Frankenbook: Three YA Fantasy Plots In One

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

I’ve reading through a few books this week, trying to keep them all separate in my mind, so I could decide which one to write about. But in their continual effort to use me as a beta tester for various petty torments, the fates have seen fit to fill my TBR with a plethora, nay a cornucopia, nay a group of just three very similar books.

A Patriot’s Tale by Nicole Peirman is historical fiction in which Lily lives a crazy person orphan life in the woods, and wants to join the Rebel Alliance or the Washington’s Wizards or whatever the American army was calling themselves back in Yore times. The Combatant by Julie Falango follows ostensibly orphaned Lexi as she lives in the woods and wants to join the Medieval-but-with-motorcycles elite fighting force of her kingdom. In the legally distinct science fantasy novel A Shimmering World: Book One of the Shimmering Saga by A. C. Lowry, it’s Em who wants to be an elite fighter, but she’s only a second degree orphan and her crazy people cabin is a barracks. The common thread seems to be a classic YA genre trope, the 5½ P: perfect, persecuted, pugilistic, (partially) parentless prodigies. So why limit ourselves to just one PPPpPP? If these three titles represent three attempts to get an idea right, surely all three at once will give us our greatest chance of success. Welcome to the first installment of Frankenbook, where I review the book that is living rent-free in my head after absorbing several self-published YA fantasies. I’m going to blend the details of each book together like one of those tiny Asian washing machines that turn all your clothes into Klein bottles, in the hope that what comes out will be better than the sum of its parts. Allow me to summarize the first act, as best I can.

“She shook off the tears of hopelessness after the twenty-fourth survivor had spit on her shoe and cursed her name.”

At the age of five, Princess Lilexem (Lil’ XM to her friends) of the Kingdom of Odessa has it all: an intact, loving family, an intact, un-burnt house, a teddy bear. If there’s a pleasant thing you can think of pertaining to being a privileged little girl who lives in a castle for the time being, she’s got it. Her completely alive father loves to give her presents and big hugs, and her older brother Damion teases her the way only still-extant older brothers can. Everything is happy and perfect, and presumably will be forever. But then! One night our heretofore untragic heroine wakes up to find that she’s on a lot of fire. She curls up into a ball under an asbestos blanket and waits for death.

Prince General-Kirigan-slash-Hans-from-Frozen proposes to his father King Malachy that the Maq, a magical race of humanoids with jet black skin and glowing red eyes, do not need to be hated anymore. The old man is not buying it, still seeing the Maq as a tribal enemy to be exterminated. This is relevant because our protagonist LXM (940 to her Ancient Roman friends) has become a Maq somehow! She is living with her mystery replacement mother, who is very… what’s the female version of avuncular? (checks internet) Materteral? Seriously? Jesus Christ, English. Just when I’m done being mad about the word “authoress” you go and pull this shit. Anyway, her surrog-aunt simultaneously lives in an isolated cabin in the backwoods of South Carolina and a fantasy version of Kowloon Walled City. It’s very pastoral, but also one of those gritty places where nobody’s nice to each other for some reason. Even our plucky (Oo! Another p!) heroine is kind of a Mean Girl (she has this uncomfortable way of describing all the other women in the story by their hair style and color). And the closest thing she has to a mentor kills poor people to make tchotchkes out of their bones. One person I did enjoy was the sloppy foul bestie who just wants drunk cake. But she doesn’t get much screen time, probably to make room for more boys.

Now twenty years old, Lixmy doesn’t remember her life before bring raised in the cabin by her substi-tía and her ersatz brother and friendzoned sparring partner, Cole. A word of advice, ladies. If any human male roughly your age is practicing martial arts with you in a book or a movie, he’s in love with you. I don’t know if that rule applies at the dojo in your local strip mall that turns into a zoomba studio after five, but in books it’s a hundred percent of the time. Do with that knowledge what you will. Anyway, Lesmex has joined some murderous organization of fantasy super soldiers so she can one day become a field medic. Apparently there’s an engineered shortage of medical supplies in the kingdom, and I guess joining the steampunk Hitler Youth is the only way to address that.

Bourabon Van Verot towered over the naked man strapped to his dining table.”

