Tuesday, August 14, 2007


"To avoid having this book hurled into corner of the room by the suspicious reader, I will assert in time that this is not a newspaper story. You will encounter no shirt-sleeved, omniscient city editor, no prodigy "cub" reporter just off the farm, no scoop, no story--no anything.

But if you will concede me the setting of the first scene in the reporters' room of the Morning Beacon, I will repay the favor by keeping strictly my promises set forth above." -- O. Henry, No Story

I've always loved the way O. Henry started off this piece by deliberately making a pact with his reader. I will not hand you a lot of cardboard characters, he says, and you will forgive me for setting this in a place that breeds them. It's also a kind of warning to those readers who do expect the omniscent city editor-cub reporter-scoop sort of story: this, O. Henry says upfront, isn't it.

I remembered the O. Henry piece when I noticed that Kensington's Aphrodisia line has an easy-to-read caption on the back cover of their novels, right above the ISBN box that reads WARNING! This is a REALLY HOT book. (Sexually Explicit). I don't understand the last two words. Would we presume that REALLY HOT meant something else, like high-temperature, or stolen?

We've already done our own riff on warning labels, but if we could still get away with opening a novel by making a pact with the reader, I could imagine restarting a few of my stories, like so:

"To avoid having you waste $7.99 on this science fiction novel, please be advised that it does contain a continuing subplot icky romance between the protagonist and her lover, a character pretty much everyone hates. To you romance readers who have bravely jumped over the genre fence, I will not kill off Reever in this book or in the next, no matter how many times you e-mail me."

"To prevent you from having a hissy fit, I will assert that this is not a romance, was never a romance, and will never be a romance. I am not responsible for my publisher's erroneous marketing decisions, especially those I advised against, in the most vigorous language, many times. They told me to shut up and write books. P.S. You will encounter realistic relationships between characters who have serious flaws, but there is no happy ending, either. Deal with it."

"To knock you on your ass because you haven't a clue, this novel was ghost-written by me. What can I say, they offered me a pittance and I jumped at the chance to work. Starvation makes one do many strange things. I know all the starred reviews and stellar writeups this book got are upsetting, but we can pretend that I didn't write it. That way no one will ever know you gave me five stars for this when you swore you'd trash every book I write for eternity."

What sort of pact opening would you make with your reader?


  1. "To avoid copious reams of hate mail, please understand this book contains an environmentalist villain. He doesn't love nature so much as he hates people. He's happy to kill any and every one of them who gets in his way. He'll even kill fluffy bunnies if the need arises. So, if you think you can stand it, read away. If not, please put this book back on the shelf. Go buy something kinder and gentler. Whatever you do, please don't write to tell me what an evil person I must be."

  2. Anonymous10:18 AM

    "Dear Reader,

    While I do realize that this book is shelved in the fantasy section of your local book-buying establishment, and does indeed have the word 'Fantasy' on the spine, I must take a moment to inform you that it is not, categorically, a 'Fantasy Novel'. The book in your hands is indeed Horror. And Crime. And a Thriller. Perhaps even Literary. Regardless of an applied label, it is*extremely* violent. There are no dragons, no elves, no dwarves, and no grand epic journey to save the world. In fact, it's a story about an old man and a teenage boy facing some very, very bad things, usually involving corpses and copious amounts of gore. It is not my place to judge what label applies but to warn sensitive readers that a strong stomach may be required. However, should you be up to the task, this novel is indeed a page-turner and may haunt your dreams for some time to come.

    Oh, yes, one more thing. Not everyone survives. So please don't expect them to."

  3. I will do my best to write honest fiction and to write the best book I can.

  4. To the unprepared reader, I offer this warning:

    Between the twin ends of this book are pages filled with thousands upon thousands of words. If you purchase this book, you will have to read them to get any enjoyment out of it at all. This is the pact that I have entered into with you. For my part, I have written all of these words and laid them out accordingly. All you must do is process them one at a time. If you are unwilling or unable (which would beg another question) put this book down immediately and move on. Your money will be wasted. However, should you rise to the occasion, you will, at the very least, arrive at the end of this tale with the knowledge of the story within; I guarantee it. Whether you enjoy it or not is an altogether other matter.

  5. Between these two covers you will find all sorts of bits and pieces. There will be pieces of prose and pieces of poetry. There are funny bits and scary bits and thoughtful bit and maybe even naughty bits. This has been written for your enjoyment, what you make of it is up to you.

  6. "The two main characters in this book have a relationship, and not the kind where they tear each others clothes off at every opportunity. (Nor am I going to kill one off to satisfy those of you who sneer at happy endings or who dislike the type of man I am writing about.) They aim to be realistic characters, and as such there will be no talk of 'his manhood' or 'her core,' and there will certainly be no impossibly long and unbearably loud sexual marathons."

    (Thanks for the laughs, PBW!)

