Tag Archives: prologues

The Last Analog Summer – and the vexed question of genre

picture of book coverWhat genre does the book fit under? It’s one of the catch-cries of publishing. Where do we put the book on the shelf? Which other books are its peers? That decision isn’t always easy, and Fred Limberg’s The Last Analog Summer is a case study, if you will.

Here’s the blurb

Welcome to Dodge, Iowa. Population: Frustrated. Why? Because it’s a digital dead-zone…a lonely analog island in an ocean of corn.

Old cars, record players, and some radios work okay—but there are no iPods, no internet, no video games or laptop computers, no cell phones, and some days…not much hope, it seems, for kids who’ve visited the big city.

The government insists an ancient magnetic meteorite is buried beneath the town. That’s what fries everything electronic. Uh-huh…right.

And, hey…pay no attention to the razor-fenced tower complex way out there in the corn, guarded by gun-toting camo-dudes. What secret compound? What power surges?

What a bunch of Bullthit!

Kevin, Tandy, and Deke, just graduated, are desperate to get out of Dodge. Trouble is, they’re flat broke and stuck in a bad ‘60’s movie. A mountain of debt looms, as well as a mountain of doubt.

Then Deke stumbles across ‘The Stratocaster’ at a farm auction. It’s old…way old…a pristine sunburst ’57 Strat. And it’s valuable…way valuable. They know immediately it’s their ticket out, a head-start on a real life…of having a chance.

The Last Analog Summer is a coming-of-age thriller—quirky, funny, tender at times, and full of worrisome twists. Kev, Tandy, and Deke desperately try to hang onto the old guitar. If it isn’t the town punk tricking them at the auction, it’s his misguided mom giving it to the radio preacher at WWJD, because, well… that’s what Jesus would do. And just when they have Reverend Diz on board— Ivy and Remy’s antics, which are antagonizing the camo-dudes to no end as they try to finally get some answers about the tower surges, go horribly wrong.

Will it take an Act-of-God, intervention by the mysterious and enigmatic Elston Gunn, or maybe…an all-out invasion by the U.S. Army to get the Stratocaster in their hands, once and for all?

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On the face of it, this is out-and-out YA. After all, a YA book normally has protagonists in their late teens, and the main plot arc is ‘coming of age’. This book shouts all those things.

But wait…

If you said the names Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper , or Ritchie Valens to your average sixteen-year-old, he/she would give you one of those looks. What? Who? But if you’re my age (I’m in my sixties), the songs would play in your head. You might even start to sing the words. If you knew… Peggy Sue… I’ll stop there.

This book commences with a prologue, on that fatal winter’s day when Holly and his mates died in a plane crash. Old farts like me will know the names, know the songs, know about that accident. It’s a brilliant prologue because when it’s finished, the reader knows something the main characters do not, and this fact adds so much to the story of the Stratocaster, which is the star of the show. I found myself thinking, ‘if you only knew’ – rather a lot. Take heed, all those who favour prologues. They’re fine, if they have a real purpose. This one has.

But as they say, that’s not all. The other aspect of this story which takes it over into adulthood, is the town itself. Dodge, Iowa, with its old cars, vinyl records, an all-purpose bar-come-eatery and church on Sundays. The corn is beginning to grow, the water flows around a great, big rock in the creek, where the kids gather to talk and do a bit of skinny-dipping. Kevin angles for a kiss, and hopes for more. School’s finished, so they need jobs. Any kind of job.

Do you remember all that stuff? I do. Maybe not in small-town, middle America, but it wasn’t so very different down in Western Australia when I was growing up. The offset of that, is I appreciate all the modern technology, so I can indulge in a bit of nostalgia, while still understanding how the kids would feel, effectively cut off from their own generation.

So I was well and truly sucked in. The story is told from eighteen-year-old Kevin’s point of view as he wrestles with all those issues of growing up; honesty, trust, sex and doing what’s right. Limberg has drawn all his characters with loving care. You very quickly get a grasp on the teenagers, and their different personalities. The secondary characters are just as real. I could see this story roll out like a movie script. The only people who are a tad two-dimensional are the bad guys, the camo-dudes protecting the Secret of the Tower – but that’s actually okay, because of the way the book is written. That’s what Kevin thinks, who are you, a mere reader, to argue?

This is a terrific story for people of all ages. It would be one real, Goddam shame if the book is tucked away on some shelf labeled ‘YA’. It’s the last place old farts would go and look. Isn’t it? Personally, I’d rather see books put in the adult section. When I was a kid (as in early teens and up), I rarely looked at the kids’ books, I was past them in reading ability, and subject matter. I’m inclined to think that The Last Analog Summer is more likely to appeal to adults, than to teenagers.

Which shelf? I dunno. Is it a mystery? Not really, although there are a few mysterious goings-on. Is it a thriller? No. It’s a lovely little story that brings the past into the present – and in the end, you have to wonder how much has really changed. So… literary fiction, then? Shudder?

I’d love to know what you think.

What is it with prologues?

Should you write a prologue? I don’t know – it’s your story. I can tell you what I think and if that helps, hey – I’m chuffed. But I’ll tell you two things up front – one, I don’t usually like prologues and two, I’ve written one myself.

I don’t usually like prologues because so very often they are used as an opportunity to dump a whole heap of background information on the reader. Or sometimes a prologue is written because the story in chapter one isn’t interesting enough to grab the reader, so the author writes the gory bit first, hoping you’ll read the rest to see how we get there.  I think that’s why agents tend to rail against them and I tend to agree. I often don’t read prologues. I just move on to chapter one.

However, as with all the Rules of Writing, this one has been successfully broken. Jack McDevitt, award winning, best selling science fiction author, ALWAYS has a prologue. The structure of his books tends to be to introduce a mysterious event in the past, which the MC works to understand many years later. So his prologues are usually what happened in the past, which constitutes at least a whole chapter, followed by the real story, where the Mcs try to unravel the mystery. This works well in “Slow Lightning” (“Infinity Beach” in the US) but (for me, anyway) the prologue was just plain irritating in “A Talent for War”. I went back to read the prologue again after I’d finished “A Talent for War”, where it made a bit of sense but it certainly didn’t lead me into reading the book. To be honest, I would not have read past the first page of the prologue if the book hadn’t been recommended by a writing tutor. By the way, after I’d forced myself to read the prologue, I LOVED “Slow Lightning“. It’s a great read.

Given all that, I wrote a prologue myself. It’s in “To Die a Dry Death” and it’s about one page, so at least I kept it short. But why did I feel I needed one at all?

In my case, as a book-end. You will find the answer to the prologue at the end of the novel. I wanted some way of adding a ray of light to what was overall a dark and depressing tale. Feedback indicates it was a good move. Yes, all right, I admit that since I had a prologue I included a few facts that might help the reader understand the background to the story a little better. The test, though, is do you HAVE to read the prologue? Not to read the book, no. But when you get to the final pages you might well flip back to the start to see what you missed.

That said, I avoid writing prologues. Start at chapter one and write your story is my take on it.

What about you? Do you hate prologues or love them? Have you written one yourself? Why?