Prologues: To Have or Not to Have

I have been having this on and off relationship with the Prologue for my novel. I feel that it needs one, but then everything I read tells me that agents and editors hate them. Well at least the majority of them. Because the lives of the characters in my novel are intertwined with the gods and goddesses from Hindu mythology, I feel that it is important to set the scene, so to speak. I personally love prologues and I find that for certain stories they can provide valuable background details. I decided to delve deeper into what people are saying about prologues and here is what I learned:

1. Never use your prologue as an information dump about your characters or the setting. It is better to cleverly work that into scenes and dialogue.

2. Don’t use your prologue as a hook. That’s what the first chapter is for. Also readers will feel cheated if the prologue reels them in, but the chapters don’t deliver on that promise.

3. Your prologue should not be overly complex. This will just confuse readers and possibly turn them off the book entirely.

4. Never, never write a prologue that doesn’t connect with the main story. It will leave the reader wondering  and not in a good way.

5. Ask yourself whether your prologue can just be the first chapter. If yes, then that’s what it should be. Apparently many people don’t even bother reading prologues. In that case, if the prologue contains information vital to understanding the story, you’re royally screwed.

Clearly there is no single answer to the question of whether or not to write a prologue. But at least there’s a lot of good information out there on how to do it right. Since I am the boss of me and I love prologues, I will keep mine. I have a strong gut feeling that my readers will appreciate it.

Here are a couple of links I found helpful:

The Prologue – When to Use One, How to Write One by Marg McAlister: An excellent dissection of the prologue, its advantages and disadvantages by Marg McAlister. She lists several questions to ask when deciding to use or not to use a prologue.

http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/prologue.shtml: An interesting take on the multiple roles a prologue can play in your novel. If your prologue is not doing any of the jobs it’s supposed to, then it doesn’t belong in your novel.

Writers and the Fusion of Cultures

Child_with_red_hair_reading
Child_with_red_hair_reading (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was thinking about the stories we all grow up with. No matter where we spend our childhood, when we move to another part of the world we carry these stories with us and consciously or not, they make their way into the stories we write or tell our children. The folktales we listened to as kids or the stories that Grandfather always told at dinner seep into the world of the characters we create and soon we experience a wonderful fusion of cultures in which the bedtime stories a child might have heard in India merge with the stories of the Brothers Grimm. Thus we create new fairy tales for another generation. Almost every culture has some version of  the knight in shining armour who saves the princess. Or the brave warrior girl who outwits the evil genius. And then there are all the mythologies.  As a child growing up in Germany I devoured the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales. But I also loved the stories that my Bengali father told me and the comic books he bought me from which I learned about Hindu mythology. I grew up in a Muslim home, reading stories about Hindu deities, along with old German folktales. I lost myself in the Arabian Nights and listened to the bedtime stories that my Pakistani mother told me. Fantasy knows no boundaries and stories flow effortlessly across  man-made borders. As writers, we are in a unique position. We can create characters and stories which reflect wonderful aspects of different cultures  and enrich the literature of our times. And never has this been easier than now, when we can  reach such a large audience so quickly and easily. I am grateful for the opportunity to share the stories that created such happy memories of my childhood.

The Abandoned Palace: Fatehpur Sikri

Painting of Akbar the Great with Jesuits at hi...
Painting of Akbar the Great with Jesuits at his court; Akbar’s vizier wrote a gazetteer on the Mughal realm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Imperial palace at Fathepur Sikri, near Agra, ...
Imperial palace at Fathepur Sikri, near Agra, India, built in 1580 Français : Palais impérial à Fatehpur-Sikrî, près d’Âgrâ en Inde, construit en 1580 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On our trip to India two years ago we visited Fatehpur Sikri. A lot of the action in my book takes place in old temples and palaces, so this was a perfect spot for some great inspiration.  The Mughal Emperor Akbar had this palace city built in the late 1570’s when he relocated the capital of his empire from Agra to Fatehpur. The architecture is a dazzling blend of Persian and Hindu styles. The design bears testament to the religious tolerance that Akbar was well known for. While the Mughals were devout Muslims, Akbar chose to educate himself on the tenets of Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism, as well as Christianity. In the palace he dedicated a large hall, called the Ibadat Khana or Room of Worship. There he invited scholars and leaders of other religions to meet and discuss their faith with the goal of enlightenment and brotherhood. Surprisingly forward thinking for his time, Akbar even invited women to join these weekly gatherings. But he didn’t just stop at gatherings and discussions. Akbar tried to create a new faith which was an amalgamation of all the faiths he had encountered. He called this faith Din-i-Ilahi, Faith of the Divine. Unfortunately for him, the ministers of his court were not quite so open-minded, and prejudices got in the way of his tolerance. Those closest to him began to worry that his open acceptance of the other faiths would pose a threat and political circumstances did not allow the new religion to gain popularity. Sadly, a few years later, Akbar’s court abandoned the palace at Fatehpur Sikri due to a water shortage.Today, the city still stands, nothing more than a ghost town of courtyards and surrounding pavilions. Walking around the complex you can almost hear the echoes of children playing in the gardens while the Emperor’s wives lounged by the pond. Inside the empty palace it is easy to feel the intensity and passion that must have filled the Ibadat Khana when Akbar led the scholarly discussions on the some of the world’s major religions.

As a writer there is nothing more inspiring than a place filled with so much  history and intrigue. Every room seems filled with secrets and stories just come alive as you walk in the footsteps of so many who made and changed the circumstances of their time.

