Help Me Decide: To Prologue or Not to Prologue?

I’m stuck on whether or not to use a prologue for my book. Maybe you can help me decide by taking the following two single question polls.

My first question for you: Do you ever read the prologue to a book?

Now, to get more specific. Should I put the following information in a prologue or in the first chapter? Before taking the poll, here’s some information and excerpts to help you understand the decision I need to make.

The following is my prologue. I can’t decide if I should leave it as a prologue or make it the introductory paragraphs for the first chapter. The reason I have it separate for now is because the first chapter is actually a flashback to when my main character is a child.

Here’s the prologue:

Newman got up from his desk and stretched. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been at it, but sometime during his studying and writing, the sun had come up.

He twisted and rubbed his neck as he walked into the living room. He stopped when the bloodstains on the window frame caught his attention. He shifted his gaze to the stains on the grey damask sofa and then up to the ceiling, zooming in on the bullet hole.

Most days now, he could pass by without noticing these reminders of his past. It had been five years. He knew some people thought it strange he never patched the hole or removed the stains. But he didn’t want to forget where he’d come from – what he was saved from.

Shhh, man, I wish I could put all that in this sermon, he thought as he made his way into the kitchen.

Back at his desk with a fresh glass of water, he tried to get back to work. If I did tell that story, they’d probably kick me out of the church. He looked at the giant sticky note papers on the paneled wall to review the outline and thoughts he’d worked up so far for Sunday’s message. The title of the sermon was written in bold blue marker – From the Pit to the Palace. Lord, I want them to know you didn’t just do that for Joseph. You did that for me.

A few minutes later, he was thinking of another Bible passage. It was one he wasn’t planning to use in that week’s sermon. Am I my brother’s keeper? He pressed his fingers to his eyes to take away the sting of tears and hold them back.

After several more attempts to focus, he closed his Bible. He switched documents on the computer to work on the book instead. The truth has got to come out. There’s been too many lies. I’m tired of people not even knowing my real name. The feds already know I don’t want their protection from those in my past. And I’m tired of worrying about protecting my secret from those in my present. Twenty years has been long enough. His stomach churned as he started typing.

And here’s how the first chapter currently begins:

1 LITTLE MAN LEARNS THE HUSTLE

He was shy until he learned he could hustle. When he was a child, it was just a game. He never imagined it would become a game of life and death.

Newman “Little Man” Barton was known for walking the streets of his neighborhood with a newspaper or two under his arm. People said, “If you want to know what’s going on, ask Little Man. He’s always in that paper.” He also had a reputation for being charming and helpful. Newman’s love for the newspapers and his desire to be of assistance were traits instilled in him by his mother.

. . . He strolled along on his own more often than with his mother these days. The old heads on the bench outside the convenience store usually asked him to run inside and grab something for them. Honey buns were their favorite. They’d let him keep the change for his effort.

From there, he’d head over to the barbershop. It was just one of the places he was often called upon to help settle a bet by answering questions about the latest news or sports stats. The men always got a kick out of him being able to answer almost any question in the deep voice which had earned him his nickname.

“Hey, Little Man, how many field goals did Dr. J attempt last night against the Boston Celtics?”

“Dr. J was 10 of 25 from the field last night,” he’d answer with his broad, whole-face smile. That smile would usually make its way from his thick, broad lips into his cheekbones, causing them to round up toward his brown eyes, which in turn squinted almost shut … but not so much that the smile wasn’t still radiating out of them as well.

“Heh, I told you. Now, pay up,” the winner of the bet would chuckle to the loser. When the money was handed over, Newman was given his cut and he moved along to the next spot on his run. Making his hustle with the newspaper was one of his favorite childhood activities. Besides the fun of it all, he was glad he could bring home money to his mother who was struggling to raise six children without the support of a father in the home.

So, what do you think? Should I leave this as is or change it?

Thanks for your input.

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Why a Writer Needs Solitude

When your writing gets interrupted.

When your writing gets interrupted.

Experts say it takes 20 minutes to refocus after a work interruption. I’d say that figure at least doubles when it comes to writing. In a previous post, I wrote about my hesitation to ask for help getting the time I need to finish the book I’m writingBut, I’m getting desperate for two reasons:

  1. I’m SO close to finishing the complete first draft of this amazing story. I’ve been saying for weeks, “I should have it done by this weekend.”
  2. After I get the draft finished, I want to travel to the city in which the story took place to do a last bit of research and some interviews. BUT … I have to get the draft finished first … sigh.

