Water’s Edge: Excerpt from Chap 1

A Little Context

For Serena, moving to a new town and a new school is only half the problem.  Left behind by her father to live with near-strangers, Serena must learn to live quietly and suppress her powerful gift.  If she can’t figure out how to do that, members of The Order might notice that things around Serena aren’t as “Normal” as they should be.  Making new friends and attracting the attention of an artistic young man with his own disturbing gifts only complicates matters.

Excerpt from Chapter 1

Once in the hallway, I leaned against the row of lockers, taking deep breaths, trying to blink away the tears.  I hated my life right now.

I saw the girls’ restroom and escaped inside.

I checked each stall to make sure I was alone.  I turned back to the door and locked it.  Just a few minutes of privacy.

And the lovely things about bathrooms?  Always plenty of water.  I have a thing about water, did I mention that?  It’s kind of important.

Inhaling deeply, I tried to channel the power weighing like a brick in my chest, tried to shift the filter, imaging the breath flowing all the way to the bottoms of my feet, I felt the water pulling toward my call, answering, and grief swirled through my heart unexpectedly.

There were ten porcelain sinks in this restroom.  With a little flick of the power seated in my chest, I let the water pour.

Each of the ten faucets twisted on and water gushed, thundering.  I exhaled, pushed the air out, willing the negative feelings and hurt to flow down the drain with all the water.

Steam began to rise, the heat fogging the mirrors.

I breathed in and the air was heavier, damp, and soothed my heart some.

It took me a few minutes, but as I began to feel calmer, the water’s fury eased.  I breathed out and let the water’s power go until each faucet was only tinkling.

I swiped at a mirror, looking at my reflection.  Green eyes stared back, my dead mother’s mouth, my missing father’s straight nose.

But at least I didn’t look like I had cried.  Never let ‘em see you cry, I thought.

I walked down to each sink, turning the knobs manually with my hand, cutting off the flow of water.

I gathered up my bag from the floor where it had dropped.

My Nano ALL Finished–Woot Woot

Participant-180x180-2Yep. I actually did it. I wrote a 50,000 word CHUNK during November. I am actually impressed with myself. Was it any good? Heh. Would I have been able to accomplish that if I was teaching during Nanowrimo? We’ll find out next year, as I fully intend to try again. I’m also planning on wearing the cheesy tee-shirt every chance I get.

While I don’t care for it, I am at least a little familiar with the work required to edit. I thought I’d spend a little time, here and there, posting excerpts in an effort to motivate myself to make the novel into something actually workable. Here’s a scene, just for funsies…

a little background to help us all with context: Serena, our first-person narrator, has just left an unwanted therapy session with her high school counselor. Unfortunately, her life has gotten a little complicated: 1. Her power is out of control, so she’s trying to stay away from Travis. 2. Travis’ ex waterhasn’t quite figured out that she’s an ‘ex’ and takes great delight in harassing Serena. 3. Therapy isn’t really her thing. 4. She’s the new kid in her high school—is there really anything more to be said?

I suppose it was proof that the Fates have an evil sense of humor, because when I got back to my locker after my session with Ms. Nelson, Travis was waiting for me. The halls were busy as people headed out to lunch, some kids rushing out to the parking lot, others down to the cafeteria. At first I didn’t even see him, too lost in my own thoughts. But then I noticed the boots and looked up.

Oh God, I thought, he is so cute. He stood there, leaning back against my locker, his dark green shirt bringing out his eyes. He was staring at me, his head tilted down, his expression intense, and I felt my insides curling with warmth. Then I felt my gift shifting, moving beyond my body, and I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that things weren’t under control and that Travis Rue apparently had a girlfriend, one supremo preppy bitch of a girlfriend named Amy Duncan.

“Here,” Travis said, pushing something he was holding at me. I looked down, realizing he held my books, the books I had dropped with Amy’s help earlier.

“You been trying to avoid me, Serena,” he said with raised eyebrow. Sadly, now I had the perfect excuse.

“I see your girlfriend gave you my books.”

“My girlfriend?”

“You know, that blonde girl with the great attitude? I mean, what did she do, run straight to you?” I grabbed my stuff from him, trying to shoulder past him to get to my locker where I could just shove things away.

