Friday, December 28, 2012

AMA: Answers Part FINAL!

What a fun series this has been, and such great questions! I'll TOTALLY have to do this again soon, but for now, let's wrap up the year by wrapping up the questions,

the superhero princess said: Rachel, I'm curious about your thoughts on villains (a subject that fascinates me). Some of my favorite characters in film/literature are villains/anti-heroes (Loki, Gollum, and Snape come to mind) and I've always thought there were two (or more) types of villains (the sympathetic and the truly evil) -- what is some writing advice/general thoughts for creating a great villain? (How did you think about yours)
I've always felt that villains make the series. While protagonists labor under the onerous of being, while not necessarily good, at least redeemable, antagonists suffer no such restrictions. They are free to be as amazingly interesting and terrible and messed up as you could possibly imagine, often end up being everyone's favorite characters.

As I mentioned on day 1, I'm planning to do a big post about them soon. With that in mind, I'm not going to go into too much detail here, but to answer your question, here's a quick look into what I think about when I create a villain.

First off, I always craft villains and heroes as a matched set. Even if they don't know each other and are completely unrelated except for the fact that their goals conflict, you'll always get better villain/hero interactions if you think of them as being in relation to one another. I didn't do this with Eli and Renaud in The Spirit Thief and Renaud ended up being forgettable  However, I did do it with Josef and Coriano and I still get emails about that sneaky swordsman. I also did this with Eli and the Duke of Gaol, and I think OCD Edward is my favorite "mini-boss" of the series.

So I try to develop villains and heroes together, focusing on how they relate, how they play off each other, and how they will ultimately come into conflict. The better they fit, and the more interesting both characters become.

This relationship also determines what favor of villain I'm after. Roughly speaking, villains come in two types: redeemable and irredeemable. Redeemable doesn't mean the character has to "turn good," just that you can see how they could if given the right chance/motivation. Irredeemable villains on the other hand are completely beyond hope and actively delight in their villainy. Redeemable villains tend to be more sympathetic and deep, but irredeemable villains tend to be more fun.

For my money, the best villains are the ones that could be heroes themselves if only they'd stop being so ruthless/stubborn/proud/etc. That one moment when the villain and hero face each other and you can just see how, if things had been different, they could have been allies, that is character GOLD. Snape had this in spades, and I think that's why everyone stuck by him/loved him so relentlessly.

But as deep and complex as a redeemable villain can be, unrepetent evil is its own special kind of blast. For example, Maleficent is one of my favorite villains of all time even though she had next to no development beyond "looks cool, says awesome stuff, turns into bitching dragon." For a story as simple as Sleeping Beauty, that's all you really needed. For a more complex (and hilarious) example of this type, I point to my other favorite evil lady, Yzma!

Black hearted villains are often much more straight forward characters than the ones who are simply misunderstood or wrong minded. Their ability to captivate readers comes from tapping into our power fantasies rather than our sympathies. Using a simple villain like this can give you a lot more room in your story to focus on your heroes, but you do have to be careful not to make your villain TOO simple lest they end up a cackling evil stereotype instead of a character.

This is the most The absolute most important thing to remember when creating a villain is that you aren't creating an antagonistic force of conflict, you're creating a character. Your villain should be every bit as developed as your other MCs, even if they don't get much page time. They need their own goals and motivations and circumstances. Their actions should make sense to THEM, even if they don't make sense to anyone else. Most importantly, your villain should have a life outside of their villainy and an end game that reaches past the protagonist's story. In short, they need to act like a real person, not like a roving wall that only exists to block your protags.

Again, more on this later when I can get my thoughts more in order!

Anonymous said: Are there any fun facts about any of the main characters that didn't make it into the books?
Yes! The biggest one was that Miranda originally had a love interest. He was a wizard baker in Zarin whose shop she frequented when she was in town and he had a huge crush on her but she was too busy to notice (though her spirits did). I always meant to write him in, both as some cute non-duty related character stuff for Miranda and to show how normal, non-Spirit Court, non-crazy wizards lived their lives (he made happy bread in a bakery full of awakened equipment), but I just never got the chance. I can't even remember his name now actually, poor fellow.

Other tidbits include outing Alber Whitefall as gay and the fact that he has a long running antagonism with the series's other old queen, Giuseppe Monpress. I didn't get to do nearly as much as I wanted with these guys! Also, Morticime Kant's name was a giant set up for a joke I never got to make. See, when Illir revealed himself as Morticime Kant, author of those horribly inaccurate books on wizardry, Miranda was supposed to sputter something like "you can't do that!" to which Eli would answer "Looks like Morticime CAN!" and it would have been terrible and hilarious. Alas, the scene never worked out, so now you lucky people are the only ones to know the true extent of Eli's terrible puns.
Laura Stephenson said: I'm with OathBreaker wanting to know if you plan on writing a book with dragons. They're my favorite fantasy element, and I think you could make them appropriately sardonic and full of themselves.
Did you see my answer to him in Part 2? Yeah, I can't wait to show you peeps my dragon series. It's going to be an ensemble cast story like Eli, but near future, cyber punky Urban Fantasy with dragons and awesome. A hot mess of badassery, in other words. Of course, I have to write it first, and sell it, but if I can manage to work it out OMG it's going to be so amazing. Snarky dragons will reign forever!

And finally, I have two questions about Eli's sexuality that I'm going to answer together. HOWEVER! Since the answers delve deep into Eli's upbringing, I can't help but make them EXTREMELY SPOILERIFIC. So, to protect those of you who don't like to be randomly spoiled, I'm hiding the rest under a cut. Read on at your own peril!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

AMA: Answers part deux!

Lying in bed recovering from the Christmas hauling/mauling and a sinus infection and slightly high on cough syrup, let's answer some questions! (Note: All the following answers are cherry flavored. For those of you who prefer the green Nyquil, apologies.)

To business!
Jessi said: I was one of those wrimos who constantly posted on the NaNoWriMo forum. I've come to bother you, yet again :P 
Almost done with book 3 of Eli. Did you know that some of this big world building stuff was going to come together the way that they do when The Spirit Thief was still in the works? I started reading Spirit Thief before the 4th and 5th came out, and I can see how awesomely epic The Spirit Eater acts on it's own within a trilogy. Im excited to see where 4 and 5 go from here! 
How many rewrites does it take for you to reach the point where the story really starts to cinch together, and the writing doesnt feel like gobbledygook? I'm on a second rewrite, and after moving around time, things are working quite nicely.
Thanks for doing this!
Thank you for helping me out of a bind! (Seriously, writing things people actually want answered? SO MUCH EASIER than coming up with stuff on my own!)

I'm so glad you'r enjoying The Spirit Eater! Nico has a very special place in my heart, though it took me much longer to get a feel for her than for my other characters, mostly because she was so quiet and Eli was the opposite of quiet. To answer your question, you got me. While I always knew the general meta plot of the Eli series, Book 3 was where everything really started coming together. Before I was always hinting at larger things, but Spirit Eater was where I had to start actually ponying up on those promises, which meant I, as the author, now had to know exactly what I was doing.

Looking back, I consider The Spirit Eater as my trial by fire. It was where I first realized just how absurdly ambitious I was being, first saw the enormous scope of the work ahead. Honestly, it scared the shit out of me. I was absolutely convinced this was it. I was going to mess this up and everyone would finally realize I was a hack who didn't know what she was doing. I was also pregnant, and the combination of dread and hormones was murderous.

