Thursday, May 26, 2016

Why I like Prologues (Part 1)

I am sometimes asked why my books have Prologues. Many authors consider them old fashioned. I prefer to think of them as extensions of the book blurb, which serves as a teaser to readers. If the blurb piques my interest, I like another short piece of prose—a Prologue—to see whether or not the tale will continue to hold my attention.

The purpose of my Prologue is to set the tone for the reader. The subject matter contained in it may predate, be contemporary with, or only remotely participate in the tale, Nonetheless, each performs a certain task, such as introducing characters, revealing situations, or grounding the reader in the times.

As for being out-of-date, remember: What goes around, comes around.

Let’s take a look at two prologues by another local writer with Oklahoma roots.

 Autumn 1831 along the Allegheny River
But for improvident fate, angry, boiling clouds would have unleashed nature’s cold fury upon this Yankee river valley the day he buried his ma and pa. Perversely, a rose-hued dawn washed the tall forests and granite bluffs in a warm autumn glow.
Prosperous Tory farmers, his forebears had rallied to Benedict Arnold’s American Legion during the Great Rebellion, participating in raids on Ft. Griswold and New London. Their lands confiscated, their very lives at risk, the family joined the migration of a hundred thousand Loyalists to Canada and the Mother Country upon the Crown’s surrender to the victorious Continental rebels.
At the turn of the century, his pa brought the little family south from Toronto to unsuccessfully petition for the restoration of their prosperity, but old hatreds die lingering deaths, and Tories were subjected anew to high prejudices with the burning of the President’s House in the War of 1812. The Marquis de Lafayette’s return to these shores in August 1824, and the old revolutionary’s warm reception by James Monroe, the last American President to fight in the Rebellion, put the barm on the brew, sentencing the family to hard labor merely to meet the cain on farmland that once had been their own.
Life doubly rocked the slender young man with hair the color of sandy soil and hazel irises shot with brown and green and gold when the tragic deaths of his parents in a farmhouse fire followed hard on the heels of a doomed affair with the daughter of a family of Patriots who had no use for Tories—real or reformed. The discovery of a hundred carefully hoarded gold English Pounds in the ashes of the family cabin confirmed his determination to abandon this hateful land and retrace the footsteps of his boyhood idol, Jedidiah Strong Smith, the legendary trapper and explorer of the Far West.

The passage above is the Prologue from Mark Wildyr’s CUT HAND. What does it tell us? Most certainly we have met and been provided a casual description of the book’s protagonist at a time when profound change rocks his life. We know that his viewpoint of the American Revolution is different from that of most who will be reading this book, a clue that the rest of the story will be seen through strange eyes, as well. We understand that our hero is being propelled through life by the sweep of history, and we can anticipate that this is what we will see throughout the remainder of this erotic historical novel. And we can anticipate that much of the novel will be told in colonial American and early American English. So we know or intuit a great deal from this Prologue
Let’s take a look at Wildyr’s MEDICINE HAIR, the fourth book in his Cut Hand Series. Likewise an erotic novel with a historical background, this book’s Prologue performs a different chore.

Monday, September 10, 1883, Turtle Crick Farm, Dakota Territory
Puzzled by the rosy hue of the crick water, he shifted his gaze to a western skyline pulsing with spectacular crimsons and shimmering corals. The horizon appeared ablaze, yet a cool breeze lapped his face. No hint of heat. No taste of smoke. His horses grazed placidly. This was no wildfire. It was another of those remarkable prairie sunsets.
The bizarre events had started a fortnight ago. He’d sensed movement beneath his feet. A few days later, air currents in a normally calm season. Hazy, filtered light. Sun dogs, usually rare and most often observed in cold months, now frequent. Moons the color of moldy cheese one night and as blue as a jay’s wing the next.
Despite his education, he heard the singing of his tribal blood and thought of witchcraft. Powerful medicine was at work.

We can discern the viewer (likely our protagonist) is a farmer puzzled by unusual natural phenomena. We also understand that wildfires are a hazard on the Dakota plains. Although likely a Native American, the man is educated yet not totally free of tribal mysticism. We tend to believe that what is happening here will be immediately important to the story. In fact, we are seeing mixed-blood John Strobaw as he is launched on the road to becoming Medicine Hair, a noted and respected shaman among the Sioux.

You will note that the first example, that from Cut Hand, is told from an omniscient point of view. The narrator knows facts the young man who is the point of the Prologue would likely not know. But the one from Medicine Hair is told from the third person limited point of view. Interestingly, both book are thereafter told from the first person point of view.

Glad to see I’m not the only writer who likes Prologues. The next time you run across one in a book you haven’t read as yet, study it a little to figure out what it’s designed to tell you.

Next week, we’ll take a look at another Okie’s approach to Prologues, which is a little different. In the meantime, keep on reading.