Meanwhile, British soldiers ruthlessly burn villages across the part of South Carolina where our fantasy story has been taking place, leaving the survivors to fend for themselves. Our girl is elated to see starving families shuffle down the country road by her orphan cabin because she can chat them up about the war and maybe find a way into the rebel army. Because the elite combat organization she’s already in isn’t good enough. She rescues a hot boy with chocolate colored hair, and casually explains to him how much of an orphan she is, since she believes the local British corporal (who in the film adaptation looks suspiciously like Prince Not-a-Bad-Guy-Pinky-Swear) murdered her brother and parents. I guess it was him who set the fire in her bedroom, and she just assumed that the rest of her family was killed, except she also doesn’t remember the fire. Jeez, try to keep up. She shows off her badass knife-throwing skills (which in my opinion is any amount of knife-throwing skills), and probably talks to the squirrels she hunts a little too often (which in my opinion is any amount of talking to squirrels), about how useful she would be to the rebels. The chocolate-haired love interest is skeptical.

For the time being, Emmalily is merely a cadet at the top of her class in the city guard of Evil Ankh Morpork, set to replace the prince’s own guardian after the peasant-knickknack-making weirdo’s imminent retirement. Resentment follows her everywhere she goes, because on top of beating every boy and girl in training, she has the whole Maq thing going on (you probably remember from high school what a burden it is to be better than everyone else). Her protagonist-hating instructor acts on this resentment by ambushing her with a sex-fight against four armed cadets. Only the speedy intervention of the Prince himself prevents possible death. But then he shoots the instructor, and enjoys it. This is never framed as a bad thing, by the way. The instructor lives, and the Prince is obviously being set up as a “I can’t believe the evil guy was evil the whole time” twist anyway. But still, it’s weird that everyone seems to be cool with it.

One day Cole comes home with a mysterious knife wound, and Allie Maq has to use her medical skills to suture it, which inevitably leads to her wondering if maybe she was wrong to overlook him as a potential source of vitamin D. A word of advice, fellas. If any human female roughly your age tends your wounds in a steam-peasant science fantasy, she’s into you. The two go into town, where everyone loves our super swell protagonist. “Everyone simultaneously loves and hates me” is like a Madonna-Whore complex that you can inflict on yourself! But she has to duck into a combination book store and library when she notices a shadowy figure following her. I’m not sure how a book store library works; it kind of seems like a book store that has no revenue, but we can’t be dwelling on these things. At the very special birthday picnic Cole made for her, Cole admits that the knife wound was inflicted by Kill Squad cadet Damion! Oh, it turns out her whole family is alive, and I guess someone set fire to just her bedroom specifically, but of course she doesn’t put these pieces together yet. Just as this information is revealed, Damion and the rest of the jocks crash the picnic with nothing good on their minds, and the two galaxy-crossed youngsters have to flee.

“He was quite short too and looked like he would be a librarian.”

Despite being “just a woman,” LAX sets out with Hot Chocolate to find the rebel camp. They arrive just in time to see a spy get shot, a grim reminder that the fantasy Revolutionary War is no joke. HC takes another try at changing her mind, insisting that she can’t hide her sex, and besides, fighting grown men on a bloody battlefield is not the same as hunting squirrels in the woods. But it’s no use. She needs to join the rebellion to fight the invaders who destroyed her royal Maq family. She impersonates a man, fights in a gruesome battle against the fantasy British (who presumably wear horned bowlers and blast drizzly weather from their fingers), and gets captured. When she awakes in a stately Georgian bedroom, wearing a poofy gown, and tended to by a maid, it becomes obvious that she has been found out. She is now the personal “guest” of the very same corporal who has been laying waste to rural South Carolina. How will she escape from Prince Corporal McEvilFace? Which boy will she pick? Will she rediscover her old family?

That’s just the start of our Frankenventure. I’m not sure if jamming everything together like that made the end result any better, but it definitely makes the whole experience more efficient to read. Maybe there should be an app that does this senseless smashing together for us, so we can read entire genres in one sitting. Kind of like watching American Horror Story, but for books. A Patriot’s Tale, A Shimmering World, and The Combatant cost a cumulative fourteen dollars on Kindle.

I thought they would get better, but if anything Madeline’s opinions are only getting worse.

Judging Books By Their Covers

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

This week I’m looking at six books that all come out on March 1st. Since they won’t be released for two weeks as of this writing, and getting my hands on an ARC from a real author is about as likely as buying a pressure cooker and not being told I’m gonna die by every Boomer in my family, I do mean it when I say I’m just “looking.” I’m going to do my best to share with you the cover of each of these six books, and what I imagine are their strengths and weaknesses based on that. Then, if and when March rolls around, we can all find out how wrong I am. Again. As usual. They don’t call me Not-stradamus for nothing. OK, here we go.

