Red pen session 006 – critique of Firebound, a novel extract by Kathryn Wild

I originally recorded red pen critique as part of a series of podcast episodes dedicated to reading a short story or self-contained novel extract (with synopsis) and then talking about it afterwards. I am now running these on this blog.

I run a fortnightly critique group as well as critiquing other authors writing which I really enjoy so I thought I’d create podcast episodes doing this, and will now be running future ones on the blog, initially with the already-recorded episodes at 5pm daily (or thereabouts, am late today), then every Sunday evening (UK times).

Please remember that it’s only one person’s (my) opinion and you, and the author concerned, are welcome to disagree with my interpretation – I will never be mean for the sake of it, but hope you find that I’m firm but fair. I type my comments for the recording as I read through the story as a reader would think as they read the story, although they would most likely be reading, not analysing, unless they’re writers too!

Regardless of what genre you write I hope that this helps you think about the way fiction is constructed and that you have enjoyed reading another author’s work, the copyright of which remains with them, then my suggestions for any improvement.

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The story in this post was kindly emailed to me by Kathryn Wild, a teacher who has spent the last three years in Thailand and Switzerland, working in their education systems, after four years in England. She is currently in the process of relocating again, most likely to Spain, having left the English Education system to allow herself time to travel and more importantly to write. In the space of the last two years, she has written two young adult novels (book one is almost ready to go out, book two needs editing but it is sitting in the ‘bottom draw’ so, she says, she can see it fresh when she come back to it). She is currently 20,000 words into the first draft of book three.

The novel I shall be talking about today is an urban fantasy called ‘Firebound’. Kathryn describes it as the Vampire Diaries books meets the TV show ‘Avatar – The Last Airbender’ (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0417299), with the problems that underpinned the problems of the French Revolution. To give you a flavour her synopsis begins: The underground elemental world of the Guardians is facing a rebellion and both sides are pinning their hopes on sixteen-year-old Abigail Cooper who is still grieving from her mother’s strange death and much more interested in regaining her popularity and boys than in her ability to control fire.

I create my comments as I read the story for the first time, as a reader would, so you will have had the advantage of hearing the excerpt in its entirety but hopefully what I have to say will still make sense to you. Unlike critiquing a short story where all I have to go on is a title, I do have an idea of what the extract is about having read the synopsis which does make it a little easier although I admit that I’m no fantasy expert but will do my best.

If you have any feedback on this or aspects of my website or blog, I’m always delighted to hear from you – my email address is morgen@morgenbailey.com.

And if you’re feeling brave enough to send me a short story or novel extract (with a brief synopsis please) – 3,000-words maximum – for these red pen blog sessions then feel free.

So without further ado, the story / synopsis and extract, then my feedback…

Firebound extract

Chapter One:  Tattoo

Her dad still had some part of him that was a human being and he didn’t ground her for her birthday, not that it mattered. She knew what non-events birthdays had become, they didn’t celebrate them anymore and hers was so close to the day they were all dreading.

She had ran up the stairs as soon as she had got home from school. She hated being in this house. It was a family house and since the car crash that had claimed her mum’s life last year she didn’t have one of them. It was best just to stay outside and occupy her mind with other things. Things that didn’t hurt as much to think about. She threw her uniform onto the floor, kicking it out of the way and empting half the contents of her drawers, hiding the last inches of red carpet. She could almost hear her mum’s voice as she threw her blazer on the ‘to be worn again pile’.

Her mum would be having a fit if she saw the mess. ‘Abigail, this room looks like a bomb has hit it.’ She ignored the voice and the familiar shiver that ran down her back as she threw her white school shirt on the pile that screamed, ‘please put me in the washing machine’. Her mum didn’t get a say about that anymore. The fire that had engulfed her car put an end to that. She gulped letting those feelings sink in further to her stomach. She had promised herself, she wasn’t going to go there. Not today.

She reached up to touch her mum’s old necklace and felt it heat up in hands, burning them and forcing her to pull away, before she shook her head. She was just being stupid and way over sensitive. Gold didn’t just randomly heat up. At least not without something causing it to. It was just her mind playing tricks on her, it couldn’t be anything else.

Abigail took the necklace off and carefully placed it on her desk next to her History coursework that was due three days ago. She didn’t (need) any reminders tonight if she wanted to have a good time. Her brown eyes drifting back to it as she threw more clothes out of her wardrobe. She never took her necklace off, but she couldn’t wear it and put her act of being normal tonight. Her hands traced opal marks on her neck, retracing the mark and her mum’s presence and glancing back at the necklace as the sun from the window caught the opals on the golden necklace making it look like flickering flames. She shook her head turning away, her mind and the light were playing some serious tricks on her today.

