New Series Entry: Parallel Justice by Susan Herman and more

New Series on dealing with violent loss from Connie Saindon, founder of Survivors of Violent Loss: Parallel Justice by Susan Herman, Poem: I will cry again…, and How to Survive a School Shooting . . .

Survivors of Violent Loss

new series link

New Series entries:  Parallel Justice by Susan Herman, Poem-I will cry again…, How to Survive a School Shooting

Murder Survivors Handbook has been well received across the country and won the Benjamin Franklin Award for Best in Self Help by Independent Book Publishers. A great deal of reading, interviewing, collecting stories and viewing took place to gather information for this book. My premise was that none of us knows it all.  While it would be impossible to capture everything for such a resource book, I was content to give enough variance and links, so each reader would feel less alone and have more information for their new and treacherous journey.

I plan to introduce one of these sources each month.  I will select them in no order but as they come to me.  Each resource is of equal importance as is each homicide. The second in this series…

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The War on Apostrophe

O, the much-embattled apostrophe, whose legacy is under fire in the English language, now faces an even greater, if not farcical, fight in Kazakhstan as folks become apoplectic. Is this apocalyptic? Or merely apocryphal?

“Linguists . . . protested that the president’s approach would be ugly and imprecise.

“Others complained the use of apostrophes will make it impossible to do Google searches for many Kazakh words or to create hashtags on Twitter.”

O, the horror.

Kazakhstan Cheers New Alphabet, Except for All Those Apostrophes


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Holiday Coping Tips

Survivors of Violent Loss

Tips for Handling the Holidays after a Loved One has Died

Don’t be surprised at the power of unexpected pangs of grief, also knows as SUGS (Sudden upsurges of Grief).  Recognize that it is not unusual to re-experience waves of intense sadness.  Find places to have quiet times until these pass.  Keep yourself safe while reducing your expectations. This is not a normal event.  These reactions are NORMAL.

Arrange to be with others who have gone through a similar loss.  Set up times to be with family and friends.  Know that the first year can often be the most difficult. Being with others who know some of what you are going through reduces the need to explain.  You and other co-victims are there to listen to one another.  Limit your contact with difficult people. Don’t let anyone try to convince you that avoidance is bad.

Create new traditions and rituals. Such…

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Larry Edwards Joins Editors Panel at Memoir Writers Event

Larry EdwardsFreelance editor Larry Edwards, of Polishing Your Prose, will join a panel of editors at an event sponsored by the San Diego Memoir Writers Association.

The event, The Who, What, Why, When and How of Working with an Editor, is scheduled for Saturday, November 4, 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. at

San Diego Writers, Ink
2730 Historic Decatur Rd.
Barracks 16, Suite 202 & 204
San Diego, CA 92106

Learn more . . . Larry Edwards Joins Editors Panel at Memoir Writers Association Event, Nov. 4

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News you can use… October 4, 2017

Trigger Warning . . . Violent Loss/Death

Good thoughts. I had a similar “trigger” experience recently while attending “Hamlet” at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. I hadn’t seen the play since before my parents were killed. But with having experienced the trauma of the violent deaths of my parents, the play, its theme, and its message took on much greater depth and meaning.

Survivors of Violent Loss

These news items are being posted on the heels of the worst shooting incident in our country.  This first entry is from  Marina; who is one of the Survivor Writers, in Murder Survivors Handbook and The Journey-learning to live with violent death.  She tells of one example of being triggered, an experience that many of you who have worked or lived with violent death experience in an out of your lives. With this latest incident in Las Vegas, we are adding hundreds who will be triggered in the future as well.

Trigger Warning

This year my husband and I encountered a very problematic situation which took a profound toll on our mental and physical well-being.  We rented a vacation house in the desert in an attempt to restore our peace of mind.  I was on edge when we arrived, so I took a stroll into the spacious back…

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On Writing: The Primrose Path to Prologue

The Prologue Question: To P or not to P?

hamlet.jpgShould one choose to tread the primrose path to prologue, ’tis a dalliance I wish not to rede.*

As a judge for the San Diego Book Awards, I recently read about a dozen novels, some as published books, some as unpublished manuscripts. Most of them had prologues—and in every case of a book with a prologue I lowered the author’s score.

The problem?