But I didn't have a choice. I had a contract, I had to write this book. More than that, I owed Eli and everyone else this story I'd dreamed of for so long. So I did it. I wrote and rewrote and pretty much forced myself to figure everything out. Spirit Eater was the fourth book I ever finished, but in many ways it felt like the first because by the time it was over, I felt like I'd really mastered a book for the first time.

So to answer your question, no. I didn't know how it would all come together when I was writing Spirit Thief, only that it would. By the end of Spirit Eater, however, I knew EXACTLY how Eli's story ended, and I used that knowledge to go back and make changes in the first two books that tied everything together. This was one of those times where the slow pace of publishing works out in the author's favor!

To answer your second question: one of the things I say a lot (I mean, a lot a lot, to the point where my husband finishes the sentence for me) is "the book gets written in the second draft." As we all know by now, I am an obsessive planner, but despite my best efforts, my first drafts are still giant messes. True, some are messier than others, but they're all F'ed up to some degree. This is perfectly natural. Every general knows that no plan survives the first encounter with the enemy.

This used to really bother me, but after much gnashing of teeth I finally realized that a first draft is exactly that: a first try. It's the place where you discover exactly how and why all those awesome plans fall apart. By the time I'm ready to do the second draft, however, I understand where things went wrong (since, thanks to all that planning, I actually know what I was trying to do). Because of this (and because of my extremely thorough editing process), nearly all of my books gel completely by the end of draft 2. Everything after that is fiddling with subtleties.

Of course, it's taken me many books to reach this point, but I swear you will reach it. We talk about craft a lot, but really, most of story telling is just applied problem solving. Learning how to solve your novel, to make everything click, is just as vital and hard as learning to craft a sentence or create a character. But with practice, patience, and the steadfast belief that there is a story worth telling buried under all that gobbledygook, you can make it work. Remember, in the world of your story, you are god. It is impossible for you to make a mess so huge you can not solve it. You just have to be patient, clever, and unyielding  and everything will work itself out. Scout's honor.
OathBreaker said: 1) Now that your finished? Is there anything you would change about an Eli book? Put in, take out. Give a character more page time?
2) If you were to or have written a dragon story. What kind of dragon would it be? Friendly, neutral, hostile. Color? Scaled or unscaled? Fire breather or somthing else?
3) I asked you about Warcraft once but I'm curious what other universe you'd like to write in?
1) The only real changes I'd make are both for the Spirit Thief. First, I'd make Renaud less cackling evil and the plot less predicable. Hey, what can I say, it was the second novel I'd ever written! The other change I'd make is I'd give Nico more page time. She's almost a shadow in book 1, and while that's perfectly in character for her, I really should have shown more. As I mentioned in the question above, I didn't understand Nico very well then. I should have spent more time with her. Oh, I also would have brought Sparrow in a bit earlier. Otherwise, though, I'm very happy with how everything worked out!

2) As it so happens, I AM working on a dragon story right now. An AWESOME one that I will be writing ASAP. My dragons are feathered and come in a lovely variety of colors. They are also beautiful, confusing, complex creatures who have adjusted... poorly to the modern world. Poor darlings have issues. I love them to pieces and I hope ya'll will too! But it's far too early to say more (books aren't even written, so much can change), so I'll just leave it at that.

3) I would give a kidney to write a new series of Shadowrun novels. I'm a huge fan of the SR mythos and universe, but the novels are AWFUL. I can write much better ones (have, in fact, GMed much better ones). Catalyst, CALL ME!

As you mentioned, I would also dearly love to write a WoW novel, though the Warcraft Lore is so convoluted now I don't know if it could bear more iteration. Still, I have plans to build a mountain retreat named "Thrall's Rest" one day, so don't count me out completely. I would also write a bitchin' Starcraft novel, for the record.
GodOfLaundryBaskets said: What's your favorite scene from the Eli series? Why?
Arrrgh, don't make me chose! I really do adore them all, especially the ones at the end. Hmmm, well, in no particular order: I adored Miranda's scene in the Court in Spirit's End, also her big scene with the Lord of Storms. Any scene were Eli got to be a smart ass (so, like, all of his scenes). Writing Josef being the worst king ever was amazingly fun. When Nico would stand up for herself. Anything with Banage, Sarah, or Alber Whitefall (favorite line of Spirit War: "Banage will stand on his principles until they gnaw his legs off.") I also loved writing Benehime, trying to make her understandable and sympathetic even as I made her terrible.

So yeah, there's no hope. Whatever scene I'm thinking about at the time, I can probably come up with a reason why it should be my favorite. The truth is they're all my favorites, as it should be. No one should love my writing more than me!
Sophie Dean said: If you ever switched to realistic fiction, what would you write about?
Oooh, good question. Hmmm, well, I'm not really a fan of realistic fiction, so don't have many story ideas for it. Honestly, whatever I did would probably end up having some kind of fantastical element. I just can't seem to not add magic to things. If I did end up doing something realistic--our world, no magic, no science fiction-- I'd probably try to write a smart, brutal romantic thriller in the Salt vein (though not quite so dark). But the chances are slim, there's way too much awesome fantasy/UF/SF to work on first!

**The next question/answers contains SPOILERS for the end of the series! You have been warned!**
Anonymous said: What's next for Nico? Where does her relationship with Josef go from here?
Confession: this question made me squee just a bit. Oh boy, Nico and Josef. Well, they end up happy, though it takes them a stupid long time to finally confess that they actually like like each other because Nico is so shy and Josef is... Josef. Personal relationships aren't exactly his forte.

Still, can you imagine either of them ever giving the other up? Of course not! They find a way forward. Maybe they get married, maybe they just give Osera to someone more responsible and run away to raise a bunch of of very weird, violent, but loving children. The point is they're happy and together. Forever. And Eli will just have to get used to feeling like a third wheel. Fortunately, he's too conceited to ever consider himself as such.

** Spoilers end! You may resume reading!**
Alex Omega: Here's one a bit off the wall: How did you manage to keep your Eli-verse characters from cursing?
My WIP is intended to be in the lighter-hearted vein, like Eli (or actually like Salvatore's early Drizzt novels). However, I find some of my characters are, um, pottymouths. 
Wouldn't be a problem if I were writing dark fantasy, but I'm aiming for something my soon-to-be 10 year old can read without Dad giving him the thumbs-up on using profanity. How did Eli and company wind up being PG-rated?
It wasn't easy. I'm very foul mouthed in real life. The decision not to curse in Eli was one I made very early and very consciously precisely because I wanted my books to be accessible to anyone who wanted to read them. I wanted my series to be the sort you could recommend or lend to anyone without fear of offending. Part of this was marketing, why limit your audience? But mostly I also wanted a book I could safely give to my kid some day without being held back by a bit of language. In all five books, I say the word "bitch" once, but otherwise nothing.

I got around the cursing angle in two ways. First, I used substitute curse words, the delightfully English but still very PG "bloody" and my own creation, "Powers," which also served as world building. Mostly, though, I just had my characters express their displeasure in other ways. This was good, because more often than not in writing, cursing is a crutch, a way to easily show your character's emotional state without actually having to show it. By making the conscious decision not to curse in Eli, I forced myself to be clever, and ultimately I think it served the novels well.

