The Evolution of a Beginning

The first chapter of Crossbreed has probably been edited more than anything else I’ve written. That’s mostly due to the fact that I started it when I was 13, and it took me 11 years to finish the first draft. To give you an idea of how much that first chapter has changed, here are three different versions of the beginning of that chapter.

The first version, written when I was 13:

I was walking down a dark alley, it was about midnight, a cool, clear night with a full moon, a perfect night for hunting. The thought made me hungry, but I knew my promise.

Just then a police car drove in front of me, lights flashing. I quickly ducked back into the alley but the police got out of their car and followed me. I ran until I saw a large cardboard box, a good hiding spot. The police searched up and down alley, but they didn’t find me.

When they left I started walking home. I started thinking about how things had gotten this way.

Ouch, huh? I suppose it’s not too bad for a first try. Ten years and almost as many edits later, this is how Crossbreed started:

Midnight. Darkness surrounded me like a warm, dark blanket. I looked up into the cool, clear sky, my eyes lingering on the near-full moon. It was a perfect night for hunting. The thought made me hungry, but I ignored the feeling, choosing instead to spend the night walking. To clear my head.

The wail of a police siren broke the calm. I turned my head in its direction. Such a familiar sound. The city was full of crime, not unlike any other large city. Humans are such violent, greedy creatures. They steal, they kill, they rape, they hate. But humans can also be so compassionate and loving, willing to sacrifice themselves for others. I find myself alternately condemning and praising humanity. I’m of two minds about a lot of things, though I suppose that makes sense.

The siren faded, moving on to take care of crimes that were going on elsewhere. Down a nearby alley, a stray dog searched for scraps. It reminded me of an old friend. I searched inside myself for the animal that lived there. He was calm tonight. Over time, we have come to understand each other and help each other. He is as much a part of me as my emotions, or even my body. It took me far too long to realize this. My life could have been so much less complicated.

I turned a corner, heading for nowhere in particular. Thoughts filled my head as I walked. Old thoughts about old times. My life has been long, longer than the number of years I claim. And I could live for many more years; hundreds, if I wished. Growing more powerful with each one that passed. At times the idea of such a long life seems great, but now . . . things are different.

I glanced up at the moon again, my thoughts shifting. I began to think back to where my life, as I know it now, began.

Better, but the voice doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the novel. Crossbreed just doesn’t talk like this. So a few months ago, I rewrote the beginning. AGAIN:

Midnight. Darkness and the scent of blood surrounded me. I was too late for this one, but not too late for the hunt. I followed the scent trail that led away from the body. A spicy scent, vaguely like cinnamon. It led out of the alley and down the street. I found her a few blocks away, walking with her back to me. I was upwind. She had no idea I was there.

“Hey!” I called.

The woman turned. The wind shifted and her nostrils flared. She frowned, then her eyes widened. “You!”

“Uh-huh.” I took a deep breath to make sure. No, she didn’t have a gun on her. I waited, giving her a few seconds to run or fight. It’s a weakness of mine that I’ve never gotten over.

The woman ran.

My instincts flared: Chase! Catch! Kill! I ran after her.

She made it half a block. I grabbed her, wrapping one arm around her waist and bringing my other hand up to cover her mouth. She screamed against my hand. I pushed her up against the side of a building and glanced around. The street was empty. She struggled, but I held her tight. I bent my head to her neck, the scent of her filling my nose: warm spice, and femaleness, and fear. She whimpered as my fangs sunk into her skin. Blood filled my mouth, a hot, delicious torrent. God, it was so good.

I let the vampire’s body slump against the wall and stood there with half-lidded eyes, enjoying the rush.

I dumped her body next to the man she’d killed. I loved the hunt, the kill, the taste of fresh blood in my mouth. But afterwards, staring down at a body, I started to think. What had she been like? Had she chosen this life, or had it been forced on her? Could she have changed, given the chance?

Dangerous thoughts.
I left the alley again and walked down the street, my mind turning to other things. Old thoughts about old times. So many years, and still I’m young in the eyes of some. I could live for many more years; hundreds, maybe thousands. Growing more powerful with each one that passed. At times the idea of such a long life seems great, but now . . . things are different.

I glanced up at the near full moon. So many nights like this. My thoughts shifted to where my life, as I know it now, began.

Much better, and it fits the tone of the rest of the novel.

Let It Be

I haven’t done anything with it the past few days, but ‘Bayou Girl’ got unstuck earlier this week. I’ve realized I just have to let it be what it wants to be, and not try to turn it into something else. It’s on the sweet side. So be it.

‘Marked For Life’ has become my priority, which is kinda bad since it’s clearly going to be on the long side – upwards of 20k, probably. And with how slow I write, that’s going to take a while.

After I get those two done and tackle some of the massive amount of editing I need to do, I might try to come up with some shorter pieces so I can get a few things done and start circulating them.

Little Things

Sometimes the little things make a difference. I got a scene to turn the way I wanted to by the inclusion of a sugar packet. It certainly wasn’t a major plot revelation, but it was just what I needed.