She kept her outfit simple: trainers, jeans and a hoodie and headed downstairs while letting her red hair fall out of its school day messy plait half way down her back. She never wore her hair down for school, it just got in her way but Jordan liked it down. He loved to run his hands through it, almost as much as he loved to touch her skin. Making him happy would end up making her happy. Focusing on nothing but the blissful dissolution that he could offer, she paused her hand on the kitchen door.

That was her dad’s voice in there, her dad who hadn’t been home before her self imposed bedtime in months was in there, arguing with her grandmother. Her grandmother that bad been banned from the house. It didn’t make sense. But she didn’t let herself think or examine why the two of them were there, in the kitchen and fighting. They always fought and this time it seemed to be about her, or at least her name had been screamed several times but the words didn’t matter. Her dad was actually home. A relief rushed through her, lighting her up and filling her lungs with air. He did still care about her. He must. Maybe all the rejection was gone and he had stopped burying himself in his work. A faint smile formed on her lips as she pushed open the kitchen door.

She rushed in and hugged him, dropping all the guards that she used to protect herself. “Dad.”

“Happy birthday,” her dad, Thomas, pulled his stiff arms away, “shouldn’t you get going? You did make plans with your friends for tonight. You wouldn’t want to keep them waiting.”

“Guess,” she looked down, she didn’t want him to see her face. She needed time to recompose it and put back up her ‘I’m fine act.’ His early appearance obviously had nothing to do with her.  She smiled towards her grandmother, Sylvia, rather than dwell on this. Dwelling on this wouldn’t help, it would only add to her problems. Her dad didn’t do family, anymore and her grandmother had braved his wrath to come and see her from the looks of it. “Hi, Gran.”

“Happy sixteenth,” her grandmother, Sylvia, crossed the room. She held her granddaughter’s face softly for a moment then letting her hand linger on her right shoulder as brushed away her hair out her face. She pulled Abigail into a hug and whispered, “Permissum incendia suscipio.”

“What?” Abigail said.

“Don’t worry about it; you have nothing to worry about now.” Sylvia said.

After several more unanswered questions and another round of verbal sparring between her dad and grandmother, Abigail headed outside. She hugged the black biker jacket to her out of habit rather than from the cold December air. She wasn’t feeling cold, she didn’t tend to get cold, she had some screwed up kind of wiring that kept her warm at all times but she did need the support it offered before she could go back to pretending that everything was still fine. She was determined to enjoy a little of her birthday.

Jordan was waiting for her at the end of her driveway. He never came up to the door if he knew that her family was going to be in and she couldn’t blame him. She didn’t like getting the third degree for being a bad influence from his parents. She hated hearing things like “That Cooper girl.” So she couldn’t blame Jordan for not wanting to get the same treatment.

“You ready?” He took her right hand and gave it a small pull, a pull that shot pain up to her right shoulder.

***

My comments:

I like the title of Chapter 1 as it implies it’s about an actual tattoo so it gives us a picture even before we start reading. Hooks are usually shorter than this first sentence is but it has power and in just 25 words tells us a lot. We already know that it’s third person, past tense and that the main two characters are a father and daughter, we’re assuming the daughter being the protagonist and father antagonist because he’s causing some conflict, albeit not as much as she had expected. It also hints at an element of fantasy by him being part-human and that something had changed over time by using the word ‘still’, although the part-human could be metaphorical. We also immediately sympathise with her because although he’s taken pity on her because it’s her birthday they’re not celebrated especially given that they something bigger to think about.

On first reading the story I stumbled over the ‘She had run (ran) up the stairs as soon as she had got home from school.’ – this could be changed to ‘she’d’ in the second or both cases. Also by saying ‘last year’ it feels present tense so perhaps better saying ‘the previous year’.

‘She hated being in this house.’ is a clear tell. What we could have her doing is something like her growling at it, something which shows us of her feelings, although we then learn why and the reasons for her behaviour.

With the next couple of sentences we have a repetition of ‘things’ and I’m not normally a fan of repetition but this is used correctly there the second instance is an emphasis of the first.

What the girl does next is great! She clearly has no respect for her possessions, and possibly her school, by throwing down the uniform which we then learn is nothing new as her floor is now covered. Whilst this could be clichéd I’d say it’s more stereotypical so nothing wrong at all with that, especially given her motivation for rebellion.