Berserker Bounty Hunter 2: The Cat-acombs by Roland Carlsson is clearly some kind of furry low fantasy erotica, a la the LitRPG genre that has darkened the Denny’s placemat I’ve been using as a welcome mat. There’s a sexy cat lady, and a sewer (everyone’s least favorite video game level), and that’s about it. I’m guessing long-time fans of the Berserker Bounty Hunter series won’t need much else to get up to speed. It’s hard to judge this one based on such a simple premise. Actually, no, I think I can confidently place “cat sex sewer” pretty low on my TBR, below a surprising number of other sex sewers.

Now this is more like it! Freedom Against Zombies by Alathia Morgan is serving me jingoistic zombie realness. Against a backdrop of ruined buildings and hungry zombles a young Appalachian woman drapes herself in the American flag. It’s easy to see the gimmick here. It’s going to be some wholesome, bald eagle-worthy ass-kicking carried out by patriotic redneck preppers. Somebody is going to drive a tank, or oh! A fighter jet. Somebody steals a fighter jet in this book. I’m calling it now. This is the sort of book that makes you simultaneously ashamed and proud to be an American. If it turns out to be some sempai-noticing-me simuator about a blank canvas Mary Sue, I’m emigrating to Canada. Which is code for “letting the zombies eat me.”

Outranked: The Weight of It All by J. J. Thorn gives me mixed feelings. First, it calls itself a LitRPG series, which is code for problematic erotic power fantasy. But this cover. This is some Frank Frazetta-level cheese. There are way more lizard creatures getting wasted on this cover than I could hope to draw with my primitive monkey fingers. Our dude is standing on a pile of lizard meat, converting more lizards into meat. It’s glorious. I’m almost afraid to read it, in case it’s about a guy who works at Comcast and uses an elaborate fantasy world to trick lizard women into sleeping with him. A weaker woman, or a smarter one, would stop subjecting herself to this level of disappointment over and over again. But I’m clearly not alone, as the ongoing manufacture of Peeps will prove. Hopefully Outranked lives up to its badass cover.

Blaze of Glory by A. M. Van Dorn is a western with a cover that looks exactly like what I imagine the concept art for the Custer’s Revenge video game looked like. There’s a kneeling cowboy shooting at someone off screen, and two ladies posing (I only drew one because it was really redundant – same reason why I skipped the perfectly spaced out cacti on the horizon). The guy is literally in the process of shooting someone, with his hand on the hammer of his revolver; why are these ladies just posing? Are they in danger? Were they doing some Looney Toons plan to distract the bad guy so our cowboy could do a sneak attack? So many questions for March. You know what, A. M.? You tried. OK, you didn’t really try very hard, esepcially on those cacti, but you showed up. True, you haven’t technically shown up yet because it’s not March, but you exist. Probably. Well done.

Bloody Mayhem by Jack Quaid is a shooty-shoot action adventure with one of those cool 70s movie poster covers. There’s a looming hooded figure, cars exploding into stuff, and a gun-toting duo of disco ass-kickers front and center. I’m guessing this book is going to have car chases, mustaches, gun fights, sassy AAVE one-liners watered down for Wine Beckies like me, and at least one evil corporation run by a guy with a Persian cat. Possibly two. Two Persian cats, people! The 70s aesthetic is criminally underappreciated in pop literature today. You can’t see this thing and not imagine a car that looks like it was made out of scrapped battleships flying down the road to the tune of “wacka-chicka wacka-chicka.” It’s instant cool. And believe me, I know cool. I was a hall monitor all four years of high school. I made regionals.

A Fubar Kind of Day by Martha Carr and Michael Anderle is not here to waste your time or insult your intelligence. Mike and Martha have a simple story to tell with this cover art. It’s a classic story you’ve all heard before, a tale of gun fights, kicky-flips, magical energy blasts, and all the major inney and outey bits of the female body (I’m talking of course about the root chakra). Something I didn’t even notice while drawing this is that Blasty McTitsface is holding a handbag during the magical gun battle portrayed on the cover. That’s how transfixing this woman is. In case it’s not obvious, I have no patience for the “where are her organs” response to stylized depictions of women. I don’t know where Mafalda’s organs are either; she’s a cartoon. If anything, I find this kind of hyper-sexualized drawing very useful, because it tells me so much about what I will find inside the book. As an advertizement/warning, this cover is a huge success. If you want to read about women doing magical stuff other than having boobs, go browse the Hugo awards. Seriously, it’s like 100% women authors now and nobody’s noticed.