This isn't to say that cursing can't be part of characterization. In the series I'm writing now, which has a first person POV, my main character is a mercenary. Cursing is like breathing for her, part of her unvarnished, unrefined, aggressive charm. It's also something others gripe at her for. Instead of being a crutch, cursing is something I have her use as a form of creative expression, and I've worked really hard to make her dirty language hilarious in its own right. (She's a creative curser.)

I guess it really comes down to why are you characters cursing so much? Is it their environment? Their upbringing? Is cursing part of your character's voice? If so, then I'd hesitate to cut it, especially if you're writing fantasy for a mature audience instead of a young one. However, if your characters are cursing because you can't think of anything else for them to say, that would be a problem that you should probably think long and hard about.

And whew, I think that's it for tonight! I'll answer the last set tomorrow, but if you have something for me, you can leave it on the original thread. Thank you again for all the lovely blog post fodder, and I hope you're enjoying this Holiday Q&A!

- R

Friday, December 21, 2012

AMA: Answers part 1!

Wow, you folks are AWESOME! What great questions! Let's get started!

WARNING: Some of these contain very slight spoilers for the Eli series. Nothing big enough to put under a cut, but if haven't read past book 3 and/or are very sensitive to spoilers, you might want to exercise caution!

All good? Onward!
Paul WeimerWhat kind of genre fiction do you like to read for pleasure, Rachel? What is your favorite book you read this year? What sort of non fiction inspires you and your writing? Can you divorce the art of analyzing the craft when you read a book? 
I've always been a wide ranging reader, and since I've started writing, I've tried to reach even further. For non-fiction, I love research heavy sociological books like A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships (fascinating!) as well as lyrical non-fiction like The World Without Us, which (for the record) is one of the most beautiful and thought provoking books I've ever read.

For fiction, I love fantasy (duh), especially glorious epic fantasy, though I don't like really dark fantasy (bad people doing bad things for no good reason is an automatic put down for me). It's not that I hate excessive violence or gritty realism per se, I just tend to prefer lighter stories and happy endings. There's enough misery in the real world.

I also love romances, both of the paranormal variety and Regencies, Urban Fantasy, and weird, beautiful lit fic by people like Lynda Barry and Jeff Noon. My favorite authors whom I will never write like include Sarah Monette, China Mieville, and Margaret Atwood. And to balance out all that literary pretension, my favorite series of all time at the moment is Immortals After Dark by Kresley Cole. Regin the Radiant is my spirit animal.

As to the "can I turn off my writer brain long enough to enjoy a book" part of the question, the answer is... no. There is no off switch for the writer. I am constantly analyzing books to see how other authors put them together, and for the most, that's a good thing. I find all kinds of new tricks to steal! Sometimes, though, it can be annoying, but really, if the story's good enough, I get swept anyway. I have read some truly AWFUL books just because I loved the characters and wanted to know what happened. This is because, while I can never turn the writer brain off, my reader brain is by far the stronger influence, forcing me to stay up to unholy hours of the night finishing even badly constructed books because MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!
ElizabethDid you write Eli as a morally grey character on purpose or did he just more or less present that way? Miranda seems to be the only.character that really balances out Eli's grey morals. Do you think the story would have been really different if their morals were reversed?
I love this question! You are exactly right when you say that Miranda balances Eli, because that's what I created her to do. From the very beginning, Miranda was meant to be the cop to Eli's robber, the hammer of iron clad responsibility to help remind him that he is actually a good person and make him do the responsible thing.

Eli came into my head fully formed, but that doesn't mean I didn't spend a lot of time figuring out exactly how he ticked. One of Eli's biggest struggles is his natural affinity for rule breaking (a direct result of his overly strict childhood courtesy of Banage) warring with his deep inner moral compass which, to his dismay, seems firmly planted on good. Eli wants to be outside the system, to steal from fools and ride high at the expense of a society he sees as overbearing and silly. He wants to do what he wants and is a fairly selfish person. But selfish people aren't always bad, and when push comes to shove, Eli always does the right thing. Miranda's role in the series is to be that shove. Without that dynamic, or even if it was reversed, I don't think the series would have been a quarter as much fun.

J. Leigh BralickWhen you wrote the Eli Monpress books, did you have all the interweaving threads that would pull together in book five identified at the very beginning? I just finished it (and ADORED it...and am working on my review!!), and am stunned and amazed and in awe of your genius at how you wove in these little elements throughout the whole series rather on-the-sly like, and then at the end they all came together in jaw-dropping brilliance. 

So I wanted to know if some of them kind of poked their heads out in the last book and waved their arms and said, "Hey, don't forget about me!" or if you knew all along that they were important. :D
Thank you so much for the kind words! And yes, I did have most everything planned out pretty early. The details came later, but the general tangle of relationships and meta plot was there in essence almost from the start and cemented by the time I finished Spirit Eater.

This isn't to say a lot of plot threads didn't suddenly pop up and scream "YOU FORGOT ME!" all through the series (Oh god, they did) but because of my publication schedule (the first three books came out in three months at the end of 2010) I was able to go back and plant seeds in the first two books while I finished the third. This was PRICELESS. Without the ability to go back and put fix things like I did, the series wouldn't have been nearly as complex.

Even though I've written 6 books since I finished Spirit's End, I consider pulling off the end of the Eli series as the highest achievement as a writer to date. I've never wanted anything to work as much as that final book, and the fact that you and others think it does makes me want to sing for joy. Part of me is terrified I'll never be able to pull off a balancing act ike this again (the Eli series was its own breed of magical unicorn for me in a lot of ways), but then, at the time, I didn't think I'd ever make Eli work either. Just goes to show you never know what you can do unless you reach for it.
BGI think you said you were planning to write about antagonists. I'm interested in reading what you have to say about that.
I still intend to do a big post about bad guys (and not so bad guys) in the future, so I'm going to hold off on getting into this too deep. The basic gist, though, is that the villain is the other half of your story. The heroes drive the story, but the antagonist drives the conflict. Boring villains make for boring books, but since your villains don't get nearly as much page time as the MCs, making them interesting or even sympathetic requires some pretty clever writing.

One of my favorite sayings is "every villain is the hero of their own story." This was why I softened Benehime instead of making her just plain crazy evil. In her mind, she was the victim and she deserved freedom and happiness, and really, she did, she just went about it all wrong. Methodology is often the only thing keeping a villain from being a hero. The ends don't justify the means.

For example, in my new series, one of the antagonists is working toward an unarguably greater good. If circumstances were different, he would be one of the heroes, but he isn't, because to get to that greater good he ruthlessly stepped on others and caused enormous suffering. This was a line I drew. I could have easily justified his unsavory actions to the reader just like the character did in his own mind. But I didn't, because I was trying to make a point.

These are the sort of things you can do as an artist when you start really digging into and using your villain role. There is such a huge breadth of moral complexity and depth in the way we frame who is a protagonist vs. who is an antagonist. Everyone can hate a cackling evil villain. It's easy, nothing is challenged  But when your antagonist is a reasonably good person does bad things in pursuit of a greater end, or who was forced to do bad things by terrible circumstance, then the reader has to think. You're forcing them to use their own moral judgement along with your protagonist to figure out what really is the right thing to do, and that right there is where the book hooks in deep.