By having ‘She could almost hear her mum’s voice as she threw her blazer on the ‘to be worn again pile.’ I’d say we don’t need the next sentence (Her mum would be having a fit if she saw the mess.) because it’s implied to us how her mother would react and then we’re told how she would and then of course we have what she would have said which I especially like as we’re now told our characters name by another person, albeit it Abigail’s head.

I’m a big fan of inanimate objects having life so loved a pile of clothes screaming to be washed.

And then, wow… we find out how her mother died.

Now, because Kathryn’s just mentioned Abigail’s mother where she goes onto write ‘She gulped letting those feelings sink’, it can be read as her mother gulping so she should change ‘she’ to Abigail to avoid any confusion. Anything that can jump a reader out of a story, or make them pause, should be avoided. Having lost a parent myself, albeit 10 years ago, I found Abigail’s emotions very realistic, very strong writing.

With ‘She reached up to touch her mum’s old necklace’ I assume Kathryn means that the necklace is around Abigail’s neck but it could have been lying on a shelf… I did want to know where she was reaching up to.

I wasn’t sure from this paragraph whether the heating up had happened before. By Abigail just shaking her head it could be that she’d forgotten, but then her being curious about it implies it hasn’t so, perhaps we could have a stronger reaction like her yanking her hand back and blowing on it to cool it? Or something like that.

I’ve described my critique as firm but fair but the firm side of me can be picky… and this includes split infinitives so where we have ‘Abigail took the necklace off’ should read ‘Abigail took off the necklace’ as the verb is to ‘take off’ rather than just ‘take’ and we have that a couple of times, the second time actually I’d say should read ‘She’d never normally…’ and I may be mistaken but I think ‘put her act of being normal’ should be to put on an act. I’m sorry, I did say I was picky.

There was a sentence beginning that I read automatically adding in a word without realising it ‘She didn’t need any reminders tonight’. The original text is actually missing the word ‘need’ but my mind clearly put it in, which is odd how our brains work and presumably Kathryn missed it too.

I did say earlier that I wasn’t a fan of repetition and in that paragraph there are four instances of the word ‘necklace’ so perhaps describe it as golden earlier (especially useful so the ‘opal’ then makes sense (although I wonder if the marks would be opal in colour, perhaps this is one of the fantasy elements of the story).

Then we get a description of her, and it’s a very vivid one at that and we get to know a little about her boyfriend, Jordan, through her eyes and their loving relationship although it’s sad that she feels that has to make him happy in order to be happy herself.

We have a repetition, this time of grandmother, but again it’s emphasis so it’s fine. And I’m intrigued as to why she would be banned. We don’t learn why in this extract although I sense, from the      Latin quote, that she too has a supernatural gift which Abigail’s father doesn’t approve of. Hopefully we’ll learn this later in the book.

We don’t know whether the grandmother is maternal or paternal which doesn’t really matter but may give us an idea as to whether he’s arguing with his mother or mother-in-law which would usually make a difference.

Again we sympathise with Abigail, firstly because her relatives are arguing, then we find out about her, but mainly because of how she feels about her father being home – and this is shown to us rather than told, which is good, and I liked her lungs filling with air as it’s a contrast with her gulping earlier.

When her father wishes her happy birthday we then get his name which I would have preferred to come out in speech because otherwise we could have been told it earlier.

I felt that “You did make plans with your friends for tonight.” was a little clunky and expected a “didn’t you?” at the end or perhaps just change it to a simple “You’ve made plans with your friends for tonight.”

Her then just saying “Guess” confused me a little. I read it as that he had to guess something but then reread it that she mean “I guess so”.

Again I would have liked Sylvia’s name to be in speech rather than being ‘told’ what it is. If the two adults are arguing they could easily shout each others’ names as well as Abigail’s.

With the sentence ‘Dwelling on this wouldn’t help, it would only add to her problems.’ I’m inclined to cut the ‘it would only add to her problems’ as they’re really saying the same thing and the latter is more of a ‘tell’ than the ‘dwelling’. If we didn’t know she had any problems then it would have been useful but I’d say it could go.

After Sylvia wishes Abigail a happy sixteenth (which is a good way of letting us know how old she is), we have Sylvia’s name again which we don’t need because we’ve already been told it so just her name or ‘grandmother’ would be fine.

