Sunday, March 2, 2014

Second Draft

"Write with the door closed."

They say you're supposed to write your first draft with the door closed. And so I did-- for the entire month of November, I wrote and wrote and wrote without once letting any eye but mine scan the pages. People were getting annoyed with me.

"What did you do this week?"

"I worked on my novel."

"Oh, cool. Can I read it?"

"Um... you're not really supposed to let anyone read the first draft... it needs editing." Then the person would say it couldn't be that bad, come on, won't you please let me read it? When I finally told them outright NO, they'd say:

"Oh, well-- will you at least tell me what it's about?"

"Can't tell. It's a secret."

My friends and family were getting really ticked off.

I'm not sure who first advised writers to write their first draft with the door closed (was it Stephen King, maybe?), but I'm sure thankful to him. It's saved me a lot of embarrassment. If I had given in and shown that first draft to people, they would have never taken me and my writing seriously again.

Let's face it, first drafts are always bad. Especially that first first draft-- your first novel. You're new to the trade, and your work is like that of an untrained apprentice. First drafts are to be hidden until they're presentable enough to put out for criticism, where they become second drafts.

And your second draft should be open to criticism.

Which is why I am posting the first chapter of my twice-revised NaNoWriMo novel. I'm asking for honest opinions, here, so comment away. :)

Chapter One

July 9, 1988
Sybilla stumbled up the stairs, her thoughts a whirlwind. She slammed her bedroom door, shutting out the sounds of the storm. That was one problem solved. But there was no way to escape the storm inside her.
    She thrust open the mahogany chest at the end of the bed. “It’s got to be here-- it has to. I know I didn’t throw it away--”
    Sybilla tore viciously at the insides of the trunk. There-- a small spiral-bound book. She flipped to a page and set her pen to it. Tears streamed freely down the teenager’s face.

Kennedy is dead. She’s dead, and it’s all my fault.
Why was she punished for something her brother and I did?


25 years later….

    “You can’t keep me here forever!” Mandie screamed. She threw herself at the door-- a foolish venture which left her crumpled on the floor.
    Rubbing her sore head, she tried to gather her thoughts. One of That Woman’s big goons had just come in to check on her, moments after she had wakened from a drugged sleep. She’d lunged at him. Jonathyn would have laughed-- it seemed her aggressive tendencies hadn’t been lost in all the confusion, he would have said.
    Wait-- who was Jonathyn?
Her memory was returning slowly, too slowly. It was as though her brain was a choked stream, and only a trickle of thoughts could flow through at a time. Hurry up! She thought. She didn’t recall much, but she knew she’d need to remember to get out of this place.
Sitting down in the corner, she cleared her mind and concentrated on that first day, the day Ms. O’Brien had brought an angry, stubborn, sullen girl to Sybilla’s cat-infested house….


