Sunday, June 6, 2010
ATTACK OF THE PROLOGUE
So there I was minding my own business.
Ah, all right, I was dozing in my chair before my laptop. There. Happy? Hey, I'm a weary blood courier.
And I dreamed. Of William Faulkner. I know. I wanted Megan Fox or Marlene Dietrich. But I got a grizzled William Faulkner in search of the innocence of his lost youth in New Orleans.
New Orleans. Yes, you've already guessed it. In my dreams strolled that lean wolf of an undead Texas Ranger, Samuel McCord.
And there in misty scenes unfolded a prologue to my RITES OF PASSAGE set in 1853. It was eerie, haunting, and full of yearning regret. I awoke slowly, my mind reluctant to let those words and images go.
Marlene Dietrich then appeared in the ghost chair next to mine. "Use it, Liebling."
"What? Everybody skips prologues."
She tapped my nose with her empty cigarette holder. "And everybody is usually wrong, darling, and you know that."
She gazed half-lidded at me. "You have a good mind, Liebling. Use it and tell me why a prologue could be good."
"Well, I guess a prologue could spotlight a time not covered in the novel."
"As does yours. Think, silly. Your novel happens in the far past. Starting with a more modern scene would help slip your readers more easily into your story."
"You seem to have a pretty good grasp of story telling."
She smirked like an evil cat. "The best screen writers and directors of Hollywood often had a pretty good grasp of this ..."
She gestured to her body now leaning against mine. "I learned to tell a good script from a bad one. My career depended on it."
"I don't know. Bad prologues can kill a novel."
Her eyebrow arched. "I do not sit on the lap of bad writers."
"Well, now I have incentive."
She mussed my hair with ghost fingers, thumping on the top of my head as if it were a door. "You have more than that. You have a brain. And talent."
She whispered in my ear. "And in your prologue, you have your protagonist shown in the future, haunted and sad for his lost love. Everyone loves a sad love story."
She stretched in her chair like a lazy cat, letting the slit in her long gown show her long legs. "These legs are not so beautiful. I just know what to do with them. As you must know what to do with your words."
She stroked my cheek. "Without tenderness a man is uninteresting. Your prologue shows McCord's tender side. And it shows it from another's perspective. It adds a touch of the real to your undead Ranger."
She fluffed her long blonde hair. "I never dressed for myself, for fashion, for women. No, I dressed for the image. And you must write this prologue for the impression it will make on the reader."
"You might be right."
"Of course I am right. Glamour, allure, mystery, these are my stock in trade."
She tweaked my nose. "Think of me as your make-up artist. And the relationship between the make-up man and the performer is that of accomplices in crime."
Her lips curved in a way that would have made Mona Lisa jealous. "You make me feel dangerous again."
I figured having a ghost look at me like that could be dangerous in itself. "Ah, I guess I could make it a mini short story with a hook of its own to draw the reader in."
Her head cocked. "You remind me of Jimmy Stewart. You and he are the only ones who could blush without blushing."
She suddenly smiled wide. "Do you know how I know your prologue is right for your novel?"
"It is not necessary for the main story. If it were, then you would need to re-write the first chapter. Your prologue lends perspective and depth, like the beginning of DUEL IN THE SUN."
She looked past me into the shadows. "Affection, companionship are the most necessary food for the soul. More important than the living realize or want to realize."
She gazed deep into my eyes. "Your McCord makes his family with the hurting, the lost, and the defenseless. Your prologue shows this."
She sighed, and it was more open wound than sound. "Write your prologue. I will be watching from the shadows."
And with that she was gone. Her perfume lingered ... as did her haunting eyes. I straightened with a jerk. I had a ghost to make smile again. I set to typing.
Above me I heard her murmur, "Ah, a knight errant. A species that sadly is all but extinct. And remember when you write your prologue : the best measure of your love is sacrifice."
And here is what I typed :
A man's moral conscience is the curse he had to accept from the gods in order to gain from them the right to dream.
- William Faulkner
One day during the time while McCord and I walked and talked in New Orleans – or I talked and he listened - I found him sitting on a bench in Jackson Square, laughing to himself. I got the impression that he had been there like that for some time, just sitting alone on the bench laughing to himself.
This was not our usual meeting place. We had none. He lived in his French Quarter night club, Meilori's. And without any special prearrangement, we would meet somewhere between his club and the Square after I had something to eat at noon.
I would walk in the direction of his club. And if I did not meet him already strolling or sitting in the Square, I would simply sit down on a bench where I could see his doorway and wait until he came out. I can see him still –
A ramrod straight man in his early fifties, clad entirely in black : black broadcloth jacket, shirt, tie, and slacks. His boots were black, as well, and polished so that the sun struck fire from them. Even his Stetson was black.
All of which made the silver star on his jacket stand out like a campfire in the night. It was said he had once been a Texas Ranger. He never talked to me of those days - at least not before that afternoon.
This time he was already sitting on the bench, laughing. I sat down beside him and asked what was so funny. He looked at me for a long moment.
"I am," he said.
And that was the great tragedy of his character, for he meant it. He expected people to mock and ridicule him. He expected people nowhere near his equal in stature or accomplishment or wit or anything else, to hold him in scorn and derision.
Perhaps that was why he worked so earnestly and hard at helping each wounded soul he met. It was as if he said to himself : 'They will not hurt as I have hurt. I will show them that they matter because their pain matters to me.'
"Why do you speak of yourself like that?," I asked.
"Today marks the hundred year anniversary," he said.
"Drop by my table at the club this evening, and I will tell you."
And that evening I did just that. We sat, with a bottle now, and we talked. At first he did not mention the hundred year anniversary. It was as if he was slowly working himself up to something long avoided.
We talked of everything it seemed. How a mule would work ten years for you willingly and patiently just for the privilege of kicking you once. How clocks kill time, that only when the clocks stop does time come to life. And how given a choice between grief and nothing, he would choose grief.
When he had said those last words, McCord met my eyes with his own deep ones and said, "Let me tell you a story."
And I listened.
It hit me as McCord talked that Man would not merely endure as he had not merely endured. No, like McCord, Man would prevail. Man is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice. But because he has a soul, a spirit capable of endurance, love, and sacrifice.
And so now I give you McCord's words as he gave them to me. Make of them what you will. For myself, I never know what I think about something until after I've read what I've written on it. So read along with me, and we both will come to our own conclusions.
- William Faulkner, August 1953.
And so that is my prologue. It follows my three personal rules for prologues. 1) It should be compelling. 2) It should be short. 3) And it should be removed from the body of the novel by time or space.
Next is another music video by Thea Gilmore. Whenever I've heard this song, I've seen the image of Sam McCord on the decks of the Demeter, a Colt in each hand, facing overwhelming odds in his last great battle.