Sunday, October 25, 2009

Your Preface: What is it; when to write it

Copyright 2009, Aaron Paul Lazar

According to the dictionary, a preface is “an introduction to a book which typically states its subject, scope, or aims.”

That's as opposed to a foreword, which is traditionally written by someone other than the author.

Naturally, if you want to address some of the plot elements without spoiling the story, you’d best write an “afterward.”

Have you ever written a preface? Do you remember any particular favorites from books or authors you love?

When I wrote my first two books back in the 2001 era, I didn’t consider a preface. In hindsight, I wish I had.

There’s so much behind each book that was documented only through interviews and columns appearing after the mysteries were released. I wish I’d had those facts tidily catalogued with the books themselves. But alas, I’ll have to wait until we re-release them in 2012.

For example, I wrote Double Forte’ as a tribute to my father, a music professor who had just died. I based Gus LeGarde largely on his character, and although Gus morphed and changed along the way, the novel was a testimony to my father that I should have documented. Of course, I dedicated the book to him and every loved one in my life, as well as to my dedicated team of editors and beta readers. That helps.

Upstaged came after haunting the back of the auditorium during my daughter Melanie’s thirteen musicals and plays in high school. All of the color, teenage angst, drama, and excitement had to be released from my brain and documented. I couldn’t keep it inside. And I wish I’d told readers a bit about that history.

With Tremolo: cry of the loon, I finally woke up. I felt the need to explain to my readers about the source of the story elements and people within the pages. I wanted them to know that Tremolo came from my childhood and family, and that Gus’s father and Oscar Stone were actually testimonies to my family as well.

Preface (Tremolo: cry of the loon)

If you’ve ever stayed at a lakeside camp, you’ll understand my fascination for the Belgrade Lakes of Maine, where I spent many childhood vacations. Tremolo whirls with nostalgic memories from that era, based on some of the happiest times of my youth.

The word "tremolo" describes the laughter of loons. It's a lovely yodel that cascades over the lake, rippling the waves with enchanted song. But the bewitching loon’s laugh is actually a distress call, often heard if humans come too close to their nests. Danger stalks young Gus and his friends in this novel; thus, Tremolo: cry of the loon seemed an appropriate title for this lakeside coming-of-age mystery.

Tremolo’s mysteries are founded in pure fantasy. Thank God. I wouldn't have enjoyed being chased through the woods by a drunken murderer at age eleven, or at any age. And wouldn’t my life be a rather fearsome thing, if all my fictional villains were based on reality?

There are some events, however, that jump right from my childhood–such as the "bat" scene. I'll always remember my dad running around the living room in his boxers with a butterfly net, chasing a trapped and confused bat while I cowered behind my bedroom door. Or the time he took me to see "To Kill a Mockingbird." I distinctly remember sitting in the dining room after the movie, when he turned his forearm in the sunlight and said how lovely it would be to have golden brown skin, like Tom Robinson.

Dad was like that. Passionate and liberated, he embraced all people and welcomed life’s full gamut of experiences. And guess what? He was quite a bit like the man Gus becomes in the LeGarde Mystery Series.

The lake, cabins, buildings, boats, loons, and the swing were real. The horses I knew as a child, but not in Maine. That's one of the attractions of writing fiction–to be able to summon sublime scenes from childhood, decorate them, combine them in any fashion, and populate one's books with them.

The words from Oscar Stone’s slide show in chapter thirty-nine are based on writings found in my maternal grandfather's papers, the man who inspired Oscar’s character. In addition to being a fine pianist and devoted husband, he was a gifted photographer.

I'll never forget those sun-drenched days in Maine. I still dream about them and summon the memories when life gets tough. Magic was there, and although the camp has long been torn down and replaced with condos, it remains alive and will forever endure in my mind.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoy this romp through Gus's childhood.

Aaron Paul Lazar, April 2007

When do you write a preface? Before you start?

Absolutely not!

You know how a book can transform during its creation. Twists and turns you never anticipated frequently arrive on your story’s doorstep to surprise and delight you. And sometimes that ending you imagined drops away and a whole new scene takes its place.

So, wait until your job is done. When the book is polished and almost ready to go, reflect on the process and content and if you wish, share some secrets with your dear readers.

When my recent release, Mazurka was almost ready to go, I decided it needed a few words of introduction, too. I wanted my readers to understand the originas of my passion for Europe, and why I had such a burning desire to beat up some Nazis.

Preface (Mazurka)

In 1986 I accepted an engineering assignment for Kodak in their Mülhausen manufacturing plant nestled in the Schwäbian Albs of West Germany. I settled with my wife, three baby daughters, and in-laws in the charming town of Denkendorf, near Stuttgart. We soon fell in love with the village and its people, and the affair changed our lives, fostering a passion for all things European.

Every other weekend my wife and I took road trips to Switzerland, France, Austria, or outlying areas of Germany while my in-laws babysat. We pioneered through cities in advance, creating maps of places to stay, dine, and tour. Then, on alternate weekends, I cared for my daughters while my wife treated her parents to the same trips wed completeda perfect arrangement.