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New Posts at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday

Thursday, May 19, 2016

SouthWest Writers’ Novel Conference

This past Saturday, I volunteered at the Novel Conference hosted by SouthWest Writers, the state’s premier organization for professional and aspiring writers. I decided to blog about it because, heretofore, I’ve been somewhat ambivalent about such activities. This one, I found to be interesting and informative. Perhaps the fact I volunteered rather than was a participant shaped my feelings somewhat; nevertheless, I wanted to share a bit of the program with you.

This conference was organized around two representatives of literary firms that are players on the national scene. This year they were Mark Gottlieb, a literary agent at the Trident Media Group, and Annabella Hochschild, Editorial Assistant at St. Martin’s Press. Both guests addressed the group and took a series of pitches from attendees ranging from published to aspiring authors.

The subject of Mark’s talk was “Get it While it’s Hot: Musings on What Sells in Major Trade Publishing. TMG has been in business since 2000, and Mark has been ranked as high as
#1 on Agents on in Overall Deals. He has other top rankings in such various interests as Science Fiction/Fantasy, Thriller, Mystery/Crime, Romance and Young Adult.

Annabella addressed the group on “The Pitching Process,” focusing on what makes some pitches work and some fall flat. She worked for Vogue before moving to St. Martin’s Press to work on the desk of Tim Bartlett, who specializes in political and economic serious non-fiction.

As fascinating as it was to hear from professionals on the national scene, I found our local speakers to be equally engaging.

Johnny D. Boggs, winner of both the Western Heritage Wrangler Award and the Spur Award, spoke on the subject: “There’s No Crying in Publishing.” His talk addressed getting your novel published by a traditional publisher.

Robin Perini’s topic was “The Power of Love: The Romance Market Uncovered.” She is an award-winning, international bestselling author and RITA finalist who has been on the Top 5 on Amazon Bestseller lists in the U.S., UK, and Germany.

Joseph Badal talked to the group on “What’s Happening in Publishing for Thrillers and Mysteries.” Joe has published nine novels and was named One of 50 Authors You Should Be Reading in 2011, won first in the 2013 NM?AZ Book Awards in the Fiction-Mystery/Thriller category, the Tony Hillerman Prize for Best Fiction, and other prestigious awards.

Caroline Starr Rose spoke on “KidLit 101: Defining Terms, Knowing Your Audience, and Breaking In. She was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B, which was also an ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book.

My reason for bringing up something already over and done with? I just wanted to toss kudos to Rob Spiegel, President of SWW and Joanne Bodin, Conference chair for the group. Well done, guys.

Oh yes, I also wanted to encourage my readers’ participation in such conferences, and if there’s not one available in your area, to consider organizing one. I’m sure Rob and Joanne and any number of others at SWW would be glad to give you some helpful suggestions. SWW’s email address is:

Feel free to contact me at

New Posts published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Let’s try a short short story this week. No, I didn’t computer stutter, and there’s no comma between the shorts because first short modifies the second short, which modifies story, so it’s cumulative, requiring no comma. You might argue it needs one for "readability's" sake. Why did I go off in that direction? I’ll put it down to age and move on.

Hope you like the bit of nonsense that follows:

I called her Smoky.
Her real name was Gwendolyn, and I was in love with her from the moment I met her in freshman English at the University of New Mexico. It was a big class, and I was fortunate enough to sit beside her one day. Before the bell rang, I screwed up the courage to utter the most difficult five words I’d ever spoken.
“Hi, I’m Am. Ambrose Haller.”
She looked puzzled before responding. “Gwendolyn Sharp. Nice to meet you.”
Understanding her confusion, I stiffened my spine and spoke again. “I didn’t stutter. I really said ‘I’m Am.’ That’s what everybody calls me instead of Ambrose.
“Oh? Then she smiled. Smiled with her whole being. With her eyes as well as her lips. Her irises were gray. Not pale. Dark. Smoky gray. They seemed infused with swirling mists of changing shades and shapes. I’d never seen eyes like that before. So she became Smoky to me.
Her laugh was crystal pinging on silver. “Let’s do that over again. Hi, Am, I’m Gwen.”
When I took the dainty hand she offered, some part of my heart seemed to flow through our clasped fingers into hers. Did she recognize what had just happened?
Professor Sorloff called the class to attention, breaking the magic of the moment and earning my undying enmity. Damn Sorloff! Why was somebody with a name like that teaching freshman English, anyway?
For one hour, three days a week over two semesters, I sat beside my angel. Although almost everyone else I knew despised the class, I could hardly wait for 9:00 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We became friends, almost intimates. Maisie Hines probably fit that role better than I; nonetheless, Smoky shared some confidences that made me feel close to her. I suffered some setbacks, as well. There was the boyfriend, Dirk, who showed up after class to claim her as though he owned her.Later came the bitter breakup that left her shaken and unhappy.
My opportunity, right? I thought so, too, but while she shared some of her feelings with me, it was a strapping footballer named Randall who apparently had a more comfortable shoulder. The school term staggered to a close with me little more than a classmate to my beautiful Smoky.
My sophomore year was a drag because she transferred to New Mexico State. Only later did I learn she’d followed her football tight end to Las Cruces.