    “Snow in September,” murmured Ms. O’Brien. “That’s something you don’t see every day.” The tall, slender woman held out her hand. I was amazed to see that the snowflakes didn’t melt on the long, manicured fingers.
    “I must have very cold hands,” laughed the social worker.
    I said nothing-- I was never sure what to say to anyone anymore. After spending almost a year in a house alone, completely isolated from the world, what else would anyone expect?
So instead of answering, I pulled my backpack strap over my shoulder, picked up my guitar case, and closed a fist over the handle of my duffel bag. The sooner I was kicked out of this new home, the better.
    I shut the door of the car. The mountain wind whistled in my ears, sending a chill across my white, vulnerable skin. I shivered.
    “Mandie, you remember Sybilla, don’t you?” asked Ms. O’Brien. I nodded,  sweeping the house with a cool, condescending gaze. It was your typical farmhouse: a small, white, two-storey building with a quaint little front porch.
    I hate that house, I thought. It’s not like Poppaw’s house. I’ll never feel at home in it. It’s too… too….
    Too what? I’d always been able to find the exact spiteful word to describe the other foster homes I’d stayed in. But this one was different.
    That worried me.
    “Hello, hello!” came the exclamation. The voice was like a butterfly, all fluttery and bright and cheerful. I stared uncomprehendingly at the woman who burst out the screen door.
    I’d seen Sybilla Grant before, but that had been in an office building surrounded by the state foster system’s employees. Sybilla had been wearing a dress then. And she’d looked considerably more pulled-together. Now the woman was in grey sweats, with an apron tied over her torso. There was a sprinkling of flour on her fading red hair, and she was dusting off more of the white substance from her hands.
Seeing her hands, I remembered something. Something I’d noticed about Sybilla in that office building. Just below the woman’s pinky was a small, heart-shaped freckle. Or maybe it was a birthmark. I wasn’t sure. It could barely be seen now for all the flour, but I still knew it was there. It was weird, that was for certain.
She was weird.
I didn’t trust her. Not at all.
    “I was starting to think you weren’t coming!” said Sybilla. “I started the pies anyway so you’d have something to eat when you got here.”
    “We got stuck in traffic,” was Ms. O’Brien’s excuse. True enough. We’d also got stuck behind an overloaded logging truck on the road up the mountain. I had spent the whole time cringing, wondering what would happen if the bungee cords should break and a log came crashing down on us.
    “Well, come in where it’s warm,” said Sybilla. “We’ll get you settled in, Mandie.”
Who says that kind of thing anymore?
“Won’t you come in, too, Ms. O’Brien?”
    “No,” replied the woman. “I’ve got to be back in Charleston by six. Behave yourself now, Mandie.”
    That wasn’t likely to happen. I raised a threatening eyebrow to scare the social worker a little.  But the nervous expression failed to flash across her face this time. It was as if she was entirely sure that Sybilla could handle me.
    We’ll see about that, I thought.
    I stomped up the porch steps after Sybilla. Sybilla turned to wave at Ms. O’Brien cheerfully, then entered the house. I was not far behind, suddenly almost afraid I’d get locked out of the house and have to stand out here in the horrible cold.
“I’m going to go get those pies out of the oven now, alright? Wait here.” Sybilla closed the door behind them, blocking out the cold wind. I watched the woman go around the corner into the kitchen, trying to keep my face expressionless.
There was something about her. Was it Sybilla’s eyes? I believe the word to describe them is “uncanny.” They were so wide and innocent and cheerful, but shrewd and all-knowing at the same time.
    I turned to the window behind her, watching Ms. O’Brien drive away.
    “Good riddance,” I muttered, getting an energy surge from the hatred that swelled up in me. But now a new, different feeling poisoned my veins.
    I’d hated that woman the whole car ride, but she was my only connection with home and all things familiar. Once she left, I was alone with this Sybilla person.
It was snowing harder now, and the scarlet sports car's wheels spun on the slick ground. In a cloud of snow being spewed from the tires, Ms. O’Brien was gone.
I was alone.
Sybilla was coming back now, her hands and hair even more floury than ever.
    “Well, that’s done,” she said pleasantly. “What would you like to do?”
    I looked around the room. There was a shelf of books, and a couch with about twelve cats piled on and around it. The old portraits on the wall stared down at me disapprovingly.
    “Is there a TV?” I swallowed hard as I tried to return the photographs’ glare. This is stupid, I thought. I’m scared of a picture?
    “No,” said Sybilla. “Nothing on but trash, these days. Waste of money,”
    “Oh,” I said. I should’ve known this oddball would say something like that. “Well, what else is there to do?”
Sybilla laughed.
    “Listen to her, Lydie.” Lydie? I thought. There’s no one here. She’s insane! “‘What else is there to do?’ Classic.” I just stared at her, and her face quickly became serious.
    “You can pick out your room... I suppose....” She started in the direction of the stairs, picking her way over cats. I followed, holding my guitar case high above the furry creatures. Even so, I tripped on a huge calico. The thing hissed and spat, and I almost thought I heard words. I’ve only been here ten minutes and I’m already going crazy, too! Talking cats, indeed.
    “Be nice, Agatha. Remember the rule about guests.” came Sybilla’s voice from upstairs.
Agatha. How did Sybilla know which cat I had tripped over if she couldn’t see me?
    “Don’t doubt,” whispered the cat’s agate eyes, glittering into my own. I yelped and dashed to Sybilla.
The woman was standing in the hallway. Just standing, arms hanging limply by her sides. She was looking into a room, her gaze fixed on something in it. Her lips moved slowly, and her eyes-- which had been blue-grey a moment ago-- had turned olive-green. I approached her cautiously.
    “Are you… okay?” Sybilla turned and looked at me, seeming not to recognize me. I thought about the stuff I’d learned in health class about strokes, and wondered if that was what was wrong with her. Had she had a stroke? What if it was a stroke? I didn’t know how to help someone in a stroke!
    “Don’t you know better than to interrupt a writer in the middle of a thought?” she whispered.
    “Um, I th--”
Sybilla turned away from me and entered the last room in the hallway. I tiptoed behind her. I’m not sure why I felt that I should be quiet all I can say is it felt like something otherworldly had filled the room.
I watched as she opened a drawer and pulled out a little notebook and scribbled something down in it quickly. The pen she used was what caught my eye-- it was a golden fountain pen, with an inscription on the side. I couldn’t quite make it out.