Helicopter Parenting: How much is too much?

Week 36: Helicopter Parent
Week 36: Helicopter Parent (Photo credit: WilliamsProjects)

As parents we often have to tread carefully to avoid stepping on the fine line between good parenting and over parenting. How do we know when enough is enough? Is there a magic age when we can say that we have done all that we could for our children and that the time has come to step back?

I thought I was a helicopter parent. I hovered in preschool, in elementary school and would have continued to hover in high school if I had not walked into that invisible wall as my oldest daughter went off to her first day. It wasn’t an actual wall that stopped me…it was a look of sheer horror and embarrassment on my daughter’s face as she realized that I was stepping out of the car and following her. That look stopped me in my tracks. I realized that I had gone as far as I could. I stood outside her school like an abandoned child for a few minutes, before it hit me. This was it. No more greeting the teacher as the kids walked in and hanging around the classroom if they needed parent helpers. Apparently, once your kids hit high school, parent helpers are synonymous with the plague. I realized that I needed to get a life of my own, hence the desire to start a career as a writer. Also, I had some time to transition since I had another child and her teachers to harrass for a few more years.

Which brings me to the article  about helicopter parenting. Apparently it is a real affliction. It seems that there are parents out there who haven’t heard of the invisible wall I was talking about. And if they did, they may have just crashed through it anyway. I’m not judging because I know I’m just as guilty of hovering, but I do draw the line at calling my children’s prospective employers or future university profs. But extreme hovering tactics aside, when do we let go? Do we deprive our children the benefit of our experiences and failures and allow them room to make their own mistakes? Is it hyper-parenting to want to spare your child the disappoinments that you have faced and give them an edge? I don’t have the answers, but I do know that it is a daily struggle to decide when to step in or back off. After all, it is our children’s future that’s at stake.

Editing: Off To A Good Start

WAIITIN
WAIITIN (Photo credit: khalid Albaih)

My editor sent back the first twelve chapters of my manuscript and I must say that the feedback was very helpful. It’s as if we share a brain except he knows just how to organize the thoughts and I’m still all over the place. It was incredible reading his comments and realizing that he picked up on all the issues I was having and suggested ways to make them better. Am I lucky or what?

Now I am looking at massive rewrites, but that’s better than not knowing whether my concerns are valid or just the product of self-doubt. There was an interesting thing about his feedback when I received the second batch of chapters. I noticed that he gives compliment sandwiches. He’ll say something positive, then point out things he didn’t like and end on a positive note. Interesting…I wonder if that’s something all editors do or if my editor is just really nice.

Authors and Editors

Edit Ruthlessly
Edit Ruthlessly (Photo credit: Dan Patterson)

I recently decided to hire a freelance editor for my manuscript, so that I could get started on my revisions. The process was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I simply went to the Canadian Editors Association website and looked for listings that mentioned YA fiction and sent off requests for estimates. A few days later I found someone that seemed to be a good fit and we got started immediately. I was mostly worried whether the editor would understand exactly where I was coming from. In the numerous emails we exchanged, I tried to explain what it was that I most needed his help on. When I first started looking online, I learned quite a few things. There is quite a confusing array of editing services available and some of them overlap. In addition, they can be quite expensive. So if you don’t do your research and fail to ask the right questions, you may end up paying for a service you didn’t really need. In the end you have to be clear about what it is that you need from the editor and make sure that they know it as well, so that there is no room for misunderstanding. If you’re lucky you will find somebody who gets your writing and will help make it the best it can be.

Girl Power

When I decided to write a book, I knew that the protagonist had to be a girl. She would be a strong, kick-ass sort of a girl. No standing on the sidelines and watching with big eyes as her man saved the world. No, she was going to save the world herself.I wanted to base my story on the mythology of India, because it is so rich and fascinating. And I knew that I wanted to write for young adults, because they are  at an important juncture in their lives. Not that my book is going to impart any great pearls of wisdom. On the contrary, it is pure fantasy. But I happen to believe that when you allow yourself to indulge in fantasy, you can discover a lot about who you truly are and what will make you happy. Plus it’s just really cool to write about a girl who has the powers of a goddess and can kick a demon’s ass.

Reincarnation

I have always been fascinated by the concept of reincarnation. The idea that you can be born over and over again is intriguing. Imagine being alive at different times in the history of our civilization. Would we have memories from all those lives buried deep in the recesses of our minds? Or would we start each new life with a clean slate, perhaps a chance for a do-over? And if we are not aware of it, would we do anything differently, or are we doomed to repeat our mistakes in one life after another? In my novel, Realm of the Goddess, reincarnation is a central theme. Here is a quote from the Prologue:

“Wherever evil rears its head, there I shall be reborn

to crush greed and corruption in its womb

I shall arise again and again.”

I like the idea of second chances, maybe even third and fourth ones. It gives us hope that we can ultimately overcome our failings, some of our wrongdoings and have another go at being better versions of ourselves.

Traditional vs Self Publishing

 I am wondering how long one should wait for traditional publishing to work out before deciding to self publish. Or is self publishing no longer the other option, but rather the first choice? From all the blogs and Facebook pages and articles out there, I feel that I want to be in control of where this journey takes me, rather than wait and hope for someone to tell me that they will give my writing a chance. I felt elated when I finally finished typed the last words of my novel. It wasn’t easy getting there, so it was a big accomplishment for me. So should I allow someone else to take that away from me or should I take destiny into my own hands and see where it leads?