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Ronald Kidd - December 4, 2020

Breaking a Rule

“Avoid prologues.”

That advice is Rule #2 in Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, and many authors, editors, and literary agents agree. In my own writing, I’ve followed that advice in some novels, but in others I’ve been unable to resist the temptation.

Why am I tempted? Prologues are a glimpse inside the story, an invitation to keep reading. I admit they may show a lack of confidence in my ability to hook the reader, and when I avoid prologues I produce some pretty good opening lines:

“In my house the early bird didn’t get the worm. It got the bathroom.”
Monkey Town: The Summer of the Scopes Trial

“It was a good day at Poplar Tunes.”
On Beale Street

“There were Martians in the backyard.”
The Year of the Bomb

Whether prologues are good or bad, boon or crutch, they do provide a quick preview of a book. Over the next several weeks, I’ll present a few of my prologues to introduce some recent novels.

Lord of the Mountain
Prologue

For a long time I thought it was a dream.

A melody curled through the night, like a white ribbon on black. The tune was sad, but somehow I found it comforting. It was familiar, but I didn’t know why. I followed it in my mind the way you’d follow a path, wondering where it led. Before I got there, I always woke up.

But the melody stayed. I hummed it in my head. I held it close. I hid it, like a secret. It had to be a secret, because Daddy hated music and would not allow it in his church or in our house. He said music was a sin, an abomination, a stain on God’s robe.

Then one night, when Daddy was gone, I woke up and the melody didn’t stop. There were words.

Lord of the Mountain
Father on high
Bend down and bless me
Please won’t you try

I tiptoed into the kitchen. Mama was making cornbread. As she baked, she sang. I gasped to hear music in our house. Mama whirled around, shock twisting her face. At the time I thought the shock was about me, but now I think it was about her—how the melody had bubbled up inside without her thinking about it, then overflowed like water in a basin.

The song was real. It wasn’t a dream. I had heard it, that night and the nights before when the song had floated by and found a place in my heart.

Now, watching the look of horror on Mama’s face, I knew the song was important. It was dangerous. It had to be covered up and tamped down. I tried to ask about it, but she shushed me and told me never to speak of it again.

Mama’s song was the key to everything, though I didn’t know it then. It shaped my family. It lived in our house. It soothed us, then gripped us. I longed to know more about it, and that longing led me out the door, through the town, over the rails, and into the mountains.

Now Available

  • Lord of the Mountain
    The “big bang” of country music in 1927 at Bristol, Tennessee.
    Read more
  • Room of Shadows
    Edgar Allan Poe returns and gets the glorious death he deserved.
    Read more
Learn about my books, plays, and music at ronaldkidd.com.
Download a sampler of chapters from some of my latest books.

Copyright © 2020 Ronald Kidd, All rights reserved.


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