Yesterday I attended a great event put on by the Surrey Public Library at the striking new City Centre branch. It was part of the Write Here, Read Now program and featured the inspiring Martin Crosbie, author of How I sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle, a self-publishing guidebook. In the 75 minutes that he had he did an outstanding job of presenting a plethora of useful steps to how aspiring authors can self-publish and not bankrupt themselves in the process. In the past, I have attended workshops and presentations on self-publishing and to be quite honest, mostly what I took away from them was how difficult it would be and how little success I should realistically expect. Add to that the fact that I am not great at the technical aspect of it. Martin Crosbie, on the other hand, makes it seem so achievable that it lit a fire in me once again. The best part of it is how encouraging he is to writers who are just beginning their journey. I also met the fabulous Lorna Suzuki, author of The Imago Chronicles. She was one of the writers in Authors Among Us, an ongoing event at the library where you can listen to various writers give readings from their books and then ask questions and interact with them. I was able to spend some time with her afterwards and share some of my concerns. Ten minutes with her and once again I was on a motivational high. We’ve all been there, in that place of self doubt, of insecurity and frustration, when it feels that we’re stuck. Which brings me to my main point. I feel extremely fortunate to live in a city where the public library puts on multiple events that bring together successful authors of different genres and at various levels of success, so that aspiring writers can connect with them, learn from them and most of all be inspired by them. We all know that writing can be a somewhat lonely activity, but events like these make you realize that there is a community of writers nearby, where you can find guidance and encouragement and where hopefully, one day, you too can pay it forward.
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.
I seem to have painted myself into a corner while attempting to edit my novel. I started out making small changes here and there. But then, like bunnies they multiplied and before I realized it, so much had changed that my characters started turning on me. One of them didn’t like the way I made her look, the other doesn’t like his personality. So what do you do if your characters refuse to be who you want them to be? In my mind I’m the boss, but just as it happens in real life, this is just a figment of my imagination. Which is really my point. They wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for me. It’s like I tell my children sometimes (read everyday) , I gave them life, therefore I get to make important decisions. But just like my children do to me, my characters lured me into a false sense of believing that I actually control them. It turns out that I don’t. Most of them are refusing to do the things that I ask, so I started making more changes to make them happy. So now I have to figure out a way to coax them all back into the little darlings they used to be when I first started writing this novel. Good luck to me.
When the freelance editor I hired returned my manuscript with many helpful comments and critiques, my initial reaction was one of relief. I was glad that I found someone who understood the story I was trying to tell and was familiar with Indian Mythology. I read through all his comments, excited by the prospect that soon I would sit down and polish the manuscript and then it would be ready to go out into the world. After all there was nothing that could stop me now, right?
Wrong. I sat down to get started and hit a wall. Metaphorically, of course, but it felt like an actual wall. My head hurt and my heart started to race. It could have just been the aftershocks from the horrible flu I was still getting over, but the panic I felt was real enough.
I had to talk myself out of the dark place I found myself in to get going again. Luckily, no one in my family finds it strange when I talk to myself, and soon enough I got going. Now I’m on a roll again, but it was scary for a while there.
So, my question to you is:
What is the best way to approach the editing process?
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.
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.
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.