Hello lovely blogging friends 🙂
I have been and still am lost in a vast ocean of words that are being stubborn and cantankerous despite my best attempts to corral them. If you’re interpreting this correctly- or perhaps read the title of this post- you know I’m neck deep in revisions.
Following PitchWars and other things, I’ve received some really, really good feedback about my YA Phantom of the Opera retelling, and I’ve dug deep into the story in an attempt to go bigger with it. Because here’s the thing: I don’t regret having done contests and things with it the way it was. I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t genuinely thought it was ready, and there are some good things about the old ms. But they’re more like building blocks, and so far I’ve written from scratch about 70% of the book so far. All those old words and scenes went in the right direction, but they skimmed the surface of what this book can be. Most days I feel like ripping out my hair and giving up forever, but then as I do the hard and painful work of sitting with the ideas and characters, of choosing every single word, plot point, and relationship with great care and a sense of the book as a whole and as a minute piece, I can feel my book putting down roots and getting stronger.
As an example, this is my old intro:
The Bach sonata thundering in my headphones reaches a crescendo that matches the rain as I dash from the taxi up the marble steps and into the pristine blue and gold lobby. The doorman stares down his nose at me and I smooth my hair, attempting to look marginally less bedraggled as I set my violin and bag on the ground and shake the water off my coat.
“Miss Marsh?” A tall, balding man in a crisp collar that appears to be choking the life out of him rushes to me. “You’re very, very late. The others have gone on to the concert hall already.”
“I know. Plane troubles. Did they leave any instructions?” I try to look more sophisticated than I feel. It’s not as though I’ve never been late to a rehearsal before. I’ve just never been late to a rehearsal of this magnitude before.
“You’re to head to the hall at once. We will see that your bags are delivered to your room.” He’s already rushing away, waving a bellhop over as he charges toward to front desk. “And enjoy your stay here at Avaline Ward Hotel.”
I grab my violin and step back out into the rain, stomach growling. I’ve been on the go since four this morning and I’m starting to wonder if part of being a professional musician is developing the ability to exist on air and water alone.
But I’m seventeen. I’m pretty sure there should be some kind of leeway for young appetites. That’s what my stomach says, anyways.
Apparently there isn’t a single taxi in the universe right now, so I run the mile to the hall in the pouring rain. My flats, already wet, become so waterlogged there are puddles inside them, and strands of my hair stick to my forehead and cheeks. The buildings around me rise in brick and mortar grace, unmarred by the water pouring over them, as I struggle past. When I at last reach the corner of Howard and Vine, the Charleston Performing Arts Center blossoms out of the ground across the road just as my directions promised, a glass and steel monolith that somehow still blends in to the age and lilting style around it. Everything here is dignified and refined except for me. My stomach rumbles again and my grip on my violin is wet and slippery.
Suddenly the rain stops. An umbrella has appeared over my head, the long fingers of an adept musician wrapped around the handle.
“Can I help you find something?”
I turn and lock eyes with a boy almost exactly my height. He has a shock of blond hair sticking straight up and a mouth that lists just slightly to the left.
“I’m just headed to the Arts Center. Rehearsal,” I swing my violin for emphasis.
His left-tilted mouth stretches into a smile. “A musician. That’s pretty sweet. I’m actually headed over there too, let me walk you over.”
I don’t know if this is a South Carolina thing, or a gentleman thing, or just a decent human being, but it feels so good to be out of the rain I don’t even question it.
“Are you a musician too?” I ask as we wait for the light to change.
He laughs. “No, not at all. I clean the building. Slightly less glamorous.”
“I clean too.” I hoist my violin into my arms, tired of trying to keep my grip tight. “I work for a maid company. So, you don’t have to tell me about not glamorous.”
“Hey, I clean public toilets and all that entails. Including the men’s toilets. No way can you beat that.”
“I once had a family whose toddler was potty training. Needless to say there were a few messes along the way – and if it was my day to come, they left it for me.”
He pantomimes gagging. “What is wrong with people?”
The light finally changes and, as if on cue, my stomach lets out a mighty roar.
“How are you going to rehearse on a stomach that empty?” he asks.
“I don’t have a choice. I’m already way late to orientation.”
“You’re here for the new youth orchestra, aren’t you?”
“Third chair violin, Killian Marsh.” We dash across the street, dodging puddles at every step.
“I’m Jonas. You know the first two hours are going to be a sleep-inducing orientation to the building and the history of the symphony, right?”
His drawl slides through my ear like a pianissimo refrain, smooth and familiar somehow.
“I’m still supposed to be there. It’s bad enough my flight was delayed, I can’t delay even more.”
Jonas wiggles his eyebrows at me as we reach the other side of the street and stand at the base of the steps to the Arts Center.
“Well, if you’re already late, why not just make it a longer delay?”
As intros go, it’s not horrendous. Things are happening to bring you into the story and there’s some good descriptions. But you don’t know all that much about Killian as a character or have a lot of context for what’s happening, and it’s relatively generic. You know what she thinks but you’re not necessarily seeing everything exactly how she uniquely does, and in terms of the way the plot develops following this section, what I didn’t realize until it was pointed out is that she acts inconsistently by striking up such a casual conversation when she’s otherwise driven and focused on perfection, and it also slows the story down before we’ve really gotten anywhere.