So there's a teaser! I'll be doing a much more thought out and in depth post on this in the weeks to come.

WyndesWhy do authors make their blogs hard to read by putting white text on a black background? I know that sounds facetious, but it seriously is a question that I'd love the answer to. I get why designers do it -- hey, it looks cool -- but it impairs readability dramatically, making it harder for every person with astigmatism (50% of the population!) to read the words. It seems like such a strange choice for the people who should care about the words first. I write this as someone who is seriously considering changing a title because I can't find a capital "C" that I like, so it's not like I don't understand putting design first. I just don't get why so many writers do it.
I'm afraid the short answer to this is: I like it. My eyes are very sensitive to light and I find reading white text on a black screen much easier than dealing with a glaring white or patterned background. That said, as an author who was a graphic designer and has an astigmatism, I'm deeply sympathetic to your plight. If it really bothers you, my suggestion would be read the blogs that give you trouble on an RSS reader (there's a link to my feed on the sidebar marked FEED ME RAWR!) where you have complete control over the color scheme. I personally like Google Reader, but there are many lovely free readers to choose from. Sorry for the eye pain!

And that's it for today! Again, thank you for the amazing questions, y'all really saved my blogging bacon! I'll be getting to the rest next week. Until then, if you have a question you'd like to add to the pot, please feel free to leave it on the original post.

<3 Rachel

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ask Me Anything!

Sorry about the sudden dearth of blog posts. The dry spell is a combination of family health problems (nothing too serious, just frustrating), a looming deadline and my seeming inability to figure out the right ending for this book (plotted ending looked great on paper, but now that I'm in it, many problems have appeared and solving those problems is proving very frustrating), plus a simple lack of anything really to say.

SO, since I hate an empty blog, I'm opening up the floor to you lovely people. If you have any questions about Eli, writing, publishing, or which dessert is the BEST dessert (flan, hands down) I will answer it. (FUN FACT: the first time I wrote the sentence above, I wrote "which desert is the BEST desert?" and the answer to that is the Taklamakan Desert in Western China. Come on! Its name means "you go in, but you don't come out" and it has sand dunes the size of mountains.)

Anyway, is this a lazy way to get out of thinking up my own blog subjects? Absolutely! Do I feel shame? NONE! So ask away, and if you'd like to see me answering some other questions, please check out my (seven page!) NaNoWriMo thread.

Answers go up this week and next week if I overflow. As always, thanks for reading!

- R

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Official Rules for Daggerback

Sorry I've been away so long! I'm finishing up a book and that always makes me more hobbit-like than usual (why yes, I DO live in a hole in the ground! It's cozy, and there's tea.) But, since some people have been asking, I'm popping up to do a post with the official rules of Daggerback!

For those of you scratching your heads, Daggerback is the gambling card game Eli likes to kick Josef's butt at. This isn't Josef's fault since the skills required to be good at Daggerback are a head for percentages and the ability to bluff, both of which are areas where Eli has him beat. (Really, Josef should probably just stop playing, but he's too competitive to ever say no.)

A Daggerback deck consists of the following:

4 Kings, worth 2 points
4 Queens, worth 3 points
6 Wizards, worth 4 points
8 Knights, worth 5 points
and, of course, the three trump cards, the Hunter, the Weaver, and the Shepherdess, which are worth 1 point each.

Just like in Hearts or Gin Rummy (my favorite card game), lowest hand wins in Daggerback. Hands are played thusly:

At the beginning, everyone puts their beginning ante into the pot in the center. Once everyone's put in their money, the dealer deals everyone two cards, one face up, two face down. Once everyone has their cards, the play begins in earnest.

Since everyone has one card visible and one card hidden, players try to bluff each other on their hidden card. For example, in The Spirit Thief, Eli knew Josef's hand couldn't be any good because he was showing a knight, the worst card. But, Eli being Eli, he wheedled Josef into bidding higher than he should have. This bidding stage is also where players who know they have low hands can choose to fold and forfeit their initial bid.

This first round of bidding only goes around once. Once everyone has thrown in, the dealer deals the final cards and the final round of bidding begins. Unlike the first bids, which were capped at one per player, this second round of bidding continues until all players are done. It can go on for a while, especially if you end up with two players who both think they have winning hands.

Players must keep bidding to stay in the game, either matching or raising the bid before theirs. If they can't, they fold and forfeit everything they've put in. If none of the players can match a bid or if all players agree that enough's enough, the bidding ends and everyone shows their cards. The hand with the lowest total points is the winner and gets the pot.

So, as you see, not a complicated game. The hands are fast and the rules are simple, making it a favorite among the caravaners and bar room types, especially since all the cards use pictures meaning  you don't have to be able to read to play (a big concern back before the Council of Thrones improved literacy rates).Naturally, no one of any money or breeding would be caught dead playing Daggerback, which is part of why Eli loves it so much. That, and it's a bluffing game. It was practically made for him! (The fact that the deck is small enough to fit in his pocket doesn't hurt either, Eli has a highly mobile lifestyle).

And that's Daggerback! Of course, I'm an author, not a game maker. I created Daggerback as a way of slipping the three Powers in early and to show the Eli group's dynamic. With this in mind, I can't vouch for Daggerback being a good game, but if you want to fleece a Josef of your own, now you know how.

For the record, it is totally possible to create your own Daggerback deck out of two decks of playing cards, so if you give the game a try, let me know! Also, if of you are game theory fans who can think of a way to make the game more interesting without changing the cannon rules that appear in the novels, please let me know.

Final note: a huge shout out is due to StellarFour who did an amazing review of Spirit's End! I am blushing, I am! Thank you everyone who helped launch Spirit's End with a bang!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Two Post Spirit's End Interviews!

Whew, I've been a busy bee lately! I was going to do a blog post about villains (again), but it's not done and I wanted to go ahead and post links to these two really great interviews I did to celebrate the release of Spirit's End!

The first is over at Fantasy Book Critic (with whom I did a previous interview way back when the Eli Omnibus came out). It's always such a pleasure to speak with Mihir and I had a ton of fun. We talk a lot about the inner workings of Eli's world, how I wrote the books, and my new SciFi series. Warning, the interview has a lot of spoilers about the end of Eli, so if you haven't read Spirit's End yet, you might want to hold off and read this one later.

My next interview just went up at Stellar Four, and I have to say I'm blushing! They say very nice things. This is a spoiler free interview, though I do reveal the sexuality of two secondary characters, so I guess that could be a spoiler? But it's not in the books explicitly, so I'm pretty sure you're safe. Anyway, go read it! I had a very good time and Megan, I'm sorry I broke your heart!

So there you go, two new interviews full of delicious Eli secrets! Go, enjoy, and I'll be back in a bit with a big post about antagonists. Until then, try not to die from all the Christmas music (seriously, my grocery store had Frosty the Snowman on loop. I'm considering never going there ever again).

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Our Grand Prize Winner!

The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of winning prizes! That's right, it's time to announce the Grand Prize Winner in the SPIRIT'S END raffle!

Just a reminder, our grand prize winner will receive personalized signed copies of the complete Eli series (as shown above) plus a $50 gift card! SO, who's our winner (as chosen from my spreadsheet of everyone's contributions, taken from the information posted on the contest thread)??