I can still feel the mist from the waterfalls of the Schwarzwald, taste croissants in the Parisian cafés, and imagine frost on my breath while cross-country skiing at the base of the Eiger Mountain in Switzerland. Most vibrant is the memory of the glacial green water in the Plansee, an Austrian lake that still beckons. Life was good, and we were blessed with this exotic adventure before our world crumbled with numerous heartaches to follow.

My love for Chopin encouraged the historic link with the great master. Im mad about his mazurkas, nocturnes, waltzes and more, admittedly influenced by my father and grandfathers passion for his work. And although theres no seed of truth in this fanciful story, I enjoyed studying his past and relating it to Guss travels in Europe.

When my daughter Melanie performed in The Diary of Anne Frank, my hatred for Nazis deepened. So, I threw in a few of the worst villains I could imagine. Its not surprising that they became neo-Nazis.

Since then, the visions, tastes, aromas, and tantalizing details of Europe branded in my brain have begged to be released. And although in this book Ive strayed only temporarily from East Goodland where the LeGarde family resides, I felt compelled to transport Gus, Camille, and Siegfried to Europefor at least one visit.

Thanks for supporting the LeGarde Mysteries and for your allegiance. I pray you enjoy this romp through Europe.

Auf Wiedersehen,

Aaron Paul Lazar, 2009

Sometimes it’s important to address topics you’ve incorporated with a little bit of fantastical twisting. For example, in the above preface, I wanted to explain in no uncertain terms that master Chopin did not have a steamy affair with Gus’s ancestors.

And in books to come, such as Firesong (August 2010), I need to explain that the links to the underground railroad in Gus’s hometown are loosely based on theories of possible routes of escape wending through Western New York. In my current WIP, I’ll need to clarify and possibly apologize for screwing with the history of Groveland, New York. When I go to great lengths to discover that the Tory ambush that happened just down the road from Gus’s house was actually a set-up, the local historians might get a wee bit flustered. So, explanations in advance can be a good thing. And save you from angry petitioners.

Just recently, I was working on the final polishes for Healey’s Cave: a green marble mystery, featuring Sam Moore (April, 2010). I realized I needed to “talk” to my readers to share the motivation for suddenly abandoning Gus LeGarde and his family to begin this new series. I explained that Gus will continue, and that I never anticipated a whole NEW series would arise from an off-hand comment my wife made.

Preface (Healey’s Cave)

I blame this book on my wife.

I was minding my own business, wrapping up the fifth novel in the LeGarde Mystery series, when she turned to me and said, “You need to write a book from the killer’s point of view.”

I laughed out loud. I’d always written in first person, from a man whose character was diametrically opposed to villains. He was a good man, a man I admired and wanted to share with the world. Sure, he had his faults, but how could I switch from that kind of mindset to the inner thoughts of a killer?

Dale reads Stephen King and James Patterson. She loves psychological thrillers and even a little horror. Not like me with my relatively wholesome mysteries that skirt around the gruesome details of murder.

I put aside the thought until shortly thereafter, while rototilling my garden, I unearthed a green marble, a cat’s eye. I held it in my hand and wondered about the little boy or girl who lost it. I imagined how neat it would be to hold the marble tight in my hand and have it whisk me back in time to the boy’s life. I’d be able to see what he saw, walk beside him, and maybe witness some horrible crime. And what if the villain were still alive today? What if he was my next-door neighbor?

That was all it took to dislodge me from the LeGarde Mysteries for a few months. With my wife’s urging, I gave into the desire to create a new world. I didn’t expect it to turn into another series. But it did.

This is book one in the green marble series, otherwise known as Moore Mysteries. And yes, I blame my wife for the whole thing.

Aaron Paul Lazar

Now that I’ve analyzed my own prefaces, I realize exactly what they are: a vehicle for me to take my reader’s hand, look into his or her eyes, and tell her what burning secrets I need to share about each particular “child” (er, book).

Think about the books you’ve written or plan to write. What will you want to tell your readers before they begin page one?

Or will you want your book to stand on its own, mysterious in its beginnings and influences? Will those secrets go to the grave with you?

In some cases, perhaps they should. ;o)


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at and and watch for his upcoming release, HEALEY’S CAVE, coming in 2010.


Marta Stephens said...

Interesting post. There are all kinds of pros and cons about writing a preface. Thanks for sharing your views.

s.w. vaughn said...

Cool! I think prefaces are good to have for some kinds of stories, especially when there's a 'story behind the story' like you have. :-) Stephen King is big on prefaces too.

They're not my style, but that's because I am a shy, withering type who'd rather not put too much of myself out in front of an audience besides all the bits of me I've already laid bare in my writing. lol

Kim Smith said...

I didn't know this about prefaces. I thought they were only used by non-fiction writers to get a thought in there before diving into the subject matter. I looked in the front of several of the books I have near me and not a one has a preface.

You may be starting a trend Aaron!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hello, Ladies. Thanks for your comments! You know, I didn't write any of these prefaces with the idea that one "should or shouldn't" do it, or even thinking about whether it was appropriate or expected... I just had to connect with my readers and tell them stuff. So I did! LOL.