I think ‘a moment then letting her hand linger’ should read ‘let her hand linger’ otherwise the sentence ends too early, and also ‘her right shoulder’ immediately follows the grandmother’s hand so it should read ‘Abigail’s’ right shoulder otherwise the Sylvia could be touching her own shoulder. I know we know, but again it’s the opportunity to confuse the reader that we don’t need. It’s more obvious if one character is male and one female but something to think about with two characters of the same sex.

On first reading I noticed I’d automatically added another couple of words ‘as she brushed away her hair out of her face’ which originally didn’t have the words ‘she’ or ‘of’, which again I hadn’t spotted the first time round. I stumbled a bit over that section anyway so I’d be inclined to lose the word ‘away’ but again it’s something for Kathryn to look at.

Although I don’t understand Latin I really like having it there because it firstly makes the grandmother feel ‘old and wise’ to me but also like it’s a secret code between the two of them.

I was a little confused though by ‘several more unanswered questions’ as I’d thought that the ‘don’t worry about it’ was an explanation of the Latin so perhaps this can be made a little clearer. Also would Abigail waited while they argued. Would she have said something or escaped earlier? I think she would have wanted to see more of her father and grandmother – perhaps to find a way to stop them arguing. This is something that Kathryn could expand on depending on her word count although this could of course be a section she deliberately didn’t want to elaborate on.

I liked Abigail hugging her jacket to her and then getting a hint of her ability with the fact that she never feels cold and we already have the earlier instance of the necklace burning her hand, although it’s implied that it’s the necklace doing the burning, so perhaps a link of ability passed down from her mother to her.

Where Kathryn says about Jordan, ‘He never came up to the door if he knew that her family was going to be in’ – presumably in this instance it was because of a car or two being outside the house, because if it was a surprise to Abigail that they were there, he wouldn’t have known unless she’d rung him to tell him and we’re not told that she has. I felt the rest of that paragraph, where she’s analysing why he keeps his distance could be trimmed and would she hear “that Cooper girl” unless they’re talking about her while she’s there and assumed that it would be spoken to Jordan instead so this could be tweaked. I like that way of getting her surname in though.

I love the final line because although they’re obviously close just him touching her causes her pain which I suspect has a deeper meaning to it, and therefore a great place to end.

Conclusion:

Kathryn has achieved what should be done in a novel’s first chapter; she’s introduced us to our protagonist, given a little description of her so we can form a picture, mentioned a small number of other characters, and given us their conflicts or dilemmas without giving too much away. It’s always very tempting to give as much information about the characters and setting at the beginning – known as an ‘info dump’ but we don’t have that here, and it makes us want to read on. Also as a non-reader of fantasy I don’t feel overwhelmed by the information we’ve been given. It’s a very relatable story and I suspect from Kathryn’s clear writing style it’ll continue like that.

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Since this red pen session aired Kathryn has received other feedback and has changed the beginning of her novel to…

Chapter One:  Fire

The old necklace burnt in Abigail’s hand as she touched it. The burning feeling licked over her fingers as she held it tighter. Necklaces shouldn’t burn. But there it was lighting up in her hand the same way that a struck match would have done.  Abigail let her mother’s old necklace slip back through her fingers and settle back into place. It sat in its normal position round her neck, just as it should be and not burning anymore. She ran her thumb along her fingertips. Apart from the paper cut on her ring finger, they felt the same, not burning, or even burnt, not hot or even that warm. Just normal. She reached up to touch the necklace again. Her hands heated up again. She pulled them away and kicked out at a pile of dirty school shirts scattering them across the red carpet.

This was stupid. She was just being stupid and way over sensitive. Gold didn’t just randomly heat up, at least not without something causing it to.  Fire may have engulfed her mother’s car last year, but flames didn’t just spring up out of nothing. It was just the anniversary coming up. It was just her mind playing tricks on her, it couldn’t be anything else.

Abigail took off the necklace and carefully placed it on her desk next to her history coursework that was due in three days ago. She didn’t need any reminders of her mum tonight if she wanted to have a good time. She was determined to have a good time. Tears over last year’s car crash could wait at least for another day. Her gaze drifted back to the necklace as she threw more clothes out of her wardrobe. She felt naked without the necklace on, unprotected, unprepared, but she couldn’t wear it and put on her act of being normal tonight. Her hands traced marks on her neck as she felt her mum’s presence join her in the room. At least she could still find a few ways that she could remember her mum even if she wasn’t here. And one of those ways was wearing, her necklace and her symbol. The sun from the window caught the opals on the golden necklace making them look like flickering flames. She shook her head; her mind and the light were playing some serious tricks on her today.