Why, it's..... J. Leigh Bralick! Congratulations, YOU'RE GOING ALL THE WAY to to buy books that aren't mine since you've now WON MY ENTIRE LIST! HOORAY! Shoot me an email with your address and how you'd like the books made out and I'll get them all mailed. Congrats again!

Thank you once again to everyone who participated and congratulations to all the winners. Especial thanks goes to everyone who bought the book, and double extra mega thanks to everyone who reviewed it! You people really are amazingly awesomesauce!

And that about wraps it all up. I'm going to go weep over my empty Eli nest now. Have a great holiday, everyone!

Day 7 Winner and Thoughts on the Official End of Eli

First up, super mega congrats to our final SPIRIT'S END raffle winner... LEAH! Hooray! I'll be doing the drawing for the GRAND PRIZE, being signed copies of all 3 trade paper back Eli books plus a $50 gift card, this evening at 5 EST. Everyone who posted on the original thread and helped spread the word is still eligible, even if you already won something (if you win twice, I'll give you the grand prize and pick a new winner for the other signed copy), so keep your eyes peeled and thank you again to EVERYONE. You all made this my best launch ever, and Eli loves each and every one of you!

And now, at long last, we come to the end....

What a long way we've come, eh? Even though I finished writing Spirit's End last year, today feels like the real end of things, and while I'm very happy with the way I ended his story, it's still bittersweet. I've been working on Eli's world since 2006. That's a long time to spend with anyone, much less a relationship as intimate as author and main character. Not to sound schizophrenic, but I still think in his voice all the time. Same with Miranda. You just can't be with people, even imaginary ones, for this long and not come out different.

With the publication of Spirit's End (which I will always think of as The Other Side of the Sky, my title for it), a huge chapter of my life has come to an end. Of course, I'll still be promoting and talking about these books for years, but my career is already moving on. There are new books to be written, new characters to love and fight with. But no matter what books I write in the future, no series will ever take the place of Eli in my heart. Eli Monpress will always and forever be the one that made it. He was the one who charmed his way into my agent's heart, and then my editor's. His story was the one that got me my great dream of being an author, and while it feels strange to be grateful to a fictional character, I am. I'm grateful for everything.

Most of all, though, I'm grateful to my readers. Eli might have charmed his way into a book contract, but it was all of you reading and spreading the word and posting reviews and generally being amazing that let me continue Eli's story to the end. So thank you, all of you. It's said that a writer is only as great as her readership, and I really believe that's true, because there's no one I'd rather have at my back than you awesome people.

So many of you have written to thank me for writing Eli, and every time I get one of those letters, all I can think is no, thank you. Thank you for reading, thank you for making other people read, thank you for buying my books and making it possible for me to live this dream. I am nothing without all of you, and so, here at the end, you're the ones I really want to thank. Thank you for everything, thank you this amazing ride, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hope more than anything that Spirit's End lives up to your wildest expectations, and I hope you know that it never could have been without you.

Thank you.

Yours forever,
Rachel Aaron

Monday, November 19, 2012

Day 6 Winner!

This is it, folks! We have reached the penultimate day of the SPIRIT'S END contest! Tomorrow I'll be drawing our final book winner and grand prize, but today, our Day 6 Winner is...... the superhero princess! YES! EXCUSE TO POST AVENGERS GIFS!

So congratulations, Madame Superhero Princess! You get the next to last signed copy of SPIRIT'S END! Send me your address and who you'd like the book made out to and it shall be allllllll yours.

We've only got 1 copy left to win before the grand prize is drawn tomorrow afternoon! Thank you to everyone who's helped me spread the word about SPIRIT'S END! Keep it up 1 more day and let me know on the original contest thread so I can keep counting your entries!

<3 4="4" eva="eva" p="p">

- Rachel

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Day 5 Winner!

Gah, sorry for the late post. Toddlers don't understand "patience" and "don't grab Mommy's laptop." But I've finally got a few minutes to announce day 5 winner...kleinwriter1686! Yaaay!.


So congratulations, kleinwriter1686! You get a signed copy of SPIRIT'S END! Send me your address and who you'd like the book made out to and it shall be allllllll yours.

Thank you to everyone whose entered so far and don't forget, there are still 2 copies to win plus the grand prize that will be drawn next Tuesday. So keep spreading the word and letting me know about it on the original contest thread!


- Rachel

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Day 4 Winner!

Only an hour late, but here's our Day 4 Winner...Ash! GASP!

Happy Saturday!

So congratulations, Ash! You get a signed copy of THE END OF THE WORLD (of Eli) (Spirit's End!). Simply send me your address and who you'd like the book made out to and it shall be allllllll yours.

Thank you to everyone whose entered so far and don't forget, there are still 3 copies to win plus the grand prize that will be drawn next Tuesday. So keep spreading the word and letting me know about it on the original contest thread!

Best day ever!!!

- Rachel

Friday, November 16, 2012

Day 3 Winner!

We are nearing the half way point in the contest with Day 3 Winner...D. Edward Noe! HOORAY! I will now post my new favorite thing in the world in celebration!

You'll be singing it all day. You're welcome!

So congratulations D. Edward Noe! You get a signed copy of Spirit's End for your very own! Simply send me your address and who you'd like the book made out to and I'll be shipping it off post haste.

Thank you to everyone whose entered so far and don't forget, there are still 4 copies to win plus the grand prize that will be drawn next Tuesday. So keep spreading the word and letting me know about it on the original contest thread!

- Rachel

*hums dumb ways to die*

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Day 2 Winner!

Another day, another book to be given away! And the winner for day 2 of the official Spirit's End raffle is.....(drumroll)... Audrey Bauman! Hooray! This calls for a WAMPUG!

Mega congrats to you, Audrey! Though sadly Chubs the Wampug is not actually mine to bestow, I will be sending you a signed copy of Spirit's End! Simply send me your address and who you'd like the book made out to and I'll ship it off post haste.

Thank you to everyone whose entered so far and don't forget, there are still 5 copies left to win plus the grand prize that will be drawn next Tuesday. So keep spreading the word and letting me know about it on the original contest thread!

Thank you all a TON!

- Rachel

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Day 1 Winner!

What a great turn out for Day 1! You guys make me all mushy inside, and I meant that in the best possible way. :D After entering all of your wonderful, wonderful Eli sharing awesome into my spreadsheet, the impartial computer at has declared B.A. Viens as our first winner! HOORAY!

So congratulations B.A. Viens! In addition to one very happy Disney crocodile (alligator?), you will receive a signed copy of Spirit's End for your very own! Simply send me your address and who you'd like the book made out to and I'll be shipping it off post haste.

Thank you to everyone whose entered so far and don't forget, there are still 6 copies to win plus the grand prize that will be drawn next Tuesday. So keep spreading the word and letting me know about it on the original contest thread and I'll keep picking winners, though, of course, YOU'RE ALL WINNERS TO ME! 

Good luck and thank you for everything. You are the best fans a girl could wish for!

- Rachel

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Official Spirit's End Raffle!

Well, it's finally here! 2 years after the first books hit the shelves, Eli's story is finally coming to an end. Specifically, SPIRIT'S END!