Struggling

Sometimes writing is just hard; a bad day or distractions getting in the way or whatever. And sometimes the writing is hard because a scene is just going nowhere. I was struggling yesterday, sighing over the computer screen. I stopped and asked myself “wait, what’s the point of this scene? Do I really need it?” The answer was no. I kept what I had in case I wanted to use bits of it later and moved on to the next scene. Things picked up.

This is a lesson I have to remind myself of now and then.

Signatures

The bus jerked to a stop at the corner, brakes giving a half hearted squeal. The door opened and Cyrus climbed up the stairs. He dug for a moment to find the correct change and paid the fare box. A few of the other passengers glanced up at him as he made his way to a seat. He was dressed unremarkably: a clean t-shirt, a black pair of pants, slightly worn shoes and a wide brim hat to protect from the sun. The most noticeable thing about him was the dirty tan jacket he carried draped over his cane. It was entirely covered with signatures. As he sat down, he held out a marker and leaned over to the woman across the isle.

“Would you like to sign my jacket?”

The woman shook her head. “No thanks.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” She clutched her purse a little tighter and looked back toward the front of the bus.

With a small sigh, Cyrus turned to the man next to him. “Would you like to sign my jacket?”

“Sure.” He took the marker and searched for a place to put his name. “Wow, you sure have a lot of signatures.”

“Yes, look at all the people I’ve met. The good Lord blessed me to meet all these people. This man,” he pointed at a name, “I believe he’s a doctor. And this young lady,” he picked out another name, “is a teacher.”

“That’s neat,” the man said with a vacant smile.

Cyrus tapped the shoulder of the woman in front of him. “Excuse me, Ma’am. Would you like to sign my jacket?”

“Of course,” she said, eyes lighting up behind her glasses.

“God bless you, Ma’am,” Cyrus said as she signed his jacket.

As the bus rumbled along, passengers got off and others got on. Cyrus collected a few more signatures until his own stop came. He got off the bus, offering a few God bless yous to the driver and passengers. Leaning slightly on his cane, he walked down the street. A block up he came to a convenience store and stopped in for a few bottles of soda pop. “Hello, Cyrus.” the clerk said to him as he laid his purchases down on the counter. “Did you get some more signatures today?”

“Yes sir, I sure did. I got eleven today,” Cyrus said as he counted out his change.

The clerk smiled. “Good for you!”

“Yes, the Lord sure blessed me to meet so many people. Thank you sir, God bless you.” Cyrus picked up his bag and left the store. He walked another two blocks to the run-down building where he lived in an apartment that was paid for by the state. He unlocked the front door and went up the stairway. The paint on the walls was discolored and flaking in spots. The railing near the second floor was loose and no one ever bothered to fix it. As he opened the door to the fourth floor, he was greeted by the ghostly smell of vomit from a tenant’s drinking binge in the distant past. The summer heat always brought it out of hiding. Cyrus walked down the stuffy hall and opened the door to his apartment. It was hot in here, and after putting his soda pop in the small fridge, he turned on the fan he had wedged in the window. It did little more than move the hot air around, but it was better than nothing. Cyrus sat down in the lone chair in the apartment, took off his hat and mopped his damp forehead.

The heat of the day had made him hungrier than usual. He took his jacket and laid it across his knees. Cyrus ran his hands over the names. People thought it was nothing important, something to please a poor man, or something to just make him go away. But he knew something that few people remembered: names have power. Cyrus selected a name from the jacket and pulled it off, leaving a blank space where it had been. He held it in his hand for a moment, admiring the loops and swirls. Then he stuffed it in his mouth. The name was like a spike, hard and sharp, and his face contorted with pain. Cyrus spit it out on the floor and watched it dissolve into nothing. That person was protected. A trickle of blood ran from the corner of Cyrus’s mouth and he wiped it off. No matter. There were plenty of other names. He selected another and pulled it off. He hesitated for a moment, wondering if this one was also protected. The name was blocky, almost print rather than a signature. Cyrus placed it in his mouth and smiled at the sweet taste. Oh, yes, this was a good one. A young man, just out of college. Plays baseball on the weekends. Healthy. The energy poured down Cyrus’s throat and flowed throughout his body. He might not need to feed again for days. When the last of the name had dissolved on his tongue, he sat back with a contented sigh.

On the other side of the city, a young man collapsed, dying shortly after. The official cause of death would be undiagnosed heart disease.

Time to learn how to edit

I’ve been avoiding editing, mostly due to wanting to get work done on my new stories first. And the going has been a bit slow in April. Now that I have a story as well as two novels that need editing, it’s time for a little ejumacashun (isn’t that a lovely word?) I don’t really know how to edit, beyond “this looks wrong/clumsy/horrible and I need to fix it”. Thankfully, I have the internet at my fingertips  and a few helpful friends to teach me all about passive voice, tying down POV, and avoiding big chunks of telling.

Again, I get that feeling that I’m far behind where I should be as a writer.