She kept her outfit simple: trainers, jeans and a hoodie.  She turned to the mirror, giving her appearance a final once over. She looked okay. Her trainers didn’t have their usual crust of mud at the toe, nor were there any tears in her jeans. Her red hair flickered, like a fire sputtering into life as she let it fall out of its school day messy plait and half way down her back.

She was royally losing it today.  Fan-bloody-tastic.  That nonsense with the necklace was just another thing that would cut her off from the crowd if she lost it. Damn it, she was normal, better than normal. She was popular. Or at least she had been. The necklace hadn’t heated up, the symbol hadn’t flickered in the light and her hair, despite its colour, was not on fire. No flames, just a stupid overactive imagination. An imagination that could easily be put to bed when she got out of this damn house.

Abigail paused as she reached the bottom of the stairs. The noise that had been masked by Holly’s television commentary on some storms in the north of Scotland was clear down on the lower level of the house. Her feet followed the voices before she paused again, her hand on the kitchen door. Her teeth dug down on her bottom lip. By the sound of it, she should be listening to this, despite not being invited to join in the conversation.  Yet Jordan was waiting for her and he hated to be kept waiting. Her hand moved off away from the door. She should head out to him. But… But… Her hand found its way back to its paused position on the door. That was her dad’s voice in there.

A relief rushed through her, lighting her up and filling her lungs with air. Her dad was home, actually home. Maybe all the fights, detentions and letters home from school had finally worked. He did still care about her. He must. Maybe the days of conversations with his answering machine were over and he had stopped burying himself in his work. Her dad who had not been home before her self-imposed bedtime in months was in there. He was in there arguing with her grandmother. Her grandmother had been banned from the house since Beth’s eighteenth birthday, over six years ago. Her dad had even kicked her grandmother out the house for a second time, the day following her mum’s funeral. Sparks had flown that day, along with the raised voices.

“Abigail is my daughter, damn it!”

“She’s my Heir and as of today, she is of age.”

“She’s is not your Heir.” Her dad sounded out every word. “She is my girl. Abi is my girl.”

“Just look at her, Thomas,” Her grandmother’s voice was the opposite to her dad’s, calm and controlled, but she too sounded out each word.  “Stop and look at her, her brown eyes, her red hair, just like all her true ancestors. You can claim Holly and Bethany all you like but Abigail is my Heir, she is part of my world, not yours.”

A thud sounded against wood and the noise ricocheted through the air and pushed Abigail’s breath back down her throat. Her hand stayed frozen on the door, not wanting to push or pull away. That wasn’t her passionless dad in there. Not the man that responded to his daughter being involved in a fight by placing a note on the fridge with dates that she was grounded. It was the man who had screamed on the touchlines as she had flung herself into a tackle on the football pitch. It was the dad she had given up on still being around months ago.

“We rejected that world when you killed off your last Heir. You will not get your hands on my girl. Damn it, Sylvia. You will not get my girl. You will not treat her the same way that you did her mother.”

***

KathrynKathryn’s website is http://www.kathrynwild.com and you can follow her on Twitter (where there’s currently this photograph of Kathryn and a beautiful tiger!).

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If you have any feedback on this or aspects of my website or blog, I’m always delighted to hear from you – my email address is morgen@morgenbailey.com.

And if you’re feeling brave enough to send me a short story or novel extract (with a brief synopsis please) – 3,000-words maximum – for these red pen blog sessions then feel free.

Next is Flash Fiction Friday: ‘Between Floors’ (803 words) by Rowena Simpkiss

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Guest post: How to Eat (or write) a Book: Probing the Pros and Problems of Prologues by Lauren Grimley

Tonight’s second guest blog post, on the topic of prologues, is brought to you by urban fantasy author Lauren Grimley.

How to Eat (or write) a Book: Probing the Pros and Problems of Prologues

Like most writers, I’ve spent hours researching my craft. I’ve read agents’ websites, blogs of established authors, and books on writing and publishing. I also attended conferences and workshops run by writers and agents. I learned early on that tastes vary. There are few hard and fast rules for anything related to writing. In the same conference an agent will espouse the importance of doing something one way, and a writer will enter the room and tell you to ignore everything you just heard. However, study enough and some general consensuses begin to emerge. One area most agree on is the use of prologues, or rather the misuse of prologues.