Yes, the End of Eli is finally here, and what an ending! Just look at all that lightning! Well, there's a lot of lightning to be had in this final installment, and even though most book stores (and Amazon) are already selling/shipping the book (you can read Fantasy Book Critic's rave review here), I'm giving away seven signed copies, one for each day until the official release on November 20! (I mean, what else am I going to do with this awesome box of books Orbit sent me?!) 


BUT WAIT! THERE'S  MORE! In addition to the 7 signed copies of Spirit's End, I'm also giving away a grand prize of all three of my books, signed to the lucky winner, plus a $50 gift card!

(Not pictured: gift card, my overflowing gratitude that you people read my books!)

So if you're ready to win free books, get ready to spread the word about Eli! Official rules are below. For those of you who've done my contest before, it's the same as always. And since this is Eli's final hurrah, this contest is open WORLD WIDE

Good luck!

Official Spirit's End Raffle Rules!

The Prizes!
You've waited patiently for so long, and now your patience shall be rewarded! I'm giving away 7 personalized signed copies of SPIRIT'S END, one for each day from today to Monday, November 19th! And then, on Tuesday, November 20th, I will be drawing one grand prize winner who will receive signed copies of ALL THREE Eli Monpress editions (that's the first three books in the THE LEGEND OF ELI MONPRESS omnibus, THE SPIRIT WAR, and SPIRIT'S END, all signed to YOU!) plus a $50 gift card to spend on the books of your choice!

How to Enter
To enter to win these amazing prizes, all you have to do is spread the word that SPIRIT'S END is coming out on November 20th! Post about Eli on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, your blog, or any other social platform of your choice and then drop me a note in the comments below letting me know what you did and I'll enter you into the pot.

This is a raffle, that means you can enter multiple times. Every time you spread the word somewhere on the internet (or even in real life! I'll totally count putting up a flyer if you roll old school!) put it in the comments below with a link. Pin the cover, post on Twitter, and mention the book on your blog? That's 3 entries! Tell me so and I'll enter your name 3 times.

I'll be drawing from the comments on this post every day, including today, so the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win! You can also keep promoting the book every day to increase your chances ever further. Winners will be announced the morning of the day after they win, so today's winner will be announced tomorrow morning, etc.

The grand prize drawing will be on TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 20th at 5:00 PM, east coast US time (EST). After that entries will be closed and I'll be mailing out a lot of books!

Boring Rules Stuff
Since this is the last Eli book, I'm pulling out all the stops! This raffle is open WORLD WIDE! Only one entry per social network per day (so no posting it a million times on Twitter for a million entries :P). Readers who win one of the earlier signed copies are still eligible for the grand prize at the end, but since they already have a book coming to them, I'll pick a new winner to get the extra copy.

If you have any questions about the contest, the rules, or the books, please contact me! If you want to read a sample of SPIRIT'S END, you can do that here.

Good Luck!
And please spread the word of the contest around. If I get a ton of people, I'll just give away more books to keep the chances even. Thanks for playing!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

How to write a query letter

A short expert from my NaNoWriMo thread, in response to a question on how to write a query letter:

"The point of a query letter is to convince an agent to ask for more. You don't have to tell her everything, you just have to make her interested enough to look at your sample pages. 

A query letter is basically a sales letter. Think of it as if you were writing a letter to sell a toaster: Would you describe every detail of the wiring? Would you describe the coils? Would you explain how to push down the lever to start the heating unit? No way, you'd focus on what makes your toaster different and cool and totally the toaster you want to buy! You'd talk about how it stands out in the crowded toaster market and how it has features no other toaster can offer while delivering reliable toasting services.

This is a query letter. You're not reinventing the wheel and you're not writing a book report. Just tell the agent what makes your book unique and cool in the most succinct and engaging language possible."

ADDENDUM: Even though it's a sales letter, please don't use corny sales talk and DON'T talk about how many millions of dollars your books will make. This is literature, remember? Keep it classy.

This is now my official answer to this question FOREVER. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo trolling is back!

Some of you might remember last year where I posted an open question and answer thread on National Novel Writing Month's fantasy forums. Well, it was so much fun and such a big hit that I'm doing it AGAIN! (unless the mods kick me out)...

So, if you're a writer of any stripe and you've got some questions you'd like answered, head on over and post something! I'll be doing my best to get to all the questions quickly, and hopefully it'll be even bigger than last year's!

Also, OMG 19 DAYS UNTIL SPIRIT'S END?! Are you excited?! As soon as I get the books, there will be hella contests, but until then, you'll just have to content yourself with the sample and the lovely cover! 

So close, Lord of Storms, SO CLOSE!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Spirit Rebellion French Cover...J'adore!

Special Saturday Update! So the absolutely wonderful Sita tipped me off that The Spirit Rebellion is going to be released in France... and check out this COVER!

Is this not the BEST MIRANDA EVER? Okay, so it's not quite accurate, but the Miranda in my head approves enormously. Also, Gin looks PIMP. LOVE!!

Since the Fench version of The Spirit Thief used the omnibus art I was wondering what they'd do for book 2, but this is totally boss. Can't squee enough over it! SQUEEE!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

TL:DR - Don't be a dick

I've made no secret of my opinion on the importance of book bloggers and book reviews in general (SPOILER: I love them to pieces like crumbles of awesome pie), so it probably doesn't come as a surprise that this whole mess involving thriller author Jon Stock and his practice of tracking down and "outing" people who leave him bad reviews makes me feel stabby. If you're interested in the whole sordid affair, Dear Author has an awesome write up including the aggrieved reviewer's side of the story and a breakdown of why Mr. Stock's argument that he hunts down people who didn't like his books in an effort to provide "customer service" is about as bullshitty as you would assume. I'm actually not going to go into this situation any further because Dear Author already said pretty much everything I'd want to, plus more I hadn't even thought of. I would, however, like to take a moment and talk about this mess from an author's perspective.

I love book reviews. I love them in theory, I love reading them, and I love what they do for sales. Counter intuitive as it sounds, even bad, awful, flaming reviews sell books. It's win all around! That said, (confession time) I don't actually pay that much attention to my reviews.

Now wait wait wait, don't get me wrong here! I read every single review I can find. I appreciate them all, the good ones that make my day and the bad ones that bum me out, and as an author I have taken reviewer complaints into account when writing future installments... THAT SAID, I'm a firm believer in not getting your panties in a wad over things you can't change, and since all book reviews are, by definition, beyond my ability to do anything about, I see absolutely no point in getting upset over them.

You see, by the time reviews start coming in for a book, it's done for me. The story has printed and is now out in the wild, and even if a reviewer brings up an amazing point that I really should have thought of, I can't do shit about it. That ship has sailed.

This is how it should be, because book reviews aren't there to help the author, they're there to help readers decide if this book is right for them. To put it more plainly, it ain't about me. It's about the book and the reader and the reviewer's opinion. Therefore, for me, as an author, to track down a reviewer so I can tell them how their opinion is wrong is so pointless, aggressive, and insecure I can't even begin to contemplate it.

Tracking down a reviewer who gave you a bad review is like calling an agent who rejected your book to tell them how wrong they were. Not only is it rude, it's actively counter to your objective to sell a book, whether to a publishing house or a reader. Let's say you read a book you hated and posted a review explaining why to warn others, would you want the author coming to you trying to explain how you're wrong? Of course not. You'd think that person was crazy.