Purposely Not Meeting My Self-Imposed Writing Deadline

I once reblogged a great article entitled “The Rush To the End Syndrome.” That was a little over a year ago, so I guess I avoided the pitfall the article warned about – failing to create a strong ending to your story because of the impulse to just get the writing project done.

This week, however, I almost fell into the trap again. I had five days off work, so I was determined to finish up my book … well, finish up the complete first draft of the manuscript. I was so excited to be this close and couldn’t wait to dig in. But then … life interrupted. A surprise visit from out of town family. An unplanned guest one evening. A few hiccups that sent me down the rabbit hole of research – again.

Still, I was working my night owl super powers to the max (I can go with very little sleep for quite a few days) in an effort to meet my goal. After finding myself, for about the third time, contemplating ways to “condense” the final three scenes I went back to the article about rushing the end. I’m glad I did.

As another blogger who found the article helpful said, “We all suffer through the urge to tie it up at one point or another. Resist and you’ll have an ending worthy or your story.”

I’m banking on that as I readjust my goal. Thankfully, I have the same work schedule this coming week. Barring any life interruptions, I hope to have the complete first draft of the manuscript done by NEXT weekend.

Pushing Aside My Pride to Make Sure His Story Is Told

My Novel Project by Lisa Womble

I am a terrible fundraiser. I simply hate asking for money. For this reason, I have never taken a salary for the full-time work I do for our church plant. I just couldn’t raise funds for my own pay when the ministry needed the support. Almost two and a half years ago, I drew up plans to start a crowdfunding campaign for the book I’m writing (lacking a paycheck greatly hinders my ability to travel for the last leg of research I need to do).

But two days ago, I swallowed my pride and finally pushed the button on the campaign. As I’ve written before, I simply must get this book done as soon as possible. The friend I’m writing about has lived under an assumed name for over two decades and it’s time for him to reveal the truth about his life. He desires to do so in order to more effectively help others escape from the kind of life he used to lead. I’m honored that he’s asked me to help him tell his story. And now I’m asking if you would like to help, too.

The Go Fund Me campaign I’ve created offers rewards for this who choose to give to the project. Each reward level helps donors become increasingly more involved in the process to get this book written, published and promoted. I look forward to working with all who come along side me to get this story told. I am convinced many will be blessed by the book and by my friend’s ability to finally share how God brought him out of the “slimy belly of the underworld.”

To check out my Go Fund Me page and see the rewards I’m offering, click here or on the icon in the sidebar of this blog. And please, feel free to share with others. Your prayers will also be appreciated.

1 Question Poll for Readers of Fiction and Creative Nonfiction and an Excerpt from My Book

Author James Patterson says, “I try to leave out the parts people skip.” Of course, I read this just after finishing a section in my book where I narrate the same scene twice – once as my main character’s wife (girlfriend at the time) saw it and then again from his point of view. I did this to show the different mindset each had at the time and also how that mindset determined which details of the event stay in their memory. I found it quite fascinating, but Patterson’s advice has me second-guessing my decision. I know, too, that we writers often fall in love with our own words and fail to cut things that are of no interest to the reader. So, I thought I’d throw the question out to you. Do you/would you enjoy reading the same scene twice from different perspectives? (I’ve included an excerpt from the scene in question below the poll if you want to read that before answering.)

BOOK EXCERPT

Note: Names and other identifying information has been blacked out since the true identity and location of the main character will not be revealed until the book is published.

She said:

The day I finally found out everything about TEXT HERE‘s past began as just another one of those times when he was being evasive and turning my questions back on me. I was still asking the simple question, “What’s your real name?”

He gave one of his standard put-off question-answers, “Where you think I come from?”

But this time, I wasn’t in the mood for his games, so I told him, “I think you’re in the Witness Protection program or something.”

He went silent for a second and took a step back. Then he asked, “What makes you say that?”

“Because you’re insanely fanatical about your privacy. You have all these rules about what I can and can’t know, where we can and can’t go together, and what I can and can’t do with you. I know you’re dealing drugs. All the time, you’re leaving me alone all night and I don’t even know where you are. I’m sure that must be the kind of thing you were doing in your past life, too. I get worried sick. I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”

“You’re right. TEXT HERE is not my real name,” he said, and started pulling out pictures of his former life in TEXT HERE. That was interesting and all, but it still didn’t really tell me who he was. Eventually, he said, “I tell you what. I’m going to leave, but I want you to look this over.” He got out a cream-colored photo album he had not shown me yet. “You should also search the Internet for the name TEXT HERE from TEXT HERE while I’m gone. There will be a lot of news articles to read over, besides the ones in this album, so take your time and go through it before I come back.”