Their biggest problem with prologues is that they come before the rest of the book. Yes, this is inherent to prologues, but the problem is that in today’s market, when consumers are flooded with choices, most writers and agents agree that a writer has about two pages to sell a book. Those crucial first pages need to establish setting and tone, introduce an interesting main character, and have enough action or intrigue to hook a potential reader. If the first two pages are prologue, that doesn’t always happen.

So as readers should we kiss the days of prologues goodbye? As writers should we avoid them like dream sequences or dialogue tags? Is this too a matter of taste or a hard and fast rule? Well, in my opinion, while most meals are best eaten course by course, there are times when it’s not just okay, but downright decadent to break the rules and devour a meal or a book out of order.

Deciding when a prologue will work starts with determining what type of prologue you’re writing. By definition, the events of the prologue should take place prior to the events of the main story. I call this an appetizer prologue. Depending on your server, appetizers can be served long before the meal or just seconds before the main course arrives. Appetizer prologues usually provide backstory about the main character from years earlier or from seconds before the story begins. As a reader, I love characters’ backstory, but, most of the time, I agree with the agents and other writer’s on this one. Backstory is usually best when worked into the plot later on. If it’s important enough to the main character’s life, they’ll think about it at some point in the story. That’s the place to put it in. If it’s not important enough for the main character to think back on it, then the reader doesn’t need to know it, especially in the opening pages. In this case, Mom was right, you need to let the readers’ save room for the main course.

Plenty of books, though, have prologues that don’t actually fit the traditional definition of describing events prior to the start of the story. Many writers use a prologue to introduce the conflict, often through the eyes of the antagonist. As a writer, the pull to do this is strong. Everywhere you read says to start with action, hook the reader, set up the tone. What better way to do this than to drop the reader into a scene with the bad guy being bad? It’s like giving the reader a taste of a spicy side dish. I did this myself in one of my drafts of my first book. Writing it was a great way to really get to know my antagonist, so naturally I thought reading it would have the same effect. The problem is that it draws the reader away from the main story and the main character. It’s also hard to write without giving away too much, too soon. You might pull the reader in with that zing, but then when they start chapter one that first bite might fall short. Better to build expectation and intrigue with a taste of the main dish. Make their mouths water with your main character. Save the heat for after they’ve whetted their palates. Unless…

Hey, there are exceptions to every rule. Books later in series and even sequels can successfully start with a side dish prologue. Readers of a series or sequel already know and, if they’ve continued to book two or beyond, presumably like the main dish. They know what to expect. Tone, setting, and characterization have been established in previous books, and although those things need to be further developed in a new book, readers can be side-tracked for a few pages without being overly jolted when the story returns to its main course. In these cases introducing a character who is new to the series piques readers’ interest by assuring them something different is in store for the main character.

Finally, we have dessert: it is by far my favorite course. As a reader, the climax is the triple-layer chocolate cake of a good book. Let’s face it, dessert is the real reason most of us go out to eat. So why not give readers a little dessert before the meal? Some writers do just that in their prologues, which aren’t actually prologues at all, but rather an excerpt from a crucial point later in the book. These dessert prologues are really teasers. They’re included to make the reader’s mouths or minds water for more. Stephanie Meyer did this in her obscenely successful Twilight series. As a reader of these books, I enjoyed this type of teaser, especially in the later books in the series, since I knew from reading book one, that the prologue would appear later. I remember reading the teaser/prologue of the final books and trying desperately to predict how the story would enfold. I think that’s the key if a writer wants to use the dessert prologue. The passage picked must only hint at what’s to come. You can’t actually hand the reader dessert first, or they’ll never eat their meal. But pass an artful dessert tray under their noses a few times and you’ll have them zipping through those other courses in unbridled anticipation.

So, to prologue or not to prologue? Readers’ tastes in books and beginnings vary as much as their tastes in food. You’re never going to please every reader with every decision. Some, like me, are happy to see the dessert tray first. Others like a little appetizer. Still others, which apparently include most agents, are purists who like to start with a well-presented main course. Frankly, I think that if what you put on the plate is appetizing enough, it won’t matter to readers or agents what course you started with. Any great beginning to a book, be it prologue or main story, is a writer’s way of telling their reader “bon appétit.”

I’m off to have some Banoffee Pie. Thank you, Lauren. 🙂

Lauren Grimley lives in central Massachusetts where she grew up, but her heart is on the beaches of Cape Cod where she spends as much of her time as possible.  After graduating from Boston University she became a middle school English teacher.  She has her seventh graders to thank for starting her on this path; it was they who convinced a rather skeptical new teacher vampire stories were worth reading.  She now spends her time writing them when she should be correcting papers. If she finds free time beyond these activities, she’s likely to spend it on a beach with a book and bottle of wine close by.