Now, this isn't to say you can't think the reviewer/agent/whoever is wrong. You are entitled to your opinion, just as the reviewer is entitled to theirs. But you are not entitled to act like a creep and go all vigilante on a bad reviewer who was simply expressing their opinion freely.

On some level, I can understand why authors like Mr. Stock do what they do. It sucks to put so much time and effort and love into a project only to have someone rip it to shreds. It's hard not to take it personally, but here's the thing: if you're going to be an author, and you're going to read reviews, then coping with criticism like a mature individual is a skill you will have to learn. No book is universally loved. If you have written a novel, someone out there thinks it sucks. That's the writing life, folks, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.

At the end of the day, a writer's only job is to write the best books they can. Lovely as they are, book reviews have very little to do with this. In fact, it would probably be better is authors didn't read their reviews at all, but we do. And that's fine, so long as we keep things in the proper perspective and remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion, even if it's your opinion that their opinion sucks. If you can't handle that, then just don't read your reviews. But whatever you do, don't be a dick. ESPECIALLY don't be a dick online where everything is easily recorded for posterity. If you do, people will know your name for exactly the wrong reasons, as Mr. Stock is undoubtedly experiencing right now.

Friday, October 19, 2012

How to write a prologue people won't skip

There are many different parts to a book - middles, endings, beginnings, climaxes, that train station scene at the end of the last Harry Potter - but no slice of the novel engenders quite as much derision and outright hatred as the prologue. Agents don't want to see it, readers skip it, editors cut it, yuck.

With so much open hate the pressure to just forget about a prologue can be intense, but just because prologues are tricky to pull off doesn't mean you can't have one. When used correctly, a prologue becomes an invaluable tool and an indispensable part of the story. The secret (as always) is that you have to know what you're doing. 

The Prologue's Purpose
As a writer, I never, ever, EVER want to write something readers can skip. A good novel is like a well tuned race car, every piece has its purpose within the whole. If a reader can skip a part of your book without consequence, then you have to ask yourself does that part really need to be there. But prologues are even more sensitive since they come at the very beginning. Mess up the middle of your novel and you'll get a bad review, mess up the opening and the reader will put the book down and forget about it forever. 

With stakes like these, it may seem safer to just skip the prologue and save yourself some trouble, but I say prologues can be a huge help to your novel so long as the writer understands that the purpose of a prologue is to improve the reader's enjoyment of the book

Your prologue is not your first chapter, it's not even the beginning. It's what comes before, the set up, the before dinner cocktail that eases you into a wonderful night. The most successful prologues fall into two types: prologues that exist to feed the reader information they otherwise couldn't get, and prologues that set the mood.

Past as Prologue
The easiest (and my personal favorite) prologue is one that serves as a vehicle to give the reader information they couldn't otherwise obtain within the structure of the story. For example, in my second Eli novel, The Spirit RebellionI open with a scene from Eli's past showing how he ran away from home and came to be the Shepherdess's favorite. 

This was perfect prologue material. It was something Eli himself would never talk about and, since it happened several years in the past, I couldn't show within the constraints of the novel's timeline without resorting to a flashback. More importantly, by showing this scene to the reader at the very beginning, I was able to foreshadow and set up several events that happened later in the book. I gave my reader information about what happened in the past in order to make the events of the present more powerful. In other words, I used my prologue to set up context, and then I used that context to twist the knife.

This sort of one-two set up is incredibly powerful, and you don't have to limit yourself to the past to make it work. In The Spirit War (Eli book 4), I show events that are happening in the present, but on the other side of the world. Again, I used the prologue to feed the reader information the characters couldn't know in order to create tension. Eli and company had no idea what was going on across the sea, but the reader knew exactly how big a shit storm was coming, and that knowledge created a ticking time bomb that twisted the tension in the novel to heights I couldn't have achieved otherwise.

By giving the reader inside information, I was able to drop subtle hints that the characters didn't notice, but the reader did. This let me create a "don't open that door!" situation to keep the reader on the edge of their seat without having to resort to gimmicks. Thanks to the prologue, the hooks were already there, buried deep in the reader, all I had to do was pull.

That said, I have to admit this sort of prologue works much better in subsequent novel than it does in a first book. The prologue for The Spirit Rebellion I mentioned earlier wouldn't have worked nearly as well if I hadn't been able to rely on my readers' built up curiosity about Eli's past to pull them in. This isn't to say you can't use the "show a hint of the past to put the present into context" prologue in a first book, but there are more hurdles. In a first novel, your readers aren't yet invested in your world or your people. They don't care about what happened in the past yet. Hell, they don't even know it is the past unless you tell them. You have to make them care right off the bat, and that can be a difficult trick to pull off, especially if your prologue jumps around between times and characters. 

As with everything in writing, it all comes down to execution. If you can pull it off, a good Past as Prologue can take your novel to new heights. By giving the reader inside information, you can tighten your story's tension to a cutting edge with very few words simply by leaning on and hinting at what the reader already knows. It's showing the maid hiding a body before you spend the novel with everyone else wondering whodunit while the murderer is pouring their tea and your reader is going out of their mind waiting for her to strike again. It's tension through revelation, and with the right treatment, it can be magic.

Setting the Stage
The second type of prologue is more nebulous, artistic, subjective, and, consequently, much easier to mess up. I'm talking about the atmosphere prologue which, rather than flat out revealing plot information, focuses instead on setting the stage and preparing the reader to enter your world. A good (and very famous) example of this kind of prologue would be the opening of Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
In this prologue, Dickens sets his stage. Though the novel is in third person, the author here speaks directly to the reader, describing the context of the story and the political situation of the time. Simultaneously, the exalted language and sweeping statements gets us in the mood for an epic tale of revolution so that by the time the plot actually kicks in in the next chapter we are 100% on board.

Unfortunately, these type of prologues are often the ones agents/readers/editors are talking about when they hate on prologues. When done well, atmospheric prologues can be the most memorable part of a book, the lines people can still quote years later, like the first line of the Dickens quote above (which most of America can quote even though a very small percentage of those people have actually read the book).  When done badly, the atmospheric prologue becomes a long winded, boring, and disjointed from the story it's supposed to be introducing. When done very badly, it can become a cosmic info dump (more on that below).

This isn't to discourage you from trying an atmospheric prologue. As I said, some of the best writing comes from this sort of work. But because it is so easy to mess up, you have to be extremely careful and self critical when writing an artistic prologue, especially if you're trying to sell your novel for the first time. Trust me, nothing makes you come off as a pretentious, boring doofus like a badly done art prologue.

At its best, an artistic prologue is the beautiful beginning, the gorgeous credits at the opening of a movie where, by the time they finish, you just know you're going to love the film even though it hasn't yet begun. But the atmospheric prologue is an all or nothing deal with an extremely high bar. If you can't knock it out of the park, you're probably better off just starting on chapter 1.

What a Prologue Isn't
So those are the two large classifications of prologue, and though I'm sure you can find outliers if you look hard enough, the vast majority will fall into these two camps. That said, perhaps the most important part of writing a good prologue is understanding what makes a bad one. So, to make things a bit easier, here's a list of shit that doesn't fly in prologues:

1. The Cosmic Info Dump 
In the beginning there was darkness, and then Gaia the Earth Mother created the light and the waters and...zzz...

