Friday, October 30, 2015

Sharks Are Jerks

Today I’m happy to have my friend S.W. Lauden fill in for me. Steve is a rising star in the noir fiction world. As he likes to say he’s a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Criminal Element, Dark Corners, Dead Guns Magazine, Akashic Books, WeirdBook, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and Crimespree Magazine.

In his debut novel, Bad Citizen Corporation, Salem, an East Los Angeles police officer by day and a beach cities punk rock legend by night, is forced into action when his two worlds violently collide. Bad Citizen Corporation is available now from Rare Bird Books. Check out the cool trailer here And his novella, Crosswise, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.

"What motivates you most strongly to maintain your writing life, even -- or especially -- when the going gets tough?"

by S.W. Lauden

Writing my first novel was like doing surgery on myself while fighting off shark attacks. Lucky for you, the wounds are still fresh. So let’s do a little poking and prodding!

Why surgery? Because, as far as I know, nobody has ever written anything worth reading without digging deep inside of themselves with both hands. Doesn’t matter what genre. The best writing I’ve read seems to demand it.

Why a shark? Because they’re totally unpredictable killing machines and nature’s best stand in for self-doubt, self-criticism and self-sabotage. Sharks, at least for the purposes of this extended metaphor, are jerks.

Also, my new mystery, Bad Citizen Corporation, is about a punk rock cop who spends a lot of time surfing. So strap on your life vests, kids, the waters ahead are teeming with beach puns.

BCC may be the first novel I published, but it isn’t the first one I wrote. That honor goes to a sprawling, multi-decade tome about a time-travelling circus clown that accidentally invents rock and roll. I wrote it in 2001, had a few friends read it, and then promptly abandoned that project and fiction writing all together.

The surgery was a failure. The patient flat-lined. Sharks feasted on that bloated corpse for more than a decade.

Fast forward to 2011. I was swept up in the wave (!) of Nordic crime fiction that made Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and Arnaldur Indridason household names—at least they were in my house. That’s when I saw it on the horizon, a sliver of an idea for a mystery novel of my own.

The concept for BCC started with the main character, Greg Salem, a punk rock cop who was caught between two worlds and trying to find his best friend’s killer. It was enough to get my wheels spinning.

I wanted to jump over the rail and immediately start swimming, but I couldn’t help scanning the water for fins. Sure enough, there they were, circling to remind me that I’d never be talented, dedicated or lucky enough to publish a novel.

You already know that I took the plunge anyway. I haven’t stopped writing since.

Not when the day job is kicking my ass, the kids are bouncing off the walls, inspiration eludes me or I get another rejection letter. Not even when I’ve convinced myself that everything I write is garbage. Again.

It can be hard work, but it isn’t anything I have to do. It’s something I want to do. Something I get to do. And I try really hard not to take that for granted. Some days are better than others.

So any time I feel like I’m going to end up swimming with the fishes, I remind myself that it could be a lot worse. I could give up on one of the things in my life that makes me the happiest.

That’s usually enough to clam me up. But when it isn’t, I pick up my scalpel and get ready for the sharks. They always arrive when the first drop of blood hits the water.

S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, Bad Citizen Corporation, is available now from Rare Bird Books. His novella, Crosswise, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.


Thanks for stopping by, Steve. Good luck with the book!


And, local SoCal people please check out the following MWA event at Barnes & Noble, Valencia, Saturday, November 7th at 2pm (click on picture to view a larger and more readable version):

Thursday, October 29, 2015

For Shame!

What motivates me to write?

Well, sometimes it's enjoyable. The words flow, the ideas spark like a cut wire in a puddle, the problems are ground to powder under the pounding of the lap top keys. That accounts for maybe ten or fifteen days a year.

And sometimes the end's in sight. I gallop towards the last page, looking forward to printing it out and dancing around to suitable music (ELO's "Mr Blue Sky" is excellent) then lying on the couch watching Castle and eating Kettle Chip sarnies. Let's call that another three days.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it's early days and nothing's gone wrong yet: the words on the page haven't started to knock all the gloss off the idea and cloud the bloom of creativity. Two days if I'm lucky.