This is my revised intro:
If I reach a little farther, I’ll be able to touch them.
I know I won’t, because I’m laying against a not super clean window in the back of a taxi jostling over rain-filled potholes, hours later than I should be. My violin rests in a case at my feet, my bags are in the trunk, and the driver keeps stealing glances at me in the rearview mirror like he’s waiting for me to fall asleep so he can whisk me off and start writing ransom notes. As if I trust the world enough to fall asleep on any form of public transportation.
But I’ve been traveling since three this morning, and my dreams are mixing with the strange new reality of the Charleston skyline spread wide under heavy gray clouds. So if I let my eyes fall shut for even a moment, I can see them – Mom, Dad, James, in a neat little stairstep line outside our apartment building. Dad’s face might be carved out of stone for how stern he looks. He’s always been better at stern than sad. Mom’s shoulder slumped over even though she’s trying to smile. And James, equal parts bored and mildly, reluctantly sad.
And behind them, the shadow of the thousands of dollars, hours of rides in subways and taxis, and the house we couldn’t afford to buy as a result of spending all that time and money. All leading up to this moment.
“Charleston Performing Arts Center?”
I jump, smacking my head on the windowframe and biting back a curse. I’m a professional musician now. The sooner I can wrap myself in an aloof cloak of lofty musicality, the better for my image.
“Thanks.” I shove a wad of cash through the divider, hoping he won’t notice I could only tip him about 5%. If there’s anything Mom has driven home over the years, it’s the travesty of tipping anything less than fifteen percent.
Two men stand side by side in the rain outside the marble façade of the Center. One is tall and thin, constructed in the gangling, clumsy manner of a stork, and the other is built like a beachball. They look like an old comedy pairing and I have to dive for the few threads of that glamor I’m trying to develop to keep from dissolving into giddy laughter.
“Miss Marsh? You’re very, very late.”
“I’m sorry. Lots of plane troubles. A ridiculous amount of plane troubles, really. I feel like there should be a limit to the number one person is allowed to have.” I swing my violin to the other side so I can shake hands and manage to slam him in the knees. “Sorry!”
I lift the case and inspect carefully for marks or dents, and realize too late I never did shake his hand. And the glamor is dead.
Mr. Dodge frowns, and it rounds his face out even more. Which makes the man next to him all the more angular as he gives his stiffly starched collar an uncomfortable tug. He wears a nameplate brushed with gold and etched in all caps JEAN PAUL. His suit is three piece, olive green, and wickedly ugly. Wicked, like the witch.
“I’ll be bringing your bags back with me to the hotel. I wanted to be sure I was able to personally give you your room key and a copy of the student housing policy, and welcome you to Charleston.” JEAN PAUL manages not to smile even once during this entire speech. I thought staying at the Avaline Ward would be amazing. One of the oldest hotels in one of the oldest cities in America? Right up my alley. But if Jean Paul’s pinched, not able to breathe expression is indicative of what I can expect from my home for the next year, I may have sorely overestimated the joy of it.
“That’s really gracious of you,” I say smoothly. I clutch my violin to my chest, warding off the possibility of saying anymore more stupid than I already have and taking comfort in the shelter. “You have quite the service philosophy if you’re willing to come stand in the rain just to give me a key.”
Jean Paul inclines his head no further than the tip of his nose. “We pride ourselves on excellence in every possible facet of service, Miss Marsh. It is our pleasure to be partnered with the Charleston Youth Orchestra and support local artistic endeavors.”
I wonder how long he’s been practicing that speech.
My hair is sticking to my cheeks and when I shift positions, my flats squelch miserably. If only their gracious hospitality included an umbrella. Who doesn’t bring an umbrella into the rain?
“Well, thanks.” I look over at Mr. Dodge expectantly. “So. Should I head on in? I assume I’ve already missed some of the introduction activities.”
Mr. Dodge presses his lips together into a thin white line. “Not only have you missed the introduction dinner and the area tour, you’re now forty-five minutes late to the Rules and Regulations Assembly. Please follow me and try not to disturb the other students when we enter the rehearsal hall.”
Sure. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s not disturbing the delicate sensibilities of rich people.
I follow Mr. Dodge up a short flight of stone steps and into the glamorous lobby of the Charleston Performing Arts Center. It’s all gold and mahogany in here, interspersed with royal blue velvet, and I’ve never felt more out of my element than I do puddling across the lush carpet, leaving a wet trail in my wake.
Obviously there’s still some things to iron out and fine tune, but it’s stronger. You know much more about who she is, her motivations, and her personality right from the get go. You can sympathize with her without being dragged down, and she’s consistent in her quirks and temperament. The story moves forward unimpeded because I focused more on the how than the what of how she’s seeing and reacting to what’s happening.
I used to wonder why it took writers so long to write books. I could fast draft in a month or two. But for the first time, as I tear this book down to it’s most fundamental attributes and reconstruct it in a way that honors my deepest desires for the story, I understand the need for time. This has been fun, but this intro alone has been three different versions…and I’ve done that for 50k so far. The book is longer now and more vibrant, and while I’m enjoying it, I can also say it is indeed one of the hardest things I’ve ever done- like trying constantly to see beyond what is to what could be.
Anyways, that’s what I’m up to- how are y’all? Anyone else revising? Working on new projects or have any questions for me? You know where to put them, right in the comments below 🙂