“Are you talking about Amy?” And I tried not to let myself be reassured by what sounded like his genuine perplexity. “Amy is not my girlfriend, hasn’t been for months.”

“Oh yeah? You might want to explain that a little better to her,” I mumbled. He had crowded in behind me and I could feel the warmth of his chest on my shoulders. He reached up past my head and put his hand on my locker door. Now his body was partially wrapped around mine and I could smell his cologne. I just wanted to turn around and bury my nose in his neck, just breathe him in. I tried to inch away.

“Is that what you think of me?” He asked, his voice now deepening by his distress, his mouth near my ear. “Is that the kind of guy you think I am? That I would just forget my girl and chase after some new tail?” He slammed my locker closed and I flinched.

No, I wanted to tell him, No, I don’t think you’re that kind of guy, but I didn’t. It was better this way. Then I didn’t have to explain anything else to him, didn’t have to make up some elaborate lie that would backfire on me later. But this hurt.

“You’re not who I thought you were either.” His disgust was plain. Abruptly I was cold as he backed up. I whirled, watching him as he walked away, biting my lip to keep from calling out to him.

“Wow. You really screwed that up,” said a voice near me. I turned to see Kimber looking at me like I was the lowest scum. “Find your key yet?” She asked even as she walked away.

Rewriting for Intensity

Revision has got to be the biggest pain in the a**.  Seriously, if I could just get it right the first time… but that’s not really the way writing works.  It takes stamina to push through a long draft, but sometimes it takes time to fully develop that right voice, the right tone.  My intent during the original writing of Water’s Edge really lacked authenticity, and frankly–bite.  So here’s an excerpt from the original, following by the revision.  I think the second feels much stronger than the first… but maybe I’m wrong.

Excerpt 1: Original, no revision

Mr. Johnson’s Junior History class felt like torture.  This morning, I tried to tame my hair up and back in a bun, but I could feel it starting to tilt.  I tried to flick whatever was in my eye OUT, and I’m sure I looked stupid blinking.  Between that and my hair falling over my ear, I was definitely not looking my best.  Even as I realized that I was out of lead in my pencil, another spitball landed in my hair.  What was this, fifth grade all over again?

When the third spitwad hit my hair, I gripped the edges of my desk, taking deep breaths, trying real hard not to scream and cry at the same time.  I didn’t know if I was going to survive this school.

This was my ninth day, nearly completing my second week.  Every day had been an exercise in endurance.  Not a single person had spoken to me—well, teachers spoke to me, and employees of the school, but no one else.  Not that I had tried terribly hard to speak to them either, but the kids at this school really sucked.

I wish I could say that they hadn’t noticed me, but the glob of sticky paper now tangled in my curly bun said different.  My hands were gripping the desk so tightly, the knuckles ached.  I had what my mom used to refer to as ‘a moment,’ and I lost control a little.  It happened sometimes when I got emotional or upset.

I did not want to notice the bottle of water sitting on Mr. Johnson’s desk, or the gurgle from the large bubble that almost tipped the bottle when it burst.  That was me, I thought, I did thatNeed to calm down, calm down calm down, I kept telling myself.

I took a deep breath, forcing the air past my tight chest.  Exhale darkness; inhale light.  I do not know if that meditation stuff works, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  And if I wasn’t careful, I could ruin everything the Beckman’s had tried so hard to give me, the anonymity, the “Normal” life.  There were things I could do.  It wasn’t like I couldn’t protect myself.  But if I did them, if I chose in this moment right now to make the wrong decision and let that water bottle explode, sending that plastic lid across the room to lodge in the eye of the boy who was currently tormenting me, the incident could probably  be explained away.  Especially if there were no other revealing incidents.  But I didn’t know if I could stop there.

Another slobbery chunk landed sickeningly in my hair.

I twisted around in my chair.  The ‘tool’ who thought his little joke was SOOOO funny high-fived his friend.  He clutched an empty plastic pen tube to his chest, his lip curled up in a smirk.  If I could’ve been objective, I supposed he was cute, in a jock-tastic way.  He had sandy-blonde hair in that deliberate tousled look that all the ‘cool’ kids here seemed to have.  He even had a dimple.  But there was something cruel around his eyes, a regular plastic ‘Ken’ doll come to life.  His two friends were just Abercrombie clones with interchangeable hair.  They clearly thought he was hysterical.