So for twenty days a year I no more need motivation to write than I do to drink coffee and take Buzzfeed quizzes. Knock off a hundred days for weekends. Ten for Christmas hols (being a deadbeat European, I milk Christmas until after twelfth night (5th Jan)) another fifteen for Left Coast, Malice and Bouchercon, ten for summer hols and we're down to . . . two hundred and ten writing days to find motivation for.

Call it a round two hundred. Sometimes motivation fails.

For those two hundred days, my motivational cocktail is made up of dread, shame and fear. The dread of having to get a real job, the shame that I would feel if I flaked out on my contracts when so many good writers are trying to get one, and the fear of ever meeting anyone ever ever again and having to tell them I'm no longer a writer. Yep, it's public humiliation all the way for me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


by Clare O'Donohue

Q: "What motivates you most strongly to maintain your writing life, even - or especially - when the going gets tough?"

Tough going for me is writing fatigue. I write for a living, so coming home and sitting in front of a computer looking to do more writing is sometimes a pleasure (I get to write what excites me) and sometimes a pain (It feels like the work day just got extended). 

What keeps me writing is, in a way, my own laziness. Because I don't create character studies or book outlines, when I sit down to write, I have no idea what will happen. Many times I don't know who the victim will be, and I rarely know the identity of the killer.

My laziness is only exceeded by my curiosity. If the story is compelling enough - if it's worth writing - then I'll keep going to find out what happens. Sometimes I'm disciplined enough to go at it every day and sometimes life, and work deadlines, get in the way.

But I keep returning to the project at hand because if I don't, I won't know who lives or dies, who falls in love, and whether my detective figures it all out.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Keeping Your Head Down

"What motivates you most strongly to maintain your writing life, even - or especially - when the going gets tough?"

by Sam Wiebe

[I'd like to thank everyone at Seven Criminal Minds for allowing me to participate. I'm filling in for Robin Spano for a few months. Hopefully she'll be back soon, and I won't besmirch her blogging reputation--or mine--too much in the meantime.]

So much of the writing business is out of our hands--publishing, sales, reviews, awards...there's no controlling those things, once you've sent off your book or story.

Most of the time, the cure for me is the writing. The quality is the one part of the process dependent on us, that we can control. Focusing on getting my thousand words a day, or doing a certain amount of revision, is a way to keep sane amidst the lunacy and unpredictability of the writing business.

The problem for me lies in the weeks right after sending off a manuscript or finishing a major project. What to do then? Without the routine, it's easier to be sucked into anxiety over when your agent or editor or publisher will get back to you, when the foreign rights will sell...all the business stuff which is ultimately out of our hands.

I wish I had the cure--I'd be taking it myself right now.

Ultimately, the only thing to do is turn back to the work. Start a new story. Try a different genre. Make sure your story submissions are current. Exercise what little power we as artists have. And please yourself--there's nothing saying you can't vary your schedule, put something aside, work on a flash fiction story, or run an idea by a friend.

And when all else fails, you can always go for a walk.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Chained to the Desk, or Not

"What motivates you most strongly to maintain your writing life, even - or especially - when the going gets tough?"

This is a hard question for me to answer honestly because I don’t actually know and wish I did. I love the idea that I have a “writing life,” but feel like a bit of a fake at times.

First, I’m not always motivated. I goof off, I play, I say yes to friends who want to have lunch and people who want me to volunteer, and to my own travel lust.

Second, I’m occasionally writing without a contract; that is, I hope a story I’m writing will please my agent, who will then shop it around in the hope some acquiring editor will fall in love with it. Last year, I wrote an entire 70,000-page manuscript with no one pushing me with deadlines. Exciting to be flying free, but scary, and tough as shoe leather at times.

Third, every segment of the long process from that Hey-I-Have-A-Brilliant-Idea to the final proof before printing has its hard moments. The first draft is, for me, the most fun. The first revise is even okay. The revise after that, the one that deals with what the editor wants – the need to answer pesky questions about plot intricacies or character behavior – tough, tough.