    “Where was I?” asked Sybilla cheerfully, slamming the book shut and shoving it back in the drawer.
    “You were staring into that room like you’re demon-possessed.” I said drily. Sybilla smiled.
    “Inspiration comes in response to odd things,” she replied. “I write my best pieces in the madness of an hour.”
“Huh?” I shook my head. “What’s ‘the madness of an hour?’”
    Sybilla sighed.
    “You have so much to learn,”
I was irked-- irked as an old housewife who had returned to find that a dog had gotten loose and trashed her perfectly clean house.
I hadn’t come here to learn. I hadn’t even come here willingly. My uncle had gone missing and I’d lived in his house alone-- just me and his dog, Harley.
Life had been perfect. No adults to boss me around, to yell at me, to tell me to shut up and put down the guitar and do my homework. Then the police had to go and find my uncle dead in an alley, and people had figured out I was alone, and the foster system had snatched me up like a hungry falcon.
    I wasn’t sorry for my uncle-- that old drunkard. He’d always been dirt-mean to me, and he could be in Hell for all I cared.
I was sorry for Harley. He’d been put in the pound, thinking I’d abandoned him. I remembered his sad puppy eyes as they’d taken him away: How can you do this to me?
    Why can’t people just leave me alone so I can write songs and become famous? They’ll all pay someday, when I’m as rich and glorified as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.
    “You can pick your room,” Sybilla was saying. “You can have this one--” she motioned to a room with an old, Victorian-style door knob. I opened it cautiously, half-expecting an army of felines to pounce on her
The room was cat-free. But I almost wished it wasn’t. Cats would have at least made it more attractive. The bed had no legs. Instead, the box spring rested on a stack of cinder blocks. A camouflage quilt covered it. The roof was low and slanting, and had two windows that looked out into the forest that was the backyard. Jockeys riding horses papered the walls, and horse knickknacks pranced across the dresser. There was a short closet door with a brass door handle beside it.
    “--or this one,” Sybilla continued. She was across the hallway in another room. I prayed it was better looking than the other one.
    Oh. It was.
    The walls were lavender; it had the same low, slanting roof and two windows. But it was somehow more close and cozy-- comforting, yet at the same time it was light and airy. Gauzy white curtains hung over the window, and through them was a beautiful view of the forest. A quilt of blues and purples and greens was smoothed over the bed. There was a little closet tucked in the corner, and an adorable little mahogany trunk at the end of the bed.
    “I want this one,” I breathed, taking in the little details. I looked at the bookshelf by the door, filled with beautiful old books. Sybilla smiled a strange, satisfying little smile. Her arms were folded across her chest as she leaned against the doorway.
    “Excellent choice,” she said quietly. “You have passed the first test,”
    “Test? I’m being quizzed?”
    “Something like that,” remarked Sybilla mysteriously. She was gone before I could question her further.
A chill ran up my spine. I had a feeling that woman was going to give me more nightmares than one of those horror movies that says “based on a true story” in the credits.
But I shook my head and began unpacking. I put my guitar in a corner by the bed. A picture of Mom and Poppaw on the dresser. My clothes in the closet and drawers. My backpack propped up against the wall. A notebook and a precision pen under the mattress of the pretty little bed.
And that was everything.
I went over to the shelf of books, fingering the timeworn bindings of the green and brown and red covers. The dusty, wise smell of old novels filled my nose and cleared my mind. A melody began playing itself in the back of my mind, and I hung onto it, working out the beat as I searched the shelf thoroughly with my eyes.
I hadn’t read a book for fun since I moved in with Uncle Max. He hadn’t even had a decent magazine in his big empty house, much less a novel.
I remembered the last time I’d held a real book in my hands-- it had been during my third grade field trip to Marshall University’s library. Ms. Hibbs had given us twenty minutes to search the library on our own. She’d also given us buddies, but I accidentally-on-purpose “lost” mine in the picture book aisle.
After wandering into the nonfiction section, I found what I hadn’t been aware I was looking for: a row of books devoted entirely to the history of country music.
I’d always had a deep love for music. For some, the twang of mandolin and banjo, the nasal whine of fiddle, and the dry sound of guitar strings strumming are a source of annoyance. But for me, they are a reason to breathe. Asking me to give up music is like asking a wizard to give up his powers-- not gonna happen, buddy.
And I’d finally found what I was looking for.
I chose the book with the most alluring title:
Keeping It Alive: Country Music Then and Now. I delved into it, completely enamored, running my fingers over the sleek, glossy pages with full-color photos.
And I’d stayed there, ripping pictures of country musicians and instruments out of the library books and stuffing them in my pockets, until a librarian found me and dragged me by my ear back to my field trip group. By then, my jeans pockets were so full of the pages of the books, it looked like I was wearing a diaper.
But I didn’t care-- I had found a treasure.
And no amount of pinching and poking from the librarian could force me to empty my pockets and give it up.
Putting the memory behind me, I pulled off a worn volume and read the cover: Daddy Long-Legs. Publication date: 1912. I put it back and looked at the shelf underneath. The entire bottom two shelves were full of nothing but books by L. M. Montgomery. She found the Little House series on the middle shelf, and some Louisa May Alcott books.
Well, Sybilla certainly seemed to like old, dead authors.
But the top shelf was all brand new books, the kind with bindings that crackled and popped when you opened them as though they had never been read. The books were all different genres, but the glossy covers were mostly the same: pictures of girls alone in the forest. The author of them all was the same: Elizabeth H. Edens.
Edens’ Pond. Hadn’t Miss O’Brien said that was the name of this town? A connection?
Couldn’t be. Greatness couldn’t possibly come from such a tiny corner of the earth.
Still, I chose one of the newer books. The cover was a glossy photo of a girl silhouetted by a sunset atop a mountain ridge. It was called Her First Dawn.
I settled down on the bed to read it, and then developed the sense that someone was watching me.
I looked up to find the onyx eyes of a cat burning into me from the doorway. Their owner blinked slowly, then padded softly away.

Aaaand that's the first chapter! Not much, but I'm still working on it, obviously.

Tell me what you think!

-- Rebecca

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Rebecca :)