Thursday, July 06, 2006

Holy Epigraph, Batman!

Ok, I have a small dilemma, and I'm turning to the public for advice. You may have noticed that often at the beginning of books, authors have what's called an epigraph, a quote they feel pertains to the work in question. It can be anything from poetry to song lyrics to anonymous quotes or book passages. Sometimes the epigraph helps shade the pages to come, other times it can be silly and pretentious. Stephen King, in my opinion, uses epigraphs quite well, often choosing song lyrics that get you in the mood for the hip carnage to follow.

So here's my dilemma...

Part of the inspiration for creating my character of Henry Parker is that he's a struggling to build a bridge between old school and new school, trying to respect the contributions of the past while learning from its mistakes. So I didn't want an epigraph that was too old and rickety (no Emily Dickinson here), but didn't want to be dorky enough to quote Kanye West or The Strokes (or, shudder, one of the Simpson girls).

For my first book, THE MARK, a Bruce Springsteen lyric popped into my head that was perfect in setting the tone for not only the first book, but future books in the series.

For my second book, which I'm at work on now, the only epigraph that works for me is from a Bon Jovi song. I know, I know. Bon Jovi. But here's the thing...the quote works so well, if I'm going to have an epigraph, it has to be this quote. Now, is quoting Bon Jovi just about the stupidest thing I could do to start a book? Will it elicit that delicious shudder, or convulsions of laughter? And can quoting Bruce possibly do that as well?

In addition to these burning questions, I'm very curious to hear other favorite epigraphs/quotes, whether they be yours or by someone else. When done right I think epigraphs can be very effective. But done poorly, there's high potential for unintentional comedy.

So whaddaya think? Am I setting myself up for failure, or does a good quote speak for itself?

And check out J.T. Ellison's Burning Questions from Thrillerfest at the Killer Year blog

31 Comments:

Blogger DanStrohschein said...

If you ask me, words are words - what they mean is still the same no matter what hand penned them (or in this case, sung them).

Besides, Bon Jovi is still out there kicking out music, still a popular band. I would say it's a pretty safe bet to go with them.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Bernita said...

If the quote is good, people who have never heard of Ben Jovi will like it.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

How could anyone have never heard of Bon Jovi? What's happening to the world?

Sorry, Bon Jovi was a big part of my college experience...

9:15 AM  
Blogger Brett Battles said...

I can't imagine more than two people in the whole country putting your book back in the rack if they see you have a quote from Bon Jovi. If it works, go for it!

9:16 AM  
Blogger E is for Editrix said...

I say do it. As a transplant from the midwest, I've learned the hard way that people take Bon Jovi very seriously around here...the masses are on your side.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Dave White said...

Bon Jovi is awesome... I bet I can guess the quote:

"Take my hand, we'll make it I swear."

orrrr

"I've seen a million faces and I've rocked 'em all."

Or are you gonna go all 8th grade dance on us and quote like "Bed of Roses" or "Always?"

10:38 AM  
Blogger Philip Hawley said...

With few exceptions, epigraphs elicit an indifferent shrug from me because I haven't yet read the story and, thus, am still unacquainted with the thematic element to which the quote refers.

Though I occasionally enjoy clever epigraphs drawn from literary satirists like Kurt Vonnegut or Mark Twain, I suspect the quote disappears from my conscious thoughts before its intended affect has taken hold.

BTW, I've heard of Bon Jovi but don't know if the name refers to a person or a band, and I certainly wouldn't recognize his/her/their music.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Hmm...clearly Phil has not seen those million faces, nor rocked them all.

Though to be honest, if I open a book and see an epigraph that's just ridiculously long (like 3 or 4 paragraphs), I'll skip it. Something concise is easy to take in quickly, but some people take it WAY too seriously and have lengthy poems or lyrics from an entire song.

And actually, Dave, the lyrics I'm considering are from one of the songs on the "Young Guns 2" soundtrack. I believe that was technically Jon Bon Jovi solo, not the band as a whole. But still a really good album.

(BTW--this last paragraph might give a slight clue as to a fairly significant part of Book 2)

11:39 AM  
Blogger Marcail said...

I read the epi with the backcover blurb and try to tie them together. Seldom do I go back to the epi and think that the story would suffer if it wasn't included. I kind of liken it to the soundtrack of a movie if the book was made into a movie-- a moodsetter or fade-in or out. I may be rambling now.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Rob Gregory Browne said...

Well now. Did Bon Jovi WRITE the song? I assume he did. And I hate to say this, but seeing a Bon Jovi quote at the beginning of a book would make me think it's a comedy.

But if Bon Jovi didn't write it, just use the writer's name.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Bryon Quertermous said...

Talk about crossing over from new school to old school, I think Bon Jovie is a perfect example. They've transitioned from the old school hair band of the 80s into a vital and still entertaining act of the new millenium.

If the quote absolutely has to be Bon Jovi, I think that says a lot about your style as a writer. If people are turned off by the epigraph because it's Bon Jvi then odds are they're probably not going to dig the rest of your book so you're giving them an early test.

I love epigraphs and Robert Parker used to use them very well. I think Mark Twain and Tom Waits are the best epigraph sources ever. I also like Shakespeare myself.