  7. Anonymous12:22 PM

    Opening pact?

    Huh. I dunno.

    Dear Reader, Yes, this is a romance. Yes, it contains a lot of graphic sex. It also contains violence and I try to make my heroine as strong as the hero because that's more fun for me. I hope you like that sort of thing. If you don't, you can put the book down now and I won't be upset.
    * * * * * *

    And uh... about this?

    I will not kill off Reever in this book or in the next, no matter how many times you e-mail me."

    YOU BETTER NOT. Geez... who is wanting you to kill Reever off? I'm going to have an asthma attack here!

  8. Dear Parent of the Teenager who bought this book,

    This is a book for teenagers about teenagers, written as realistically as possible. Just because the word sex is in the first line of this book doesn't been it's full of depraved teenage sex.

  9. This is a silly book about silly adventures. There are dragons. There dwarves. There are tightly nit choral arrangements and homicidially territorial faeries.

    If, while reading the previous paragraph, a dismissive sardonic sneer found its way onto your face, please put the book down.

  10. My brain is fried. I can't think of anything. All that's going through my head is a Jane Austen quote--something about not writing for such dull elves as don't have a deal of ingenuity themselves. But I wouldn't want to start out by insulting the reader!

    Maybe all I would ask is that, since I put hours of work into the book, they take an hour or two to give it a chance. Bah, feeble! :D

  11. Anonymous4:44 PM

    Dear Reader: You may find the following book offensive, especially if you belong to one of several sub-groups in American culture with unusual habits. Please understand I am not implying judgment about you or your beliefs, just poking fun at the human nature that expresses itself in odd ways in virtually all cultures.

    But if you're easily offended or cannot laugh at your own foibles, this book is probably not for you. Feel free to put it back on the shelf. I think they shelve John Grisham and Nora Roberts closer to the front of the store.

    Thank you,

  12. Anonymous5:16 PM

    Dear Reader:

    First book. New author.

    Kindness not required. Tolerance desired.

  13. Dearest Reader:

    I confess here and now that I have no heart. I am not a romantic. However, this plot demanded to be a romance, so I wrote it that way. If you are a "happily ever after" romantic, keep your $7.99 or spend it on something in the pink section. Yeah, the one with flowers and hearts and little chittering birdies surrounding it.

    If, however, you are willing to admit that not everyone falls head over heels for a soap-opera god, at which point much wailing and gnashing of teeth and soul-scorching sex ensues, I am willing to share with you a story. Deal? Deal.

  14. I can't think of anything for myself, but I'd warn Tambo's readers not to cut up raw meat for dinner after reading Ghosts. Oh, how I love that series! I just don't cut up bloody stuff for awhile. :-)

    As for Gutterball--my beloved sister--don't let her fool you. The Ice Queen has cried on occasion. Just ask her about Gregar.

  15. "Dear Reader:

    This is my first book. That is to say, I have never had any works of mine published before this one. If by some miracle, I have more out after this, then I will let that speak for itself, but if you are buying this book before I have sold/published anything else, let me tell you this: I will not kill off any characters you find irritating. More than likely they will be given starring roles and might even make it into future books because when they're around things always seem to happen. I also don't guarantee the main character, any of his friends, his love interest, his sassy, whisky drinking grandmother, his brothers, his sisters, his over protective mother, his abusive, schizophrenic father, his gerbil, his goldfish, his imaginary friend, his dog, or anybody else associated with the hero or the heroine will survive to the end of this book. If you disagree with any of the fates of characters, life altering decisions said characters make, or relationship decisions they make, kindly keep your comments to yourself or write your own damn book."

    Or maybe I'd just say, "First book, be gentle."

  16. Anonymous4:15 AM

    Dear Dissatisfied Reader: If you don't enjoy this book, I'm terribly sorry, but please do not e-mail me to tell me how much and in what various ways I suck. I am too busy writing my next book and responding to copious amounts of flattering e-mail from people with better taste than you to sit quietly while you kick me in the teeth. Entitlement to be an abusive jackass will cost you more than $7.99. For $100, I will read your e-mail beyond "wosrt book ive evr red." For $250, I will correct your appalling spelling, grammar, and punctuation. For $500...

  17. The Ice Queen has cried on occasion.

    Lies! I had something in my eye! And...and...it's Gregar!

    I have honestly broken a bone without crying. Pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain.

  18. This is great. Something to play with when I'm stuck writing.

    She said innocently.

  19. Just because I have to...

    Reever! Reever! Reever!

    Okay, so I have strange tastes :).

    The pact I'd make would have to be that between these pages are characters that will be true to their natures and their cultures no matter how repugnent those elements might be in our context. They offer a moment to step outside the restrictions of "modern" life and open up new perspectives.

    Which sounds rather pretentious and all, but it's what I can come up with...seeing as one of my published stories has people-eating elves, it's a promise I already deliver on :D.



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