As he was leaving, he asked if I would swear to secrecy what I was about to find out. I said I would. I was honored that he had finally entrusted me with the information he had guarded so fiercely. I kind of liked the idea that I would be the only person in TEXT HERE who knew his secrets. But, when I read those articles, the gut wrenching part of it was finally realizing that I didn’t know TEXT HERE at all. He was a figment of my imagination. A made up character out of some book.

Dealing with him was so exhausting day in and out. He never wanted to spend holidays with my family or me. It hurt to think he was always with that other family during those times. I took some comfort in thinking he was our little secret. I wore that like a badge of honor, until I found out later I was one of several people he had told some portion of his story to.

It was a weird situation and we had a strange relationship. It was like he held me to the highest expectation of loyalty and faithfulness but I dared not hold him to the same standard. All I can say is that I was a young girl with no self-respect. I could not see my own potential. I thought this was just how life was.

#

He Said:

I remember vividly the day TEXT HERE came to my house on TEXT HERE Lane. This was a different house than the one we lived in together. I told her to meet me there because I needed to see her. Prior to her arrival, I was in deep meditation over my real life and the great affection I had for TEXT HERE. I really cared about her and trusted her, but I felt a deep guilt because I was living a lie. She didn’t even really know me. She had stole my soul and I wanted to advance our relationship. But before we did, I had to be honest with her about my past.

I was so tired of lying. I needed someone to accept me for me, so I was ready to tell her regardless of the consequences. I cried so bad before she got there because I wanted to be free and the pureness of her life and personality had made me begin to believe I could be.

I made the decision to tell her after calling my surrogate mother, TEXT HERE. I said, “I must tell this girl who I really am. If something would happen to her while she’s dealing with me … or if she put either me or her in danger because she’s unaware, I wouldn’t want to blame her. And I wouldn’t want her to blame me. Plus, I want someone I can trust to call my family if I get killed while running the streets here in TEXT HERE.” Mom had been saying I should tell her even before this, so she encouraged me to do it.

Once TEXT HERE got there, I started by describing different situations and asking her would she still deal with me if I done those sort of things. We was in my living room and I started showing her pictures of me from my past life, just to see how she would react and what questions she would have. At first, she asked simple questions, like how was I surrounded by so many celebrities and what my real name was. I was surprised when she finally said something about thinking I was in Witness Protection, but I thought, “Okay, now she’s ready to hear the rest.”

I took her into my office and showed her some of the newspaper articles about the organization I had been in and the trial. After telling her the so-called good part of my life (drug dealing, fame, fortune), I told her the story of my best friend TEXT HERE, and how much I loved and missed him. I explained that I had revenged his death and that’s what led me here to TEXT HERE. Then I told her that I was separated from my family because of that.

She had a look of bewilderment but she still seemed okay. She said, “I don’t care. That’s not bad. You’re good now, getting your life together. It’s no big deal.” That’s when I told her I wanted her to read some things, because I felt she didn’t understand. I must not have explained things fully. I reached in the file cabinet and pulled out my documents from the Witness Protection Program. They had all the information about the crimes I committed and so forth. I left the room. I was scared but it felt so good to finally tell someone everything about my life. It really didn’t matter if she accepted me or not, because it felt so good just telling her and handing someone else those documents.

I went back in the room later and asked her, “Now do you see who I am?” She acted like she was not fazed! I then told her all the details that wasn’t in the articles and paperwork. She stood there listening, showing no emotion. Like a judge, I thought. I was shaking inside, but it felt like I was in a Catholic confession booth being cleansed. Like a faucet turning on, the water of my story was running out my mouth and I didn’t stop until it was all drained.

She was not shaken afterwards. She hugged me and made me feel like she accepted me. I cried and, for the first time on this journey, I felt a sense of freedom.

I gave her the option to leave me, but she said not to worry about that. I felt she didn’t fully grasp what I had revealed, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was I finally let it all out.

Let me tell you about a few of my writing friends’ projects …

As you may have read previously, I go on an annual writing retreat with a few of my friends. It started with a group of four in 2012. It has been fun watching their works progress throughout the time we’ve been together. We’ve had some new friends join us more recently. They’ve added to the excitement and motivation of the event (as well as to follow-up discussions on a private Facebook page we share).

I’m happy to share the most recent publications of two of these friends.