Teaser for Unforeseen, the first book of an adult urban fantasy series:

Alex was quite sure gifted was a term delusional parents applied to their strictly average children, vampires were gorgeous dead guys in her eighth-grade girls’ novels, and Seers was a middle schooler’s misspelling of a department store known for power tools. Teachers, however, don’t know everything–it’s Alex’s turn to be educated.

Running alone the night before school ends, Alex is violently attacked. Regaining consciousness, she finds herself in the home of the Rectinatti Regan, the leader of one of two covens of vampires battling nightly on the streets of her city. If that discovery wasn’t enough to make her think she’d gone nuts, she realizes she’s sensing the emotions of another of the vampires as strongly as she feels her own. Discovering these creatures have the answers to what she is and why she was attacked, she decides she wants to stay, despite knowing it is a dangerous, possibly deadly desire.

You can find more about Lauren and her writing via…

Links to Unforeseen and “Unknown” (a short from later in the series):

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If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with poet Jeanne Buesser – the five hundred and thirty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internetview my Books and I also have a blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Author Spotlight no.57 – Adele Cosgrove-Bray

Complementing my daily blog interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the fifty-seventh, is of dark urban fantasy novelist Adele Cosgrove-Bray.

Adele Cosgrove-Bray is the author of Tamsin, the first in a series of dark urban fantasy novels about the lives of a community of artisan-sorcerers set in Liverpool.  The sequel, Rowan, will follow in the spring of 2012.

Adele’s short stories are featured in several paperback anthologies.  She also paints, draws and takes lots of photos, which she attributes to time ill-spent at art school.

Adele has been a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids since 1999. She has been the elected Chair for Riverside Writers since 2003. Adele became a member of the Cryonics Institute in 2008.

She shares life in England’s Wirral peninsula with one husband, two dogs, one cat, various chickens, an assortment of hedgehogs and bats, and a large black toad which lives under the patio step.

And now from the author herself:

My writing career began on my thirteenth birthday, when I merrily skipped downstairs and announced that now I was a teenager I could do whatever I wanted.  Mum said, “Oh, yeah?  And what exactly do you intend doing?”  Having not planned that far ahead, I said the first thing which came to mind.  I was going to be a rock singer.  Mum replied that singers need songs so after doing my chores I’d better write some.  So I did.

With two school pals, I formed a band.  Between us we owned a kazoo and two guitars, one of which had a broken neck.  This mercifully short-lived project morphed into a love of writing poetry.  I was seventeen when Pipes of Pan became the first magazine to publish one of my poems.

My first job after graduating from college was as an editor.  I also began doing freelance work for Exploring the Supernatural magazine, which later changed its name to Your Future, where I wrote and illustrated a dream analysis column.

Around ten years ago I began tinkering with writing fiction.  My first stories were flagrant impersonations of Anne Rice which will remain eternally veiled in darkness at the back of a cupboard.

I joined Riverside Writers, and in 2003 was elected to chair the meetings, which I still do.  After several woodland copses had perished in paper mills, my writer’s voice emerged.  Dark Moon Press and Hadley Rille Books included some of my fantasy stories in their paperback anthologies, and then Amazon published two ebook collections under their Amazon Shorts project.  7 Waves Radio invited me, and other members of Riverside Writers, to read some of our short fiction live on air.  Some of these recordings are now available as YouTube videos.

My dark urban fantasy novel, Tamsin, introduces a community of artisan-sorcerers.  Tamsin herself is a level-headed shop assistant whose young life was changed following the car crash which killed her family.  She is pulled between the spiritual philosophy of a guru, and the fascinating but dangerous life of her boyfriend Fabian who is a member of the community.

The story is set in a suburb of Liverpool, England, where I lived for around ten years.  My time at art school and my experiences working in a pottery contribute to the artistic backdrop.  Rowan, the second novel in the series, is due for publication this month, February 2012.

You can find more about Adele and her work via… website: http://adelecosgrove-bray.blogspot.com, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon.co.uk.

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with novelist and poet Rose Mary Boehm – the two hundred and eighty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can read / download my eBooks from Smashwords (Amazon to follow).

Guest post: ‘Switching from fantasy to urban fantasy’ by Phoebe Matthews

Tonight’s guest blog post, of the fantasy genre, is brought to you by novelist and short story author of fantasy, paranormal, YA, romance and historical novellas (does that leave much? :)) Phoebe Matthews.