It’s usually not that hard to judge a book by its cover. I knew a woman once who organized her bookshelf by color, and the books were all still grouped by genre. Some of them were still grouped by author. Book covers and visual marketing are a precise science. But self publishing, as usual, allows for a lot more surprises. There are no boardrooms calculating ROI to the penny, and so the rules are looser. Any one of these books could turn out to be a Latvian haiku compilation. We’ll just have to wait until March 1st to find out.

Some crazy woman drew the covers of six upcoming releases. I think she needs help.

Conversations N The Dark: Part 1 by Tmonee’

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Let me just take a moment to explain the mental relief given to me by Kindle Unlimited, and why it is the best money I’ve ever spent. Before I bit the bullet and gave Jeff Bezos some money that he’ll use to buy space slaves or something, my typical experience on the Kindle store went something like this: “Oh, this one is hastily translated from Tamil and has an MS Paint cover? Goodbye, little four dollars! Goodbye forever! I’m sorry you didn’t get to buy any food or shelter, but I will always remember you!” But now? Now I’m swiping right on short stories about “erotic vegetable insertion,” because life is too short not to, and it can only get shorter the more power I give to Jeff Bezos.

And once again, the world of random self published novels has not disappointed me. I asked for something I haven’t seen before, and it plopped this into my lap like a cat that found a finger in the backyard. Conversations N The Dark Part I is a speedrun-of-real-life simulator by Tmonee’, a dense web of personal conflict, desperation, and loss. Below I have summarized each chapter and sorted them in random order, so you can try to guess how they are arranged in the book. Also, I changed the names to try and minimize spoilers.

Connor asks Kelli if her children are his children. Connor is pleased with the answer, though Kelli also recounts the abuse they have suffered at Tyffanie’s hands.

Kelli and Abbey talk about a person named G-spot.

Connor is only engaged to Tyffanie because he thinks she is carrying his child, but his true love is Kelli. He gives her a secret mansion next to IKEA.

At the happy reunion, Kelli is pregnant again, but terrified when she learns that Tyffanie has impersonated a nurse.

Tyffanie and Kelli ruin Abbey’s celebratory promotion dinner by fighting over paternity and lap dances.

Abbey does a very aggressive Live about Pizza Hut.

Tyffanie shoots Connor.

Abbey has no actionable advice for her brother Connor.

Kelli is a terrible mother, who has been betrayed by Connor.

Tyffanie is not remorseful, and hides from the police in her parents’ house. They’re not into it.

Kelli, Abbey, and all their kids congregate at the hospital.

Connor asks Kelli if she has had children with G-spot.

Tyffanie also wants Connor, even though she didn’t support him while he was in prison, so she is faking a pregnancy until she can become pregnant for real.

There is something about the structure and characters of Conversations N The Dark that feels very different from the sort of story telling I usually see. The way quotidian aspects of the characters’ lives are combined with over the top twists and reveals feels like a Greek tragedy. Everybody acts like the ancient Greeks were a bunch of pretentious Rick and Morty fans who talked about trolley problem solutions all day on their white marble bean bag chairs or something. But in reality they were nasty boys and girls who loved nothing more than a good high school beef. Most of Sophocles’ oeuvre could be an episode of Maury and no one would notice. Stories like this one humanize their subjects by taking their problems and their emotional turmoil seriously, without resorting to a more noble motivation than their desire to be happy and lead a good life.

“You hurting my feelings and making my dick hard at the same time.”

And it’s a whirlwind. There is a genre out there called “insta-love,” where instead of doing all the legwork of making the reader care about the characters and their struggles before the meet-cute, or charting out a long will-they-won’t-they, you just smash the two leads together like chocolate and peanut butter or college students and Chipotle. In the same vein, this book wastes no time building up to the main crisis. It almost feels like stealing glimpses of the characters’ lives through a series of windows. Only less perverted. OK, maybe not.

That said, this was not an easy read. And for once, it’s not because ignorant old me reading a book written in a Black vernacular involves kanji charts, one of those flippable chalk boards, and a montage. No, the language here is very accessible, just not the formatting. For the record, I am not a language snob. I don’t care how many times Tmonee’ says “escape goat” or “multimillionaire company.” What I am asking for is paragraph breaks. Quotation marks, indications of the passage of time, indications of who is speaking. Reading Conversations N The Dark was like one of those Darren Aronofsky movies that feel like they were edited on a woodchipper. Everything is in one giant pile of words marked “book,” and if you can’t figure out what’s happening, then you don’t deserve it you stupid pleb.

