Back in 2008, I hit a speed bump. I was freshman in college and thousands of miles away from my family. It was Christmas break, and I had just learned my flight home was delayed. I was depressed and seriously needing a hug. I drove back to my dorm and sat on my bed, feeling overwhelmed with these toxic, sinking emotions. I wanted to cry. Instead I picked up an old composition notebook and started writing.
Years later and more drafts than I care to recount tossed in the trash, I finally came to the story I have now. What I started writing on that Christmas break bears no resemblance to my upcoming, debut novel, The Hunted One. But they share the same roots. That story way back then taught me to write. I grew up with these characters; I became stronger as they became stronger.
In the very first draft of the story, my main character was a paranoid schizophrenic with a drug problem. She was all the negative emotions I needed to vent. Even back then I wanted a story about someone rising from the dirt and grime of their life to become something extraordinary and special. It was what I was going through, so I put my character through it.
Here is an excerpt from that very first beginning (sorry if it’s a little rough. It hasn’t been professionally edited).
“If my life was like a body of water, I had sunk to its depths. I hid from the sun and the life near the surface. I couldn’t take part in the daily routine act of staying afloat. It was too much for me to handle, the fakeness of pretending I was whole. I was anything but complete. I was lacking. I wasn’t normal, and I refused to fake a life I had no right to have.
See, I had died once. I should have stayed dead.
I stood on a jagged cliff with the edge of the darkening forest at my back watching the sun bruise its hostile path into the folds of the horizon. The colors that filled the tired evening sky reminded me of a bloody gash – pinks of exposed tissue, reds of spilt blood, purples of deep bruises, tans of torn skin. The intensity of the sunset sucked the colors from everything else, leaving nothing but specter paleness behind. Much like a gun had been aimed at the sky, a hole blasted through in desperation, creating the injured sunset, only to leave death behind when it was all over.
It was depressing to see such painful beauty. The sky looked so vivid and alive. Yet, down here on earth, everything was cast in haunting shadows. The forest itself, so full of brilliant greens and life, looked gray and sick in comparison. I couldn’t even see the valley below the cliff on which I stood. The brutal sunset was a one man show, nothing else could compete. I felt too small standing out there, being crushed smaller and smaller, like nothing mattered.
You don’t matter.
The draining feeling often left me worse off than I was before, if that was even possible. But sometimes I still liked to come out here and see the sunset. Our tiny shack was so deep into the forest that all I ever saw was a vaguely illuminated green haze through the dense leaves. No matter what, coming out the cliffs was always a shock. The onslaught of color was almost painfully graphic. The sun was so forceful in its attack that it nearly hurt. I didn’t come out here often, but when I did, I cherished the humbling, belittling process of it.
When the sun finally buried itself into the earth for the night, I turned back to the forest and headed home. There was nothing but eerie remnants of light left to guide my way, but I knew the forest unnaturally well and the going was easy. Nevertheless, I walked slowly.
The first raindrop fell on my slack and unexpressive face, which was my constant look of voided animation that I didn’t care to break. My blank, glazed-over eyes never blinked the dull nothingness away. Nor did my downward-turned mouth ever reveal any emotion through a smile or frown. I looked like a hollow, shell of a woman, a ghost of life.”
See? I was in a dark place back then. And I was really just writing to write. Then I realized I loved what I was doing and it made me feel whole. So I started to write to publish. Here is what that passage all those years ago turned into:
“Michaela sprinted through the trees until the earth ran out beneath her, and her toes were on the edge of a rocky overhang, teetering for a moment before she remembered she couldn’t fly. Forcing herself to step back, she stood on the jagged cliff with the edge of the woods at her back, watching the sun bruise its hostile path out of the folds of the horizon. The colors that filled the early morning sky reminded her of a bloody gash—pinks of exposed tissue, reds of spilt blood, purples of deep bruises, flesh beige of torn skin. The intensity of the sunrise sucked the colors from everything else, leaving nothing but specter paleness behind. The sun appeared hidden behind a veil of mourning.
She closed her eyes and turned her face upwards. She searched deep within, looking for the presence of the other Archangels. She found nothing but an empty, hollow ache along the sides of her spine where her wings should be attached. Without her wings, she was all alone in her head for the first time since creation—just like Lucifer said.
She felt like a ghost, like any moment she could dissipate into the air, becoming just another particle amongst trillions. But just then, Clark crashed up behind her, ruining the moment and her loneliness. He bent over, hands on knees, and drew long, gasping breaths. He was almost comforting if not a little annoying. Finally, he stood back up in time to see the end of the sunrise.
‘Look, Michaela. I have to know. What really went on up there?’
Michaela didn’t speak for a long time. Clark waited almost patiently except for the persistent tap of his boot.
‘They were just standing out there—this line of fallen angels. It was infuriating. It’s like they can take whatever they want, do whatever they please. They shouldn’t have been there. I thought it would be easy to step outside for a moment to run them off. By the time I realized I had left the gates open, I was too far away to close them. I didn’t go back like I should have. I hoped it would be okay. But it wasn’t. He was there. When he drew back his hood, and I saw his face, I knew then. Why else would Lucifer be in Heaven? And then Molloch’s knife was in my back, and a mass of fallen angels attacked Heaven. My own Archangels betrayed me.” Michaela’s voice broke. The pain was stifling, but she bottled it up and shoved it into the darkest corner of her heart. “I woke up in the Watchers’ cave with Molloch. We fought. He wanted nothing more in that moment than to choke the life out of me. So much hate…then he fell on my wingtip. And just like that—he was gone. He just…disappeared.’”
Throughout The Hunted One, the bones of that long ago initiation into writing are still there. Some I’ve even worked hard to keep, because they mean so much to me.
I think a lot of authors write a few different books before they find the one that is good enough to pursue publication. I did the exact same thing, but for me, it was the same story told a million different ways. It took me years to figure out how to write the story I wanted to write.
To other authors who find themselves haunted by a story or characters but can’t find the right words, I would say never give up. Give it time. Let it sit. Try other things. But always come back, because eventually you will find the way to tell that story. And if you believe in it enough, it’ll be a great story.
This post was first published on the WONDERFUL, AMAZING http://irisjexx.com/
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