I write because it’s damn near the only thing I know how to do. So, bottom line is this: I’m motivated because if I’m not writing, or sweating bullets editing for the fourth time, what else am I going to do? Bowling is out; I learned that in high school. The ladies who lunch are lovely, but I’m antsy after the salad and find that I’m eavesdropping on other conversations looking for a tasty bit of dialogue to steal.

So, ultimately, what motivates me is the idea that this time I may get closer to the vision I had in my head when I started the book, that I may get better at this writing thing, that people will read my story and love it.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Write FIRST!!! (and I mean it this time! (don't I?))

By Art Taylor

"If you could go back five years and change something about your writing life, what would it be?"

 I keep a to-do list on my iPhone. The list can be sorted by category; the categories are home, work, writing, entertainment, and travel, and it's the first three I use the most, as you might imagine. The list can also be sorted by priority—so an individual to-do item might be tagged "writing" and marked as highest priority.

This is, in fact, the case, with the top item on my to-do list every morning: "Write FIRST!!!" (The caps make it a higher highest priority, I guess.) 

My to-do list also marks items that are overdue—both under the heading "Overdue" and also in red font. Just to rub it in. 

Some days, despite several indications of prominence, "Write FIRST!!!" is the last thing I check off my list. Yesterday's list, for example, included lesson prep for two classes (including about 100 pages of reading and a pile of grading), a few emails, a phone call I needed to make, etc. Today's list included grading several more essays, sending an important email, completing this post for Criminal Minds, and reading a short story. I've checked off a couple of those already, and as I'm writing this column here, I'm getting near to checking off Criminal Minds too. But "Write FIRST!!!" I still haven't ventured near. 

And honestly, it's overdue, since I didn't do it yesterday either. See the screenshot below.

(And I don't want to talk about how many days overdue "Write FIRST!!!" was during the confluence of start of the semester, book launch, Bouchercon, and more.)

If I could go back five years, I would actually adhere to my to-do list more regularly—make sure that writing first actually was the first thing on my daily routine, both chronologically and in terms of importance. 

But more to the point, I need to recognize that I don't want to be saying the same thing five years from now.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Multicolor Mulch

by Alan

If you could go back five years and change something about your writing life, what would it be?

I generally don’t harbor regrets, and I’m not much of a second-guesser (when it comes to my own decisions, anyway). Looking back, I’d probably make all of the same decisions I made with the information I had at the time. But since this week’s question specifically allows us to use hindsight, I’ll force myself to come up with something (or many things. Maybe I SHOULD become more of a second-guesser!).

colored spiral If I could roll back the odometer five years (to right around the release of my debut novel), I would:

Stick to one genre. Instead of writing mystery, thriller, horror, and YA, I’d pick one (or two) and cultivate more of a fan base/track record before trying to branch out.

Move on more quickly when things aren’t working. Rather than stay “stuck” in a certain situation, I’d make changes more rapidly. Although the waiting game is a big part of publishing, I think there have been many times when I’ve waited too long before acting.

Not get so “hyped up” over book releases. Now, after having been through more than a few, I realize how much of the promotion/marketing is really out of my hands—I can only move the needle so much through my own efforts. (I still put forth plenty of effort, but I now understand that sometimes immediate results aren’t always evident.)

Not order so many bookmarks. (If you’re driving around Northern Virginia and you see a yard where all the trees and bushes are mulched with shredded bits of multi-colored paper, that’s my place!)

Eat more cake.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What would I change....?

By R.J. Harlick

If you could go back five years and change something about your writing life, what would it be?

The answer to this question is very simple, there isn’t anything in my writing life I would want to change.

Sure, it would be nice to be with a big publisher. But you know what? After seeing the hoops friends go through with their big publishers so that their books will continue to be published, I'm very happy with my independent Canadian publisher. Not bound by a tight writing schedule, I can write at my own pace that includes plenty of time for holidays and leisure time with my husband and two dogs. I can write what I want to write about and explore contentious issues, which isn’t always this case with the big publisher, particularly when it comes to Canadian settings. 