Mombarded: A Devotional JourneySusan Lawrence has a new book out called Bombarded: A Devotional Journey. Susan was the more experienced writer in the group our first year, so she has many other resources as well. I have so appreciated her patience and encouragement to us newbies over the years. (I’m also thankful she’s willing to share from her stockpile of candles when I burn through mine in my all night writing sessions.) Susan is a beautiful woman of God with a heart full of joy and a countenance of peace that is contagious. You can find more information on Susan and her writings here.

 

Across the Miles by Rhonda JamesRhonda James joined our retreat for the first time this year. Like Susan, she was already a published author. I had the privilege of seeing her work with great passion on the final phase of her new book Miles Apart. She stays with her characters and story throughout the process (even in her dreams) in a way I had never witnessed. Rhonda is a sweet and fun-loving Christian woman. I enjoyed our time with her and look forward to getting to know her better. You can learn more about Rhonda and get a copy of her new book here. The page of her website I chose to share says the book is due out in June, but of course she finished before deadline. Still, it has a great excerpt from the book I thought you would enjoy.

Seeing their work in print has motivated me, so I’m off to my writing cave. I do believe I will have the complete draft of my book finished by mid-summer. Here’s to the joy of writing, and to the joy of knowing these wonderful writers.

 

A Hint of Life, but Death Is Still in the Background

Reflections from time with God at Zion UCC Labyrinth, Florissant, MO

Reflections from time with God at Zion UCC Labyrinth, Florissant, MO

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” Psalm 27:13-14 (NKJV)

This scripture kept going through my mind after my sister’s death (Janell Joy Bartz, June 5, 1966 – September 19, 2012). Two weeks after her passing, I plugged earphones into my digital Bible to help feed myself the Word at a time I was not feeling prone to read it. I thought it might help me get to sleep (another thing I was not prone to do at that time). Later in the night, I woke up at the exact moment this passage was being read.

A few days later, I was at a labyrinth that I go to for prayer walks. Before going onto the prayer path, I sat on a bench for a while. A line of trees surrounds the labyrinth. I noticed a purple flower bud (Janell’s favorite color) on one near me. For a brief moment, I was comforted. Then, almost immediately, I noticed the very next tree in line behind it was already browning for fall and the coming winter. I thought, “A hint of life, but death is still in the background.”

When I got to the center of the labyrinth and stopped for contemplation, the dead tree was directly in front of me and I became overwhelmed. You see, Janell’s death was preceded just a week prior by the death of a 22 year old cousin who died in a car accident. That death alone had been very difficult to take, not only because he was so young, but also because it was yet another tragedy in my family which has a long history of young deaths, and violence and many forms of chaos and heartbreak.

While standing there, staring at the dead tree, I also thought of the many people I was praying for who were dealing with depression, and addictions and … well, many forms of chaos and heartbreak. For many of them, I had been praying a long time.

At that moment, the only prayer I could muster was, “Lord, I need to see someone overcome! To continue to believe it’s possible.”

Then, I remembered the meeting I’d had just that morning (how soon we forget) with the friend I am partnering with to write his life story. His is a story of someone redeemed from the worst of life’s circumstances. It is a story of true transformation that can only be brought about by the power of Christ.

I was gently reminded by God that there are many stories of redemption and transformation out there. And there are more to come. I WILL see the goodness of the Lord – in the land of the living. All of our hope is not just found “in the sweet by and by.” We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to see the heaven’s move on our behalf. There is still hope for deliverance, here among the living, even when death is seemingly mocking us in the background.

Scapegoat – an excerpt from my book

As promised in my previous post, On Writing the Grisly Scenes of My Friend’s Former Life, here’s an excerpt from the book.

The narrator of this scene is the book’s main character, Newman. He’s landed himself in prison, along with the men rumored to have a hit out on him. Newman’s best friend, Benz, has already been murdered. Denying they ordered the hit and trying to convince Newman they’re all on the same team, they’ve pledged to help him find Benz’s killer.

We went back to J-Mack’s cell and devised a plan to interrogate Lester. We’d press him about who killed Benz. I knew what pressing him meant; this dude was in some serious trouble. I also knew motherfuckin’ well he didn’t have anything to do with Benz’s death. But this was my out. Lester was a fallen lamb who got caught in the middle of the situation and was being used by both sides.

It didn’t bother me much. The guy was being a thug with DJ, so I figure he had something coming. I was okay with the fact that, at least for today, he was the dead man walking and not me. Continue reading