These so-called prologues either were not prologues, or they were unnecessary, or they could (should) have been Chapter 1, or they contained background information that could (should) have been disclosed later, in a context within the story that would have been more meaningful to the reader.

In one case, Chapter 1 opened with: Three years earlier. Huh? How can the prologue be a prologue if it occurs three years after the beginning of the story? Open with Three years later maybe, but even then that’s risky. What if the reader didn’t bother with reading the prologue, as is often the case (especially if the book happens to be Russo’s Empire Falls). The reader wonders: Three years later than what?

My comments on the score sheets include:

  • Prologue pointless—not a true prologue.
  • Why have a “prologue” (it’s not) if you repeat it word-for-word in the story on page 4?
  • The prologue is unnecessary; the story would be better were it to begin with Chapter 3.
  • The suspense would have been greater without the prologue, letting the readers learn the background of the sanatorium along with the characters.
  • What you have written is not a prologue. It is an excerpt from the story, well into the plot. Also, it sends the wrong signal to the reader, as if [John Doe] is the central character, but he is not.
  • Reconsider the so-called prologue. Technically speaking, this is not a prologue. Walter Mosley would call this an “Afterward” (yes, spelled correctly)—think Ptolemy Grey. Your “prologue” languishes in needless description. Reduce it to a few poignant words, as noted. Maybe it doesn’t need to be called anything.

Wearing My Editor Hat

editor_larry_edwards.jpgAs an editor, I periodically see prologues, but at that point I can intervene and the prologues can be rewritten or, more appropriately, deleted, before the book is published.

In one case, the prologue merely pulled material from Chapter 81. Again, huh? How is that a prologue? That’s a marketing tool to entice the reader with a particularly dramatic scene, but it more appropriately belongs on the back cover or the flap of the dust jacket, not in a prologue.

Another author had material labeled prologue, but it waddled and quacked like Chapter 1. All that author needed to do was change the heading. Problem solved.

So what? What difference does it make whether it’s called “prologue” or “chapter 1”?

For starters,


They start with—here’s a concept—Chapter 1.

Not Mandatory

It occurs to me that newbie writers believe that a prologue is mandatory, but they can’t figure out what to put in it. How about nothing?

Yet, why would they believe this? I wondered: Is there no guidance available to writers with regard to prologues? Turns out, there is plenty of information and advice, in print and online—some of it better than others. So, I will mention a few of these and include links to what I consider to be the more authoritative ones.

Even so, I find much of that guidance limited, and in a number of cases the adviser often draws on her or his own writing, which at times is not the most exemplary representation.

A Prologue By Any Other Name

A prologue, by definition, means “before” or “preceding” the “words.” It details events that occurred before the story begins, ofttimes decades, centuries, or even millennia earlier.

romeo_juliet.jpgGreek playwrights incorporated looooong prologues in their theatrical works, setting the stage, as it were, for the drama to follow. William Shakespeare followed suit, but he trimmed his prologues to a few minutes, and today’s directors may cut them, or eliminate them entirely. The prologue to Romeo and Juliet, for example (should I dare criticize the master), not only explains what the cautionary tale is about (an “ancient grudge” and “star-cross’d lovers”) IT GIVES AWAY THE ENDING.

Some writers include a prologue in books within a series to provide background information regarding the preceding book or books. That orients the reader and may serve a useful purpose. But, even then, are they wasting paper and ink? Are they wasting the reader’s time?

pride_and_prejudice.jpgJane Austen didn’t need no stinkin’ prologues—although William Dean Howells saw fit to pen a 19-page introduction to the tome in a 1918 reprint of Pride and Prejudice (maybe he saw it as an antidote to insomnia).

Others assert that a prologue can establish the mood of the story. Yawn. A well-written story will establish the mood.

tale_two_citiesThe prologue in Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities has been ballyhooed as a shining example. In case you don’t recall the opening line, it goes like this:

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

It then meanders on for a dozen or so more lines of similar nonsense. Setting aside the “wuzzies” of passive voice: It was telling. It was not showing. It was soooooo 19th century. (Maybe Chuck never bothered reading Jane.)

At least it’s short, and a few lit students might actually read beyond the first line. By comparison, the prologue in Richard Russo’s Empire Falls drones on for thirteen and half pages of soporific pablum. Not only that, it’s in italics, making it even more challenging to read. Sheesh. Enough already. No wonder prologues get a bad rap.

As the saying  goes, “Kill your darlings.”