I pulled the mush from my hair and flicked the mess back toward them.  I wanted to smack that smirk right off his face, but I settled for flipping them off.  What I really wanted to do would blow my cover clean out of the water.

“Miss Bailey.”  I winced, busted.  “I do not know what was acceptable at your previous institution, but here at Metro Midtown, that gesture is not okay.”

_____________________________________

Now for the same passage AFTER some time, thought about intensity, and revision.

High School is supposed to be the best time of your life, right? At least that’s what people keep telling me, that I’m supposed to relax and enjoy it, meet boys, go to Prom, that kind of crap.  Maybe they’re right.  Maybe that’s the way things should be for most people… most normal people, people who have families and moms that aren’t dead, people that can’t self-destruct and destroy everything around them, people who aren’t hunted by secret societies filled with radical fanatics… for those people high school probably is the time of their lives.

But sitting in Mr. Johnson’s AP History class, waiting on the moron behind me to do something else stupid, has me thinking that if this is the time of my life, I should just quit right now.

It had started with poking—he kept poking me in the shoulder. “Hey New Girl.  Gotta pencil?”

I gave him one.  More poking.  I sighed.  “Got any paper?”

I gave him paper.

He poked me again.

I twisted around in my chair, glaring.  “What?”

“Got the homework?”

I turned to the front.  I tried to focus on the lecture, tried to ignore the occasional prod from the guy behind me, really tried to ignore the fact that I had zero interest in the U.S. Constitution in the big scheme of things… The big scheme of things being that this was my ninth day at this school, I had not seen my dad in a month, and the moron behind me apparently had friends, friends with nothing better to do than shoot spitwads at my hair.  That’s right¸ spitwads, because some things from fifth grade never get old.

I have curly hair.  It’s a pain.  If I want to bother with actually ‘fixing’ it, that means a lot of hair product and effort.  This morning, it hadn’t seemed worth it.  So I had just twisted it up on my head, put a couple of cute clips in it, and called it good.   But at some point in the day, the messy bun had started to loosen.

I wasn’t the only target for spitwads, either.  The girl in the next row and a couple of seats forward also had a couple suspicious white globs in her dark brunette hair, but she hadn’t noticed yet.

When the third spitwad hit my hair, I gripped the edges of my desk, my knuckles aching.  And then somewhere in the vicinity of my chest, I felt a little slip, like my heart had bumped into my ribs, and I tried very hard not to notice the bottle of water sitting on Mr. Johnson’s desk or the way the water seemed to be gurgling, a large bubble nearly tipping it.

That was me, I thought, I did that. Need to calm down, calm down calm down calm down…

I took a deep breath, forcing the air past my tight chest.  Exhale darkness; inhale light. Lately, in my own desperate attempt to find some control, I had been trying some breathing exercises.  I didn’t know if that meditation stuff worked.  All I knew is that I couldn’t keep exploding and making things happen around me.  I had to stay hidden, not draw attention to myself, be Normal.  There were things I could do, but if I did them, if I chose in this moment right now to make the wrong decision and let that water bottle explode, sending that plastic lid across the room to lodge in the eye of the guy whose slobber was currently in my hair, then I couldn’t stay here.  The Beckman’s, the family I was staying with, had been so nice and were trying so hard to make things work for me.  I thought of them, tried to keep calm.

But then I could hear the sound of one of the guys behind me clearing his throat, really nasal and nasty, building a chunk of snot.  I closed my eyes, praying a little.  But it wasn’t enough.

I felt a chunk land sickeningly in my hair.  I was pretty sure he hadn’t even bothered with paper this time.  I tried not to vomit.

NANOWRIMO or try to write 50,000 words with little-to-no planning, all while continuing to live the rest of your life

Ever start on a project and then lose some enthusiasm?  Look, I’m a great ‘ideas’ gal, but sometimes I’m not so great on the ‘follow through’ portion of the task.