Ahh, the creation story opening. This little gem is almost exclusively a fantasy trope, but can you see it in other forms all through fiction. In Science Fiction, it can be the history of how people got into space, in mysteries, it might be how your detective got into business solving murders, whatever. The point is that this sort of industrial scale info dumping does not belong in a prologue.

The very worst thing you can do to a prologue is to treat it like a chute to shove setting information down a reader's throat. If background details are really important, they'll come up naturally in a story. If they aren't important enough to be woven into the novel, then why the hell would you put them in your prologue?

To be fair, there are plenty of big, successful authors who have done this kind of info dump prologue successfully. To this I say hooray for them, but just because someone else got away with it doesn't mean you get a free pass. No matter how beautifully you write it, dumping information on your reader in huge blocks is lazy writing plain and simple. Maybe you can get away with it, but for my money, if you're going to do all the work it takes to make an info dump like that palpable, why not just not be lazy in the first place? Background info belongs in the background, not at the front of the book.

2. The Action! Prologue
Have you ever picked up a book and opened the first page to find yourself dropped unceremoniously in the middle of the action? Right off the bat there's dramatic stuff going on you and all these characters are dying or doing seemingly very important things, but there's no context, so you flip back a page to make sure this is actually the beginning only to find out that yes, this is the start of the book, and you have no idea what's going on.

This is the Action! prologue, also called in medias res, where the author dumps their reader smack dab in the middle of the action in the hope they'll stick around to see what happens. This sort of thing is a very powerful tool that can be used to great effect. It's also just enough rope to hang yourself.

With so much emphasis being put on hooking your reader from paragraph one, the Action! prologue can seem like a good bet. You get to start right in with the big explosions for a flashy opening and then go back to cover all that boring, "why this stuff was blowing up" paperwork once chapter one begins. (Of course, if the why of the blowing up is too boring to start your book then you've got bigger problems than your prologue, but you get the point.) Even if your why is very cool, though, starting in the middle of the action can be problematic. Sure you get immediate tension and interest, but it's all just dazzle, smoke and mirrors with no context and, thus, no depth. And unless you dig that depth very quickly, your reader will quickly see through the ruse.

Unfortunately, digging in to build that depth brings its own problems. Full throttle starts tend to throw a lot of information at the reader very quickly, and that puts a lot of pressure on your audience to keep up, especially if you're asking them to remember stuff while you're setting off explosions in their face. Readers can handle pressure, but at the very beginning of a book with no context or investment, some might not see a reason to try. If you're lucky, they'll simply skip ahead to the actual beginning of the book. If you're not, they'll put the book down entirely.

This isn't to say an Action! beginning can't work. There are plenty of novels, especially in the thriller genre, that get right to the shooting and worry about the details later. However, just like driving a high performance sports car, writing a high octane opening takes a surprising amount of skill and practice. It also has to be right for the book in question. If your the rest of your novel doesn't eventually match the boom at the beginning, even the best written Action! opening can feel jarring and out of place.

Like everything in writing, it all comes down to execution. If you can pull off an Action! prologue, bully for you. But as a general rule of thumb, if your opening has your reader wondering if the publisher put chapter 5 at the the beginning by mistake, that's bad.

3. The Wha?
Have you ever read a book where the opening just seemed to make no sense at all. Like, there's action taking place, and it's clearly important, but you have no idea why or what's going on? Maybe the prologue opens with a woman standing on a hill and then she opens a box of sand and pours it to the wind, after which we jump to a child in England during the Blitz eating a stolen ice cream cone while the narration waxes poetic on the ephemeral nature of life. Through it all, there's the implication that this that this is all actually very deep and you should be moved, but you're not, because just don't know enough yet to care.

This is what I call the Wha? opening, because by the time you've reached the end, that's all you can say. Wha? In theory, a Wha? opening is supposed to be confusing, an artistic mystery to draw the reader in while also planting a question in the reader's mind that the novel itself will then proceed to ruminate on. These sort of openings are mostly found in literary novels and are part of why I have a hard time taking lit fic seriously. Even the best written ones can't help coming off as pretentious.

I will freely admit to some bias here. The Wha? prologue is my absolute least favorite way to open a book. I get how it's supposed to work, I've even read some that were quite lovely, but I have never, ever seen one of these that actually helped the novel it was attached to.

For me, these are the ultimate skippable prologues. Even in the hands of a master, it's almost impossible to make these sort of beginnings meaningful because meaning requires context and the Wha? opening lacks context by its very definition. Actually, I've found these kind of openings much more enjoyable after I've already read the book, and while I'll admit that has its own merits, do you really want to open your novel with something that doesn't get good until the end of the story?

As with all the "bad" prologues I've mentioned, I'm sure there are exceptions out there. As always, you are the only one who can decide whether or not this kind of prologue works for your novel. That said, however, I think prologues like these--the giant info dumps, the jarring, no context action, and especially the nonsensical disconnected arty openings--are the type of extremely hard to pull off, usually terrible openings that give all prologues a bad name, and I would think very, very carefully before putting any of them in one of my novels.

What a Good Prologue Can Be
When setting out to write a prologue, or anything really, the most important thing to remember is your audience. Your reader is your partner, the one you must entertain. As such, they can be your best friends and greatest champions, climbing mountains just to hear the end of your story. Readers are the ones who make your story come alive and support your career, but before any of that can happen, you have to earn their trust.

Readers picking up a new series for the first time (or agents looking at a new novel in the slush) owe you nothing. They will not jump through hoops for you, and they certainly won't extend you the benefit of the doubt. It is your job as the writer to entertain them, to make them love you. As with all romances, first impressions are vital. You have to be very, very careful to start on your absolute best foot if you want them to stick around. This is why getting your prologue right, especially on a first book, is so important. It's your opening shot, maybe your only shot, and if you flub it, your book may be done before it even begins. But if you nail it, a good prologue can hook your reader even better than a fantastic first line, because a good prologue hints at everything a novel can be, and if you can sell the reader on that, you've got them right where you want them.

At its very best, the prologue is the perfect augment for the story it begins. It is the icing that takes a cake from delicious to gourmet, the overture that deftly plucks you out of the real world and prepares you to fully appreciate the symphony to come. A prologue should never exist merely to hold information you want the reader to know but couldn't be bothered to work into the main story, nor should it be treated as an optional extra for those readers who want a little more. Like every part of your book, a good prologue must be necessary, a vital piece of the whole. It should be unskippable, a joy to read all on its own, and if that sounds hard, it's because it is.

Remember, the reason so many people hate prologues is because most of them are bad. Even good writers fall victim to the bad prologue because prologues are really freaking hard to pull off. It's like a gun: incredibly powerful, but it can shoot you in the foot if you don't treat it with proper respect.

I hope this post helps you prologue responsibly. Maybe if we all work together we can end the prologue's exile to the butt of bad writing jokes and restore it to its proper place of honor among the author's tools. Or at least keep agents from wincing when they see the word "Prologue" at the top of the page. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

I hope you enjoyed the post! Do you have a prologue in your novel? Has it given you problems? Let me know in the comments!

As always, thanks for reading, and if you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new book on writing, 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. It's less than a dollar, so give it a try!

Thanks again, I couldn't do this without y'all!

<3s and="and" p="p" ponies="ponies">Rachel