Twenty years passed before I glanced through the one-way glass wall of my manager’s office at the Central Avenue Branch of the Spartan Bank into the lobby where a woman waiting in line for a teller caught my attention. She was wearing a pair of large, very dark glasses, something a sign prominently displayed on the doors discouraged. As usual, I took special notice of someone who might be attempting to mask her identity. The tall woman was quite well-formed. I’m not certain if I made that mental note as a banker looking at a potential scam artist or as a man who’d recently undergone a bitter divorce. Regardless of the reason, she was in my sights now.
The woman was not a regular customer of the branch yet somehow looked familiar. Drawn by curiosity—or perhaps caution—I moved into the lobby to stand at the tall table that once held blank deposit slips and counter checks before banks went to computers and did away with such necessities. She stood in profile to me as she moved up the line.
Her pleasant features sent my mind racing over wanted posters and past relationships, but I still had not pulled whatever was niggling at me from my memory banks by the time she finished her transaction and started for the door. On impulse, I moved to intercept her.
“Excuse me, ma’m,” I said. “I’m Mr. Haller, the manager. May I welcome you to our branch?”
She halted abruptly, which excited my suspicion.
“Am?” She pulled off the shades and looked up at me.
“Smoky!” I exclaimed.
Her laugh still sent shivers down my back “I haven’t been called that in years. It’s good to hear it again.” She held out her arms and gave me a brief embrace.
“I lost track of you after you transferred to State.”
“I’ve wondered about you often. So you’re a banker?” That tinkling laugh again. “My banker. I just opened an account last week.”
She was more beautiful as a mature woman than she had ever been as a teen. Back then her looks merely promised something. Now she delivered on that promise. True beauty.
Somehow we ended up agreeing to meet for coffee after work. She was employed as an electrical engineer at a firm a couple of blocks down the street. In that enchanted half-hour, I confessed my recent divorce and learned of her difficult breakup from her husband… that same footballer who’d taken her away all those years ago.
That coffee was succeeded by dinner a few nights later. That gave rise to others. Then came the magical night where I found myself where I’d never dared dream I would be.
On top of Old Smoky.

What a pathetic ending, but somehow I wasn’t able to stop myself. Oh well, feel free to lodge your complaints at

New Posts published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Wordwrights Writing Class

Wordwrights Writing Class Logo
For the past three years, a colleague and I have co-hosted a class for people interested in writing. Every Monday afternoon (except for holidays) some fifteen to twenty-five of us gather in classroom 1 at the North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center (7521 Carmel NE) in Albuquerque for a meeting of the Wordwrights Writing Class. Promptly at 1:30 p.m., we open with a Weekly Tip covering some aspect of writing, ranging from how to construct a sentence, proper use and placement of modifiers, involving the senses in your work, tenses, viewpoint, and the like.

Next, Dennis Kastendiek reads from and talks about various authors who have caught his attention. Thereafter, for about an hour and a half, various class members read from their work and accept comments from the class. Our group is open-ended, meaning it is free to any and all. Those who join us attend when they wish or skip classes when life gets in the way.

Membership is eclectic. We have published authors, serious writers struggling to be published, beginning writers, and people who just want the stimulation of being around creative people. We are poets and memoirists, novelists and essayists, technical writers and film reviewers… and of course, those who haven’t yet settled on exactly what they want to be.

Our writers have a number of projects underway. I won’t try to cover all of them, but here are some of our current efforts:

·       A cozy murder mystery opening with a body covered with chocolate in a bakery
·       A novel based on some gristly Hungarian murders in the 19th century
·       A book of poems based on the writer’s dating partners over the years
·       An early 20th century novel about a young woman breaking the shackles of convention and coming into her own
·       A woman both charmingly and courageously excising her traumatic past by facing it through her poetry
·       A novel based on an ancient Egyptian princess who some believe gave Scotland her name
·       An essayist who brings the class to laughter with his clever twists on life’s lessons

There are many more, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll stop here.

The point of this post? You’re welcome to join us if you wish, but more importantly, if there is no such group in your area, consider starting one. I am convinced that everyone in our class would tell you the results are worth the effort. As a matter of interest, this writing class has been going on for eleven continuous years. Rob Spiegel and Larry Greenley from SouthWest Writers (New Mexico’s largest professional writing organization), started the class and ran it for eight years before turning it over to Dennis and me. That says a lot for the worthiness of the idea.
I know this post is a bit different, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, so I finally sat down and wrote it. Hope you’ll consider becoming involved in such an effort… or start a class if there’s not one available in your neighborhood.

Feel free to lodge your comments at

New Posts published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

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