‘Switching from Fantasy to Urban Fantasy’

The first hardcover I ever wrote was a fantasy titled Cast Down the Stars, for Holt Rinehart Winston. That was many years ago when the fantasy market was thin and so my agent sent me off in the direction of romance, Regency and YA. It wasn’t what I wanted to write but I like to think my writing skills improved with those dozen agent-driven novels sold to major publishers.

With the market in its current upheaval and NY publishers’ decisions filtered through agents and taking forever and my patience shortened with age, I recently decided it was time for a change. The first change was to start writing books that were fun for me to write, which meant switching to urban fantasy, my favorite reading choice.

Cast Down the Stars was pure fantasy, based in an invented world. At its core was a teenage astrologer who taught in the local school and was heavily involved with her community. I always liked that girl. With her in mind, I came up with a new protagonist, a young woman in her early twenties who lives in Seattle and works two jobs to pay the bills. One job is part-time tutoring at a community center in her neighborhood, called Mudflat by the residents. Here old magic runs through the local families and is inherited in weak doses.

This was the start of a series and I wasn’t sure anyone would like it beyond the publisher and editor who were both enthusiastic. About the time my confidence hit bottom, the first Mudflat book, titled Tarbaby Trouble, won an EPPIE for Best Fantasy of 2009 and so I kept going and have loved every minute of writing this series. I am now working on the sixth book.

Urban fantasy differs from straight fantasy in that it is contemporary and set in the real world. Characters can wander in and out of fantasy worlds in their adventures, but their lives are grounded in a real place. Some of the protagonists have powerful magical abilities that can affect many lives, like Harry Potter and his friends. Some, like Lori Devoti’s heroine in Demon High, have strong magic limited to a narrow situation. Some are more like Sookie Stackhouse who has no magic other than an ability to read minds and that skill causes her more problems than it solves.

No one approach is better than any other. I enjoy reading all types. But when I write, I like women who have no magic and must use their smarts. They have to figure their way through personal and local disasters. They aren’t Buffy. They can’t save the world with amazing strength or magic.

This possibly makes them easy for readers to relate to, because most women have to use their wits to survive and be happy. The difference between these protagonists and their readers is that the protagonists face fantasy enemies and situations. The similarity is that both the fictional protagonists and readers grind their teeth in frustration and then charge in and find solutions to their own problems.

This is my formula for the Mudflat series and for the Sunspinner series. Both have non-magic heroines. Claire lives in a rundown Seattle neighborhood called Mudflat. Claire’s fortunetelling skills are accurate enough to attract danger, but she has no magic with which to protect herself other than her wits. Across town in a wealthy neighborhood Elaine fronts for a household of paranormals who are being threatened by a demon invasion. Elaine is smart but hey, we’re talking demons here. So those are my typical non-magic heroines.

On the other hand, rules are made to be stretched. And so I veered off into creating a protagonist who is not your normal lady next door. She is a vampire in the Turning Vampire series. What she has in common with my other heroines is that she keeps stumbling into situations she doesn’t know how to control. Like the Claire and Elaine, Georgia has to depend on her wits rather than her physical strength or magic abilities. Unlike them, she greatest battle is to maintain self control. If she loses it, she will become the villain and end up with a dead boyfriend.

Urban fantasy series are a bit like mystery series, tied together by the same protagonists continuing through the stories. Romances aren’t always HEA or monogamous. The romance is often secondary to the main plot of suspense or adventure. What urban fantasy and pure fantasy have in common is tension, suspense, excitement, and a chance to let the reader escape the humdrum and stand on the cliff edge of magic.

Thank you Phoebe!

Phoebe Matthews has a backlist of books published by Avon, Dell, Holt, Putnam, Silhouette and others. Most of her out of print titles are now available again as ebooks. She is currently writing three urban fantasy series:

Mudflat series, BookStrand, first book is Tarbaby Trouble, winner of the 2009 EPIC Award for Best Fantasy. Available from Amazon.com.

Turning Vampire series, Dark Quest Books, first book is Vampire Career. Also available from Amazon.

Sunspinner series, LostLoves Books, first book is Demonspell. Also available from Amazon.

All are set in the Pacific Northwest where she lives. Her historic Chicago 1890s series occurs in the neighborhood where she spent childhood holidays with her grandparents. Phoebe’s website is http://phoebematthews.com.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).