“That’s right [redacted] you deserve the ass whooping that you are about to get when we find you.”

Conversations N The Dark is obviously a labor of love. Tmonee’ apparently spent nearly a decade perfecting her vision, the whole time working under the constant noise of living inside the Detroit airport. This is the sort of book I love to see. Somebody wanted to write a book, so they did. They didn’t follow any rules, or listen to anybody, or take a class. Screw that, Dad. They just did what they wanted. I often end these reviews with a plug for self publishing in general, but this is exactly why I say things like that. Unfortunately this gem is ten dollars on Kindle, so it might be a Kindle Unlimited-only sort of indulgence, especially considering the length. Ostensibly this is Part 1, with a heavy implication that Reign may be the focus of the story arc as a whole, so maybe some day we’ll get a cheaper box set.

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, so now you have to, too.

Prologues: Why They Are Bad, And You Are Bad For Liking Them

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Many of you know about my visceral hatred of prologues in novels, and you may be wondering “Hey Madeline, why are you so unhinged about prologues? Seriously, what’s your deal? We’re trying to cut Brenda’s birthday cake in the Kroger break room, not listen to another one of your stupid opinions.” Well I’m glad you asked!

Prologues are a crutch that authors use when creativity and coherent story telling elude them. To see why, let’s take a stroll down my lovingly curated menagerie of prologue archetypes, and point out why they should go away.

Let’s start with the classic “Star Wars Crawl.” These prologues are here to give us essential background information, without which we will be babes adrift on the ocean. You can’t follow Rhalgrar’s motivations without being told ahead of time that Beast Wanderers instinctively hate Rune Casters or whatever. A common theme in this rant o’ mine is that some of these tropes work better in movies, where time is limited and omniscient narrators aren’t really a thing. But in a book you have plenty of time to demonstrate how the Accountant Clan feels about the Actuary Clan and vice versa. Dumping it in a prologue makes me feel like I’m reading a wiki about your universe rather than narrative fiction. Far better to mete out this information through the interactions of the characters as it becomes relevant.

An even worse version of the above is the “Pet World Building” prologue. In these artisanally crafted time wasters, the info dump doesn’t exist as a necessary preamble to get the reader up to speed, but as a place to put all the superfluous world building details our author can’t not tell us about. This is where we learn about far-away lands that do not appear in the narrative, or ancient wars that have no real impact on present events. Sometimes I feel like I’m playing a game of Red Rover, trying to break through pages of geographical and historical descriptions to get to the plot on the other side.

Not all prologues are non-narrative info dumps. Sure, they’re all terrible, but each one is terrible in its own way. One of my least favorite is the “Flash Forward.” Someone is murdered in the opening pages, and then you turn the page to see the words “ten days earlier.” Every time I see this it drains me faster than a fire extinguisher at a gender reveal party, and leaves me in a state of indifference for the next couple of chapters. You just told me there’s been a murder! If you wanted me to care about the protagonist’s struggle to find a babysitter on the weekend, you should have started with that. Instead I already know what the main crisis of at least the first act will be, and I’m just waiting to get there.

Just as bad is the “Flash Back.” The most egregious, and surprisingly common, subcategory of flash back prologues is gratuitous childhood trauma. I’ve read books that kick down the door with rape and child battery in the first few pages, and then pick up the main narrative with the protagonist trying to get a job in an Italian restaurant or pick out an outfit for the school dance. This kind of writing can only have shock value; it’s not going to make me feel anything for the characters, especially since I barely know who they are. If I haven’t had time to care about the victims of abuse first, the abuse is just torture porn. That’s the worst kind of torture, and the third worst kind of porn. Lately I’ve come across some truly awful (i.e. extant) examples of the flash back type, so I’ll showcase a few of those for you now.

Our first example comes from The High Fiving Awesomers: A Vendetta Against High Fives and Awesome, by Mathew P. Barkevich. In the prologue, the author of this very book defends their writing choices to an editor. It’s all very meta, which normally I would enjoy, and it does seem that Barkevich is in on the joke. But it’s not a good sign when you write a fictional editor ripping your writing style to shreds and I end up relating to her more than anyone else in your book. I guess technically she’s not an editor, she’s a partner in the law firm that fires our author insertion MC for writing a legal investigation in the style of a hack writer. In the report that’s in the prologue that’s in the book, someone actually wrote “You’ll see, it’s in my report.” I almost don’t hate it, because it crosses the line twice, or maybe three times, but it’s still a prologue. It still gives us no useful information except that Barkevich can deftly convince us to hate their own prose. I award it zero high fives out of awesome.

