sings better and has way more feeling as far as I am concerned.

Give me Ben Webster over John Coltrane

Jazz snobs will cringe but I think most of Coltrane's stuff is unpleasant. Ben Webster's stuff is smooth.

Give me Sam Cooke over Marvin Gaye, James Brown or just about anyone else in soul

Voice, styling--it isn't even close

Give me Waylon over Willie

Though I like them both.

I just don't get the genius of Bob Dylan

Give me Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits over Clapton

Again, not even close.

Forgive me, but to me, all of today's country sounds the same...exactly the same.

Micheal Buble and Harry Connick don't sound like Sinatra

They don't swing and they don't have the pizzaz. Why not listen to the real thing?

Give me Louis Prima over Louis Armstrong

Sacrilege, I know, but for me he's a better trumpet player, better vocalist and funnier.

And the idea that Elvis's 70's music wasn't any good is just stupid. Most critics regurgitate what other critics write without ever listening or thinking.

I think it was Count Basie who said: "If it sounds good, it is good."

What does this have to do with writing? Probably not much but if you'll allow me to stretch the reasoning, think it over.

Are you writing stuff in characters without really thinking and feeling? Are you conjuring up stories because they are comfortable like all the other books you've read?

Think more for yourself and don't apologize. Just like in music reach for what YOU like, not what you're supposed to.

...and any other musical thoughts?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Revise and Republish?

The Increasing Fluidity of Books & Publishing

by Jodie Renner, fiction editor and craft-of-fiction writer   

If you’re an indie author with e-books on Amazon, have you revised and re-uploaded any of your e-books, in response to negative reviews or other feedback? Or even just to add improvements or additions you thought of yourself? I do, quite regularly. And it seems to me that many authors, including high-profile ones, who are receiving similar negative reviews for a book should be considering doing this. What do you think? 

With more and more authors publishing their own books as e-books, and even publishers releasing increasing numbers of e-books, which can be updated as often as the author/publisher chooses, how does that impact the content of the books? I’m thinking that using this privilege can’t help but improve the book, and the overall quality of e-books available.

Can and should we use reviews and other feedback to constantly (or occasionally) update or revise our books? Why or why not?

Would you or do you alter/tweak/revise/change your book because of many similar reviews?

And if you do revise your book because of negative reviews, what do you do about the fact that the reviews are still there, even though the issues have been addressed and hopefully fixed? Would you respond to the well-thought-out ones you felt had a good point and tell them you’ve made some changes based on their review?

And will more and more traditional publishers with digital imprints start tweaking their books based on informative, thoughtful reviews? Or on many negative reviews with basically the same objections? Will individual e-books then be in a constant state of flux, based on feedback and current trends?

I’ve heard of authors changing the ending to please a majority of readers who objected to the way their book ended. What about changing other aspects of a book that would require more extensive revisions? What if a lot of faithful followers found one of your protagonists too hard-edged or whiny or sarcastic or whatever? Would you go back to that book and tweak your characterization and their dialogue, etc. to make them more sympathetic and appealing? Or what if lots of readers complained about a major plot hole? Would you go in and fix it, in hopes of stopping the flood of bad reviews?

If your novel is solely an e-book at this stage, it’s quick and easy to upload a newer, better version after making the revisions. But then you have some people who have the original version and others who are buying the improved product. 

I’ve published two craft-of-fiction e-books on Amazon-Kindle (with more to come) and have updated and expanded both of them several times, which is a wonderful feature and option/privilege, I think, especially for writers who are still honing their craft and learning from their mistakes.

Since I published my first e-book, Writing a Killer Thriller, in July 2012, I’ve added two chapters
and revised the whole thing. In the last few days, I added another chapter and deleted one near the end that was too repetitive, a summary that basically reiterated points made in the rest of the book. I just republished this most recent version, and a new cover, and am working on two more new chapters for the book. This approach would have been unheard of ten years ago, but I’m grateful to have the control to be able to do this with my “learning” first book.

Then I’ll ask Amazon to notify earlier buyers so they can upgrade for free. I’m also publishing the new chapters on the blog of my new, author website, so people who’ve bought earlier versions of the e-book can just read the new chapters there. And I’m planning to publish the new, expanded version in print soon. And I assume I can keep the same title...?