I’m not bound by a 3-book deal or a 5-book deal, which usually results in the demise of the series once the contracted number of books are published. So I have the freedom to continued my Meg Harris series. After seven books, with the eighth in process, I have become thoroughly involved in her life and love watching her and her friends evolve from book to book. Plus I get to travel with Meg to some pretty interesting places as she explores different wildernesses in Canada. 

The Meg Harris series is written in the first person. At one point, I realized writing in the first person can be restrictive and thought perhaps I had made a mistake. But it was only a fleeting concern. I like the closeness the first person POV brings to my relationship with Meg. If I need to bring in another point of view, I do it, as I did in Silver Totem of Shame.

As for the writing life itself, I love it. By now I have established a writing routine that fits nicely into all facets of my life.  I have my favourite spot for writing where the muse, so to speak, comes more easily and that is my log cabin in the woods. In warm weather I sit outside in my screened-in porch and listen to the sounds of nature while I plunk away on my computer. And when it is too cold, I retreat inside to sit on a comfy couch in front of a blazing fire. 

But I can see I am running out of time. It's Election Day in Canada and I've been caught up in getting out the vote, so I'm needed elsewhere. Once the polls close I'll be glued to the TV watching the results.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Rewriting the past

"If you could go back five years and change something about your writing life, what would it be?"

by Meredith Cole

If I could go back and tell myself to do something different with my writing five years ago, I would say, "Write more!!!"

This is of course easy to say to my past self. But I was easily distracted 5 or so years ago. We had just moved back to Virginia and bought a house. I had discovered that I really loved to garden. Flowers, anyway. So on lovely evenings in the warm weather, I would find myself digging and planting outside rather than hunched over my computer.

Would I prefer to have more finished books than a bank full of phlox. Well, no. But I guess what I really want is both. I mean, I'm lecturing my former self,  after all, so why be realistic? Plant flowers and then write. Or write first and then plant flowers. But whatever you do, "Write more!!!"

Friday, October 16, 2015

New Faces, New Crimes, New Challenges, Bouchercon 2015

by Paul D. Marks

Before I get to the question at hand, I’d like to congratulate Art Taylor and Catriona McPherson on their award wins! So...congratulations! Well done—though I prefer mine medium rarified.
Ah, thoughts on the recently deceased Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, NC.

To go or not to go—to this or that convention—that is the question. We decided to go, hoping for the best all the way. Of course you never know what kind of riff raff you’ll run into on an airplane. We ran into this guy—Kevin Burton Smith of Thrilling Detective (see pic below)—who had the seat right behind me on one leg of our trip, which gave him ample opportunity to kick my seat and heckle me. Winking smile

And we had a great time at the convention. Seeing old friends, making new ones. We saw people from this blog: Alan Orloff and his wife, Catriona, Susan. Art and his wife, Tara. Wish I could have met up with Meredith, but next time! And we hooked up with Amy’s parents and one of her sisters, who drove up from Georgia for dinner, the night before B’con started.

The Shamus banquet was a hoot, as always. And I recorded my story “Howling at the Moon” for Ellery Queen’s podcast. I ain’t no actor, so hopefully I did okay. I would have preferred James Earl Jones do the reading and he wanted to, but unfortunately he had a previous commitment.

Every convention has its challenges. My biggest challenge this time around was trying to figure out what my panel was all about. The panel was called “New Faces, New Crimes, New Challenges.” That could be about anything.

Of course, everyone wants to get on a panel, myself included. And I was excited to get on two panels this time. Unfortunately, both were skedded for exactly the same moment in time. And I really wanted to do some Star Trek thingy—excuse my lack of expertise in TrekTalk but I don’t know what the term would be—where I could split myself in two and do both panels, but alas there’s only so much of me to go around—so I was deleted from one panel, just backspaced out and asked to moderate the other. I got volunteered.