I don't just look to epigraphs for themes in my work, I usually pull my titles from them. Though my favorite is from Lunchbox Hero and I didnt pull the title directly from it.

"Heroes, whatever high ideas we may have of them, are mortal and not divine. We are all as God made us and many of us much worse." -- John Osborne

1:54 PM  
Blogger S. W. Vaughn said...

Aw, Rob... So Jon Bon Jovi makes a better singer than an actor. Cut the poor guy some slack. :-)

I own the soundtrack to Young Guns II, not that I would need it to recognize the lyrics from it. I also own Slippery When Wet. Again, not that I would need it, etc.

Which song is it, Jason? Blood Money? Blaze of Glory? Confess! I wanna play guess the quote...

Yes, I love Bon Jovi. No, I have no shame.

3:27 PM  
Blogger December Quinn said...

I'm not a Bon Jovi fan, but Blaze of Glory is awesome.

Honestly, there are a lot of lyrical epigraphs out there by people I don't care for. It really doesn't effect how I feel about the book. I can usually at least appreciate what the lyric means.

If you want to share the quote with us, maybe we can all brainstorm and come up with something that has the same meaning but is by a singer or band you'd feel less uncool about. :-) (I don't think BJ is necessarily uncool, just that if it bugs you maybe we can help.)

6:01 PM  
Blogger JT Ellison said...

I'm still a Bon Jovi girl...
I agree with Bryon, they've made the transition. Not as well as U2, but they're still around making great music and don't look like the need life support (Mick, I'm talking to you here, pal. Go play some golf).
Jason, if it works for you, that's what matters.

7:26 PM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

It's not Journey, so it's ok.

8:03 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

I usually ignore the epigraphs. Got roundly yelled at by one of my profs for that, too, but oh, well. It's either ignore them or stare at them until the words swim in front of my eyes yet still won't give up their deeper meaning...

As for Bon Jovi, it'd make me smile to see it there. (Okay, I LOOK at epigraphs but don't pay much attention to them.) It ain't Metallica, but then again, nothing else is.

8:54 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Bon Jovi. Sexy. Weird. Funny. Scary.

Delicious shudder all the way.

Go for it!

2:24 AM  
Blogger Bill Cameron said...

I think Jon Bon Jovi has moved into that place where you're cool just because of how you've hung in there and re-invented yourself again and again, almost Shatner-like (though not NEARLY as AWESOMELY COOL as SHATNER!)

So, yeah, go for it.

11:20 AM  
Blogger angie said...

I could never take Bon Jovi (the man or the band) seriously. Ever. Reading an epi by him would most likely cause me to snort in a most unladylike fashion. At least Springsteen had The River - still love Wreck on the Highway.

But...if the quote really works, then use it. I have occasionally read an epi by someone that I was not a big fan of that worked so well it just didn't matter.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

I think having a William Shatner epigraph would draw an entirely different legion of fans than I antipated. Perhaps I need to add more Borgs to THE MARK. Perhaps I should stop babbling.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Bill Cameron said...

SHATNER!

12:40 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Storm troopers. Because every book should have some, especially if they can't shoot for shit.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Stephen Blackmoore said...

Go with the Bon Jovi quote. I seriously doubt it will turn anyone off, and if it feels right then it's the right one to go with.

3:17 PM  
Blogger Brett Battles said...

I forgot to add...I seldom ever read epigraphs. If it's short, maybe. If there are more than one, never.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Laurie said...

I agree with Bernita..if the quote is good, people who have never heard of Bon Jovi will like it...I adore Bon Jovi, *and* the Bruce, and trust me Jason - I can tell from your picture I'm a heck of a lot older than you - so either epi would be fine with me and I look forward to THE MARK and your series regardless of which singer you choose. :)

5:09 PM  
Blogger Dave White said...

By the way, Jason... Bruce... Bon Jovi? Are you sure you're not a closet Jersey native?

1:50 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

My fiancee is from Jersey, I think I'm getting her DNA through osmosis. Plus Atlantic City has been kind to me...

3:24 PM  
Blogger Shawna said...

Go for it... I'd be pleased to see it. Bon Jovi has been almost 25 years, and people at their concerts range in age from kids and teens to 50-plus...

I'd be more likely to take the book home. In fact, now I'm curious. Which song, which lyric... and (in your favor) why is it the perfect epigraph for your book? It makes me want to read the book.

That's a good thing.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Rashenbo said...

I like seeing epigraphs. Dean Koontz often has some good ones. His are usually dark and mysterious.

As far as Bon Jovi for a source... why not? It's interesting. He's still popular. If your goal is to merge "old school" with "new school" - using a pop icon might just fit that need.

Reading an epigraph with a quote by Bon Jovi wouldn't turn me off to the book.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Manic Mom said...

The chicks from New Jersey with big hair will love it.

I have noticed a ton of books where there is a line from Alice In Wonderland as the epigrwhateveryoucallit. One day I would like a count of how many books actually quote from Alice.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Manic Mom said...

Oh, and please tell me it's not: "Shot to the heart, and you're to blame. You give love a bad name."

If it is, don't use it, cuz that's the one I'm using for my novel. LOL

12:00 PM  

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