(As an aside, when I first published this e-book, I enabled Digital Rights Management and have since been told that was a mistake so I didn’t do it with my second book. Does anyone know if there’s a way I can disable that? It doesn’t seem possible.)

And what about if your book is already in print? Say you’ve published with a POD house like CreateSpace, like I did, for my Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power book (available as an e-book, too). Do you consider re-issuing a second edition? All my comments for Style that Sizzles have been positive (29 reviews to date, with an overall rating of 4.9 stars out of 5), but I’m considering publishing a newer, improved second edition. Am I getting carried away here? When do you say, “Enough, already,” and move on?

*Update, February 2014: I updated Style That Sizzles and retitled it Fire up Your Fiction.*

Writers - Do you revise your e-books to address issues that readers feel detract from the overall positive impact of the book?

Should we embrace increased reader involvement/interaction? Or would that just be opening a can of worms?

Readers & Reviewers - Do you appreciate it when writers revise based on your input? Do you enjoy the extra involvement of being a beta reader or active reviewer?

Do you even check back occasionally to see if writers have revised their book based on similar negative reviews by you and others? Would you like to see authors comment under your review if they've addressed your concerns?

Jodie Renner has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction (Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), which has won two book awards so far. Look for the third book in the series, out soon. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her other blogs, The Kill Zone and Resources for Writers, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. And sign up for her newsletter.


Friday, May 17, 2013

An Open Letter to Authors

By Peg Brantley

This post originally appeared on my blog, Suspense Novelist. I'm trying to finish up the first draft of my new manuscript so I have another book to add to the many millions that are available. That's how crazy I really am.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000,000 books are published each year in the U.S. alone. That's more than 83,000 a month.  2,700 a day.

114 books a minute. Every minute. In the time it takes you to read and comment on this post, more than 1,000 books are likely to have been released.

Is it any wonder that it's difficult for new authors to get noticed?

The internet, which has given us wonderful things like Google and Amazon has also given us social networking opportunities like Facebook and Goodreads. There's Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn and new things popping up almost every day. As authors, we're are using these things like crazy to try and get the word out about our books.

There's nothing wrong with marketing ourselves. We all have to do a certain amount of promotion regardless of whether we're traditionally published or independently published. Doing nothing pretty much guarantees that your books will languish at the bottom of the pile. And the pile just keeps getting bigger.

Most of us are learning that a constant blast of "notice me" in any form is sure to backfire. But there's more than just the one-dimensional person who is only about Blatant Self Promotion, there are those who are so desperate to get attention they'll do almost anything, including buying followers on Twitter.

Are you kidding me?

There are so many Don't Go There possibilities we've all heard about. From writing fake reviews (positive for you and negative for an author you consider competition) to spreading rumors to calling yourself a "bestselling author" because your book hit the top 10 when it was free.

Here are some of my personal requests to all of my fellow authors:

1. DON'T ask me to vote for your book if I haven't read it. I'm constantly asked to vote for a book or a short story in one competition or another and I'm pretty darned sure the author knows I've never read anything they've ever written. They're desperate and I understand that, but don't ask me to sacrifice my honor for your fake moment of pride. Because it would be fake, wouldn't it?

2. DON'T offer to trade reviews with me. What if I don't like your book? Are you going to dis mine? And don't give me a great review, then send me your book expecting the same in return. That just feels sleazy. And once again, you could be asking me to basically lie.

3. DON'T ask me to "like" a review for a book I haven't read. I hereby announce that I will no longer trade my self-respect for one stupid "like" just because someone I truly do like asked me. And by the same token, don't ask me to say a bad review wasn't helpful for a book I haven't read. Between you and me, those bad reviews can be goldmines for sales. Something to think about.

4. DON'T ask me to "like" every Facebook page your mind can dream up. Some of you caught me unaware and it took me five or six pages before I finally realized you were in serious need of an intervention.

5. DON'T ask me to read your manuscript with the idea you can save money on an edit. I'm not an editor. You need to hire one. Sorry, but you do. And don't go cheap.

These are mostly Facebook and Amazon things, but I'm sure there are plenty of Twitter issues along the same lines.

As a new author, I appreciated the support of those who had gone before me, and I want to do the same. But desperate to the point of total crap doesn't cut it with me.

Authors—what have I missed? What requests or other things make you cringe?