Anyone Doing It Well?

rollins_devil_colonyJames Rollins, author of a series of historical novels, has been singled out as having effective prologues. In The Devil Colony, for example, he has a three-and-a-half page prologue (although he does not label it as such) that depicts a scene from “Autumn 1779, Kentucky Territory.” Chapter 1 begins with “Present Day,” more than 200 years later.

turlow_presumed_innocentScott Turlow, in the legal thriller Presumed Innocent, incorporates a one-and-a-half page “Opening Statement,” which serves as a prologue. But he does not use the device in all of his books.

 wambaugh_floatersJoseph Wambaugh, in Floaters, has a three-page prologue comprising a scene that lays the foundation for the story to come, similar to what Rollins does. But, like Turlow, he does not use this device in all of his books.

mosley_ptolemy_grayAs noted earlier, Walter Mosley, in  The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, turns the prologue concept on its head, beginning the book with what he calls the “Afterward” (not “Afterword,” which comes at the end of a book). It’s a letter written by the central character after the story ends. Risky? Yes, but Mosley is a brilliant enough writer to pull it off. The letter raises a number of questions, which are answered by the words that follow.

Include a prologue only if there is a story reason for it.

Why Not?

elmore_ten_rulesElmore Leonard, an author I respect more than most, famously offered up his 10 Rules of Writing. Rule #2 is:

Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying. . . . A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about.

Brian A. Klems, the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine, responded to a writer who asked: When should a prologue be used?

           A prologue is used when material that you want to include in the opening is out of time sequence with the rest of the story. . . . It’s used only to explain key information that doesn’t follow the time flow of the rest of your book. So if your “prologue” doesn’t fit this criterion, either cut it or change it to Chapter 1.

The folks at Scribendi say:

Prologues can be boring. Also, people admit to regularly skipping the prologue. . . . However, the main reason for not writing a prologue is that, in most cases, it simply isn’t necessary.

Lital Talmor says:

Unnecessary prologues are a dangerous lot: at best they are ignored, at worst they turn the reader off.

If there is no story reason for a prologue, leave it out.

If You Do, Make It Meaningful

Soooo . . . if, after serious mulling and thoughtful consideration, you conclude that your book needs a prologue, then make it meaningful to the reader so you’re not wasting his or her time with needless self-indulgence.

What does a meaningful prologue look like? I cite the Rollins and Turlow examples, and there are others. Are they necessary? Can those stories stand alone, without the prologue? You’ll have to judge that for yourself. However, note that neither Rollins nor Turlow actually labeled those sections as prologues.

And keep it short. Please.



* rede, verb: to give counsel to :  advise—as in Ophelia’s “primrose path” speech in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

This blog originally appeared in The Kinder Muse Newsletter, September 2017.

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Winner, 2017 San Diego Book Awards

moonshine_cover_500px.jpgI am gratified to announce that I took first place in the Best Unpublished Short Story category at the San Diego Book Awards ceremony on June 10. I won with By the Light of the Moon, a story about a moonshiner suspected of murder.

Tracker-Web-3d-Print.jpggetting_rid_of_ianAlso, Pennie James, one of the authors in my writing group, won in the Best Published Memoir category with Getting Rid of Ian: A Memoir of Poison, Pills, and Mortal Sins, and Indy Quillen, an author I work with, was a finalist in the Best Published Mystery category with her mystery/suspense novel Tracker.

This is the third time I have taken top honors in the annual competition, having won for Best Unpublished Memoir in 2012 and Best Published Memoir in 2014 with Dare I Call It Murder?—A Memoir of Violent Loss. In addition, a number of authors I have worked with as an editor and publishing consultant have taken top honors in the SDBA and other awards competitions.

Congratulations to all the other winners and finalists in the 2017 San Diego Book Awards. I fully appreciate the thrill that comes with being praised for the gut-churning, soul-searching hours, days, weeks, months, and years that go into completing a finished work, whether it be a short story, poem, or full-length book manuscript.

And a heartfelt “Thank You!” to SDBA president Jean Forsythe and her fellow board members—and their panel of judges—for the selfless hours they have dedicated to keeping this program going.

Lastly, for those of you who have asked where you can read By the Light of the Moon, I have submitted it for publication and am keeping my fingers crossed. If, and when, it is accepted for publication, I will let you know.


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