Now if you’re on a panel called “The Changing Face of Publishing for Writers and Readers” or “The Resurgence of the Traditional Mystery” or “Just the Facts: The Police Procedural,” it seems to me you’d have a pretty good idea what the subject is that you’re going to be talking about. But “New Faces, New Crimes, New Challenges” could be just about anything. So, I asked my panelists what they thought it meant and they couldn’t figure it out either. Anxiety grew exponentially: what will we talk about? Especially as not all of the panelists were really what I would consider new faces, including me.

So after much deliberation and consulting a higher authority—Yogi Berra—who said: “If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else,” so we wound up someplace else and I decided we should talk about new faces and semi-new faces, new challenges and new crimes and how one gets away with those in the age of CSI and DNA. But from all reports I heard it went pretty well. And I was happy that we got about 30 people there since Megan Abbott and others were paneling at the same time.

So I was very happy that the panel went well. And really everything at the convention and the whole trip went well. We had no major glitches, which is always nice. We stayed on a couple of days after Bouchercon ended to explore Raleigh. You can see more about that on my Sleuthsayers post at on Tuesday, October 20th.

We got home just a couple nights ago and, as my mom used to say, “It’s good to go and good to come home.” And when we pulled in our driveway the other night and saw our house and anticipated seeing our animals that’s exactly how I felt: There’s no place like home.


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Wednesday, October 14, 2015


by Clare O'Donohue

Q: What do we love about crime fiction conventions?

My first crime convention was Bourchercon, San Francisco. I remember walking into the lobby of the hotel and seeing crowds of people hugging each other. It was a party and I didn't know a soul. I'm not shy, but I'm not one to rush over to strangers and start introducing myself either. I hung back and watched people run around, screaming with excitement, throwing their arms around each other, laughing, and celebrating. I figured I wasn't one of the in-crowd so I'd do my panel, maybe see one or two others, and call it a weekend.

But mystery conventions aren't like that. Hanging back isn't really allowed because everyone at a mystery convention is part of the in-crowd. Bestselling authors, middle-of-their first-book writers, publishing professionals, readers.... we're all "in" because we all love mysteries.

I met Catriona McPherson and Ellen Crosby at my panel, and we linked arms to head to Lee Child's party in the lobby bar later that night. And at the bar (as anyone knows THE place to be at any mystery convention) I met a bookstore owner, a blogger, a few other authors, and a publicist... and that was day one.

The next year I went to the lobby in St. Louis and hugged a few people I'd met the year before... and the year after that in Cleveland, I knew dozens of people... and the year after that in Albany, I was running into old friends every five steps... and in Long Beach, I not only made new friends, I jumped in with a group of amazing women to organize Bloody Murder - Voices From The Margins. In just a few years I'd gone from lonely author in a lobby to standing beside - not just friends - but sisters and brothers-in-arms.

This year was the first time since San Francisco that life and a lack of a new release kept me from heading to Bouchercon. It felt odd not to go. And a little sad.

We may call these get-togethers "conventions" but they are really community gatherings. It's our block party, our after-work drinks, our support group. I felt a lonely twinge knowing my friends were together and I wasn't there. I missed the catching-up, the running into people, the scads of new books, and everything else that makes these weekends so fun.

I made a promise not to feel the same way next year so look for me in the lobby of the hotel in New Orleans - and be prepared to get a hug.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

5 Things I Love About Bouchercon

by Robin Spano

I answered this week's question a few years ago on my own blog. My answer is the same today as then, so I'm going to repost here:

When my publisher suggested I go to Bouchercon in 2010, a crime writing conference with just shy of 2000 people, I was petrified. I knew I had to go — no point jumping into a career half-heartedly — but it sounded like as much fun as transferring into a new school where everyone else had known each other since birth.
Seeing my terror, my husband came with me. He organized an amazing road trip down the coast from Vancouver to San Francisco, with luxurious B&B stops including gourmet meals and kayaking in an Oregon river, so I’d be as relaxed as possible when I got there.
The road trip was great, but it was Bouchercon itself that relaxed me.  Here’s why:
1. The warmth. All I really had to do was smile and make eye contact, and the other people there would spark up conversations, ask to exchange business cards, invite me to join them for lunch or a drink or a secret private party somewhere. Conversations were easy — we all have crime fiction in common. So instead of feeling like a massive crowd of strangers, Bouchercon felt like a collection of interesting friends I have yet to meet. It reminded me of a rave, a scene I used to frequent long ago . . .
2. The fans. How amazing is it, when you’re writing all year in your enclosed little office, to have a reader approach you (sometimes nervously!) and tell you they love your stuff? My favorite fan moment happened this year in Cleveland, when a librarian from Michigan, Kathy Fannon, said she had looked for me at a Vancouver event a year earlier (I was there, but we missed each other) and was so glad to finally meet me. “I went all that way,” she said, “and here you are, so close to my home.”
There are also fan moments for me. This year I got to meet Elizabeth George, whose novel Playing For the Ashes is what started me writing mysteries. I have no idea what I said, just that she was lovely as she signed my book and recommended a literary retreat in her area. I have no doubt that if I run into Jonathan Kellerman — the other writer who inspired me to write mysteries — I will be the same gaping fan again. And I look forward to it.
3. The public speaking. I never would have believed this three years ago, but I love being on stage talking about writing with other writers. I get nervous as hell before each event, but once they start, I feel strong and in my element. Bring on the crime talk.
4. The friendships. Writers grow up feeling like the weird one in the group; the one who makes strange, maybe too intense, observations about people and things. Meeting other writers, it’s like I’ve found my home. In a group of “weird ones,” I actually feel damn normal. Several cocktail conversations begun at Bouchercon have continued on Twitter and turned into real friendships for me.
5. The poker. Every year there is a backroom poker game with a lineup of characters that keeps me in hysterics all night. Of course there’s no gambling for real money, as Alan Orloff can attest. Crime writers don’t break the law.
Keith still comes to conferences with me, even now that I ‘d be comfortable on my own. He’s read two books in the past three decades, but he loves hanging out with writers. He thinks we’re weird in the most wonderful possible way.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Laughing All the Way

What we love about crime fiction conventions?

- from Susan

With so many of us at Bouchercon, or still recovering from one of the other great gatherings of readers and writers held throughout the year, we thought this week would be a good one to share thoughts about them.

When you sit alone in a room, or inside your bubble at Starbucks, writing away, trying to make characters come alive and plots make sense, you can feel lonely, invisible – or, worse, an idiot to think you can write. So, stepping off the elevator and into a crowd of hundreds of people who are either, like you, blinking at the sudden wall of cheerful talk or else scanning your name tag in the hope that you’re someone whose books they’ve read can be intimidating.

It can also be a great high. These people know what it’s like to confront the need for 2,000 fresh words today. These people want to read your finished books, want to know when your next book will be out, hope you will sign their copies of your past books, want to have a drink and discuss book contracts. My god – you have landed on your planet!

By the time this is published, I will have moderated a Friday morning panel at Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The topic is humor in crime fiction and the panelists are such pros: Elizabeth Little, Johnny Shaw, Ingrid Thoft, and Brad Parks. All I’ll have to do is say, “Ready, set, go” and then stand aside. How can we write funny about shootings and stabbings and kidnappings and gang warfare? Who sets the gold standard in humorous crime fiction? Talk about the most outraged reader feedback you ever got.

I wonder myself why it doesn’t bother me to have my protagonist think something inappropriate when she sees a garroting victim. In real life, I’d faint. Dani comes awfully close to fainting, but when she gets over it, her inner cynic can’t keep quiet. Where in me does that come from? I love that critics think my books are “witty” and “wickedly funny.” When I started writing them, that wasn’t the goal, however. How odd is that?