Readers—have you come to be able to see through a lot of these ploys? Is there anything you trust any more?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

How Much Would you Pay to go to a Bookstore?

I'm going to rant a little here today. I just returned from the South West Book Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is the sixteenth book festival I have participated in since I became a published author. Book festivals are a fabulous place for readers to meet authors and for authors to meet new readers and often touch bases with fans. There are generally some very interesting speakers and lots of things to learn and maybe even some networking going on at these festivals across the nation. I have attended in Los Angeles, Chicago, South Carolina, Tucson, Decatur, and many others. The South West Fiesta in Albuquerque this past weekend was the first one where I was disappointed with the promotion.

This festival had a very poor turnout. I don't know how much advertising the promoters did for this event so I don't know if the public even got the word. But, more importantly, it cost $10 per person to get into the festival. That means a couple would have to pay $20 before they could even see what was inside. In these economic times, I find that outrageous. Very few people in Albuquerque showed up to this event and I can't say that I blame them.

Needless to say, the exhibitors were not happy. Many of them traveled long distances, spent money on hotels, on their booth, and took time out of their busy schedules to make this trip. That's not where my complaint lies, because that's the price of doing business and I can deal with that. What really upset me was that the people of Albuquerque could have had an enriching and fun experience if this had been handled differently. Los Angeles has been doing it for years and providing an incredible experience with the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. No one expected that kind of an event because they have had years of practice, but Tucson figured it out when they started five years ago. They spent a lot of money on advertising, opened the event to the public, and worked hard at getting good speakers that helped to draw the public. Each year they improve on the last, and it has grown into quite a spectacular event. I think the same thing could have happened at the South West Book Fiesta with a little better planning and foresight. They certainly had plenty of good examples to follow. I expect this was the first and last South West Book Fiesta and that's a real shame.

I have never before been to a book festival that charged an entrance fee. It kind of feels like going to a book store or a library and having to pay to get in. I just think a lot of people missed out on a what could have been a wonderful event if it was free. Have you ever had to pay to go to a book festival? Would you?

All that said, I still had a wonderful trip. I saw some old friends, made some new ones, saw a lot of beautiful scenery, and had some delicious food. I'll never make another trip to Albuquerque without stopping at The Range Cafe for one of their chili relleno burgers...the best burger I've ever had!

Teresa Burrell
Author, Attorney, Advocate

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

To Prologue or not to Prologue

By Andrew E. Kaufman, author of Psychological Thrillers 

I like prologues—actually, I love them. As a writer, I use them to set a mood or tone—a layer of emotional subtext, if you will—before the actual story begins, which I don’t feel I could have otherwise achieved.  

In my upcoming release, Darkness & Shadows, the prologue is steeped in surrealism and tragedy. Patrick, my protagonist, is having an imaginary conversation with the only woman he's ever loved as she burns to death inside a building. The fire and death have actually happened, but the prologue is a product of his subconscious desire to find answers he can’t find in the tangible world. I felt there was no better way to portray this than through the use of a prologue. Sure, I could have allowed his internal dialogue throughout the book to convey his thoughts and feelings—and to a large
extent, it does—but by adding this additional element, I think (or at least I hope) that I was able to dig deeper on a more visceral level, leaving the reader inside Patrick’s mind in a way that will resonate by the time they reach the first chapter. I don’t know if I could have done this as well without it.

My last book, The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted, didn’t have a prologue. As much as I love them, and as much as I wanted to have one, I found it just didn’t work for the story, so I left it out. I’ve often read books with prologues and found myself wondering why the authors bothered, because they didn’t add anything to the story that wasn’t already there. They made the mistake of slapping the word “Prologue” across the top of the page for what is essentially just a first chapter.

When I read a brilliant prologue I get chills that tell me I have to move on to the first chapter. When I read a bad one, I get a different kind of chill that makes me want to put the book down and never come back to it.

Some people, authors and writers alike, don’t like prologues. I’ve even heard a few say they dislike them so much that they won’t even read them and often skip to the first chapter of a book. So as an author, for all the reasons above, and probably many more, it’s an important decision whether to include one, and even more, how to write it. I know that if not done right, it can make or break the rest of my book. I can’t control whether my readers will look at it, but I can make sure it’s as relevant and effective as possible just in case they do.

What’s your take on prologues? Do you like writing them? Do you like reading them?