“Me and an assortment of people suffering from mental illness and veterans without homes comprise the bulk of library patrons.”

Next, consider The Rogue Among Us by Lou Dittrich. This is a classic example of telling rather than showing. Our perspective character Anne tells us how her relationship is with her step mother. It would have been nice to see that relationship in action, but by the time we see them have any meaningful interactions a few chapters later, there isn’t much to indicate how well they get along. Then Dittrich hits us with the punchline. A “rogue” shows up, and we get a few paragraphs about the story “everybody knows” about hunting the dangerous, savage, and presumably extremely sexy rogues. You know that scene in Atomic Bride Issue Seven where Dr. Scientist says to a room full of other qualified scientists “As you all know, here is how our faster than light technology works.”? This is that trope, but without even the pretext of narrative flow. I’m not trying to be mean. Dittrich didn’t invent this trend, and they’re not wrong to copy ideas that are clearly tolerated by the industry as a whole. They are a victim, just as much a victim as I am for reading this sexy werewolf infodump. Just as much a victim as you are for sitting through the froth-gulleted ravings of an elderly hack with too many opinions.

“Tricia put the tray of food onto my desk and scanned the room attentively before spilling the tea.”

Where was I? Ah, yes. Faking It For the Holidays, by Bethany Monaco Smith. We start out with the old “13 years ago” opener, and see Sam’s perspective as he gets friend zoned in a hay loft. Simp Sam promises never to date the woman he loves because she doesn’t want to ruin their friendship, and I guess he learned early never to value his own feelings or leave a relationship that’s causing him pain. Some guys just can’t take a hint. Mark my words: the first draft of this story involved Sam subordinating his needs to Kaila’s convenience until eventually he snaps and starts posting slurs on Gettr. Lucky for us, Sam gets a reprieve, and it only takes a decade and change. But before you feel bad for him, Sam does make this promise fully hoping that Kaila will someday forget about it. What a winner. This prologue isn’t bad at setting up the characters, assuming Kaila being emotionally oblivious and Sam being a lying weasel was intentional. But it’s still unnecessary. Smith could easily show us that grown-up Sam has been in love with Kaila from afar their whole life. That’s, like, thirty percent of the history of romance novels. You can just paint that one by numbers.

“First we pinky swear on it. Then we exchange our special handshake.”

Lastly, I want to talk about Family Sucks by Jesse Stimpson. I really want to. This one is just a chef’s kiss of bad prologues. Pretty often on this blog I read something so bad that I end up unironically loving it. I don’t know if that adoration comes through when I’m complaining about how this or that author couldn’t successfully complete a census form, but just know that this one is something special. The narrative purpose of this prologue is to set the tone and the danger level, in a world full of vampires. This is accomplished by showing us the gory dismemberment of a cute family out for ice cream. And without spoiling too much, none of these people is terribly important. I don’t think any of them show up again until almost the end of the story, leaving me to wonder for an entire book why Stimpson made me watch some randos get bit up by some vampires in an alley. I would read a chapter, stop, ask myself “did the vampires wait outside the ice cream shop?”, and read another chapter. Then I would stop again and ask “were they, like, the bad vampires? Do we know them?” This is not the feeling most authors want their readers to have, but I have learned to enjoy it, because someone has to. Bottom line, this prologue left me knowing less about the story than if I had just skipped straight to chapter 1.

“There was a sudden splashing sound, like a speed boat cutting through calm waters. Jada’s skirt went from dry to wet.”

So how do we avoid writing prologues, and secure for ourselves the most coveted of accolades: my approval? Show don’t tell is pretty vague advice, but it can certainly help us in this case. If there is something the reader needs to know about the setting, ask yourself why they need to know it. That will give you a clue as to when the information should appear in the narrative. If a character has a tragic backstory, give us a chance to like them before paying the backstory out as it becomes relevant to the story. Are you building to a key plot point? Put it after the rising action so we can get a feel for how important it is. This stuff isn’t always easy, but it will make your writing better. And more importantly, I won’t have to skip the first few pages of your book with an ugly look on my face. Hopefully this explains why I am the way I am. If not, then it would make for a great prologue to the story of my life.

Madeline is right to hate prologues, and you should all be ashamed of yourselves.