We will be talking about the strangeness of pairing humor with violence at our panel, about stories that cry out for the balm of humor and characters who get by by injecting their skewed sense of what’s amusing into truly awful situations. For those of you who went to Bouchercon, my biggest hope is you heard the audience guffawing as you walked by our room and decided you had to check out what was so funny. For those of you who couldn’t make it, here are a few good books by the writers I’ll be talking with in my session:

Elizabeth Little: Dear Daughter
Johnny Shaw: Plaster City
Ingrid Thoft: Brutality
Brad Parks: The Player
And, a little self-promotion, if you’ll pardon me:

Susan Shea: The King’s Jar

Friday, October 9, 2015

Guest Post: Kristi Belcamino

I'm very pleased to welcome good friend and fellow author Kristi Belcamino to Criminal Minds today for her take on this week's question. The fourth book in Kristi's Gabriella Giovanni series, Blessed Are Those Who Mourn, was just released in a digital edition in late September and will be in bookstores in early November. (Order it here now!) In the meantime, Kristi's Blessed are the Dead is a finalist for both the Macavity Award and the Anthony Award—and congratulations to her on both those honors! I'm so glad to host her here today. — Art Taylor

Is there a piece of conventional writing advice you take serious exception to? 

Kristi Belcamino
Editors and agents supposedly hate them.

It’s rule no. 2 on Elmore Leonard’s list of “10 Rules for Good Writing.”

Avoid Prologues.

But I can’t. I honestly, from the bottom of my heart, have tried to avoid them. But they’ve somehow crept into my writing and I feel compelled to put them in. IT is a compulsion. I’ve had writer’s critique my novels and advise me to ditch the prologues and I CAN’T.

So far, that’s only been in three books. Confession: I’ve only written six books, so I’m 50-50 at this point.

The first time I used a prologue, I snuck it in. I had a contract for the second book in my series, so I figured it was worth giving it a shot. At that point in my career, it wasn’t TOO much of a gamble. If the editor hated it, she’d ask me to take it out. I already had the book deal so she wasn’t going to reject the entire book because of a sneaky little prologue, would she?

It’s worth noting that this only came with the confidence of a four-book deal. Earlier, when I was slogging through the query trenches looking for an agent I would never have queries a book with a prologue. Even early on, I was very aware of the hatred that existed for these little pre-emptive chapters so I wouldn’t have dared to use one.

But once I had an agent and book deal under my belt, then … no holds barred! Bring on the prologue.

Along with being unable to avoid writing them in my books, I also had some serious heavy hitter role models who used prologues. Many of my favorite writers use prologues.

For instance, Lisa Unger uses prologues LIKE A BOSS.

In fact, a quick survey of my bookshelf devoted to Unger, revealed that all nine of her books that I own begin with a  prologue.

So, I must admit I’m of the school of thought that you should dress for the job you want, so because I dream of writing like my favorite authors, I attempted a few prologues, as well. And guess what? I think they worked.

I like to use prologues as a way to foreshadow action that will come later in the book, but I’ve also used them to plop down a mysterious scene from the past that will be explained later on.

I think, like any rules for writing, the best path is to know the rules and then if you are going to break them, make sure you do it well.

Here are a few tricks I have used to try to sneak in prologues.

What I do is AVOID calling it a prologue.

Tricky, huh?

Instead of writing “prologue” I write “Before” or even write nothing. Or I slap down the year something happened where the chapter should be. I’m not Lisa Unger. If I were I would just flat out write “Prologue” and be done with it.

(Note: It’s worth pointing out that in my second book, BLESSED ARE THE MEEK, I was too scared to use the word “prologue” and so just slapped on a date in front of that first chapter and then made the next one, “Chapter One.” But lo and behold when the book was published, my editor had added the word “prologue,” which was fine since she was the one I was trying to sneak the prologue in to anyway and she’s so smart that if she is okay with calling it a prologue, I’m good with that.)

So what do you think about prologues? Love ‘em or hate ‘em?

Kristi Belcamino is a writer, crime reporter, and Italian-American mama who makes a tasty biscotti. As a reporter, she flew in an FA-18 jet with the Blue Angels, raced a Dodge Viper at Laguna Seca, and attended barbecues at the morgue. Her first book, Blessed are the Dead, based on her dealings with a serial killer, is nominated for the 2015 Anthony and Macavity awards. Find out more at

Her latest book, the fourth in the Gabriella Giovanni series, Blessed Are Those Who Mourn, came out digitally Sept. 29 and will be out in paperback on Nov. 3 at your favorite retailer.