The irony behind that statement is that I DO tend to finish most things I start… it just may take me a little longer than normal.  Take for example, my college ‘career’ (side note: I think we call it a career so that we can pretend longer that we are actually doing more than just learning how to brew beer).  Yes, I was in college, mostly full-time, from 1996 until 2006.  I even started college with about fifteen hours of credit. I was a “decader” and I certainly was not the only one around.  I did manage to graduate and get several degrees and certificates; I also changed my mind—and rather than finish what I had started, I changed horses mid-race.

I’m discussing all of this because two years ago, I got this idea.  My first group of middle-schoolers were entering their senior years of high school.  Like with many first-year teachers, that class remains special in my heart.  A number of them sent me graduation invitations and continue to keep in touch.  While that year was rigorous and full of many first-year mistakes, I treasure the thought of those students.  Since I had begun writing again, I decided maybe I would try writing a novel, one set right here in Wichita with a young adult audience in mind.

    What the hell was I thinking?  Upon reflection, I do have to cut myself some slack.  After all, I did complete a short story collection and have been writing fiction for a decade.  How hard could a novel be?

I never got passed the first 4,000 words.  I DID join an organization full of great novelists and I HAVE been listening to them and learning from them.  I’ve learned about outlines and plot; I’ve listened to special speakers discuss characterization and revision.  I even wrote an ‘elevator pitch’ for the novel that I NEVER ACTUALLY WROTE.  I even submitted the first chapter (the only part I ever finished) to a Kansas Writers Association contest.

In my defense, I did write a ton of poetry, did some local poetry readings, began to negotiate a contract for my first chapbook, gave birth to my second child, received a Good Apple teaching award, and helped hammer out a pacing guide for my district, AND I learned how to befuddle my way through WordPress [badly].  It’s not like I wasn’t ‘doing’ anything.

But a few months ago, I decided that I should finish that story and maybe NANOWRIMO was the way to do it.  For those of you uninitiated, this is the crazy time when thousands of idiots around the country attempt to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.  Did I say idiot?  Huh.  Where do I sign up??

So I spent several weeks really hammering out a plan, an actual outline (more on this later) and am giving it a real ‘go.’  I also let myself really rethink what I had originally imagined, acknowledging that perhaps I had lost enthusiasm for the project because it was boring even to me. I’ve given it a new title and even created a book cover–just for giggles.  I feel a little insane for taking this on, but I also know that I am in good company with a lot of great people and at least by the end of the month, I can say… DONE.  I actually FINISHED that project.

I’ll try to keep things posted here, updates and such, but the truth is that it’s going to be hard enough slinging out the material for the book.  Blogging won’t be the high priority.  If you are attempting NANOWRIMO too, feel free to look me up and be a ‘buddy.’  So on this eve for daylight savings… Happy writing all!

 

Want to be a Writer? Then WRITE.

Spending this strangely warm Sunday afternoon looking at Poetry really isn’t a bad way to spend the day.  If my fairy godmother could just poof a fresh vanilla late next to me, I’d be set.

But I should probably acknowledge that judging the Youth section of a Poetry contest isn’t quite the same as spending quality time with the classics.  It hasn’t been easy!  I’ve been tempted to “screech” onto the critique sheet the following:

CRYPTIC ONLY WORKS IF YOU’RE THE SPHINX

DON’T PREACH AT ME

DON’T TRY TO TEACH ME ABOUT LIFE

I’m not sure why all early poetry looks like this:
She trusted him.
He betrayed her.
Now she is sad.

or worse… young writers think rhyming poetry is neat, but they’ve never read anything other than Mother Goose.  So their efforts look more like this:
She loved a rat,
who beat her heart with a bat,
so now she said, ‘Drat.’

Okay, okay… these are terrible examples written by my own hand and do NOT do justice to the very real efforts of young poets.

Perhaps the poems look like this because when we are young, all those emotions are fresh and new and we wrestle ineffectually with some way of expressing our experiences.

This is more about reminding myself that these kids really want to write and that my comments should actually be educational, rather than biting.  I remember my own fragile ego when I first began to write.  I kept waiting for someone to tell me I was great.  I needed the affirmation, and still do! [this after 90% of my submissions ended in rejections this fall]

So I’ve vowed, accurate or not, to end every single critique with this thought; “You clearly want to be a writer.  Keep writing.”