Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Own Worst Enemy. (The New Prologue)

When it comes to writing, I am my own worst enemy.

Let me tell you a truth.  I want this book to be successful.  Not just because I have no other real financial prospects at the moment, but because I want the affirmation of other people who love the book as much as I do.

I know the quote by Samuel Johnson, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." BTW, but it's bunk.  Writers ARE blockheads. People don't write for money, though money is appreciated.  We write for fun.

When I started this project, it was really just a way of filling my evenings up with something more than just idle web-surfing.  I had been rattling an idea around for two years and finally decided to put it to processor.  Now I have written a lot in the past, but I have never written a large work of fiction before.  A short story or two perhaps in HS or college, but nothing like this.  I really had no idea WHAT I was going to do with it.  It was just fun.  Soon I was staying up late every night just to keep going.  When I had 200 pages and I was nowhere near the middle act, I began to think I had something.

A month went by and my wife really desperately wanted to know what it was I was doing staying up until two in the morning.  So I started reading her chapters as they came.  Her response stunned me.

She loved them, and became my first fan.  "You have to publish this book!" She said. 

That was March people.  That really wasn't all that long ago, but it was my wife's intervention that started me on the current path to e-publishing. 

Now I am a not normally a writer of fiction.  The non-fiction market is a totally different ballgame, but  both of us know several writers of fiction personally, including a few published authors, some successful, some not.  We all knew that the road from authorship to publication in fiction, and in particular the young adult market, was a very long road indeed, usually years. 

First is the agent, then the editing, then the submissions (and endless rejections) before you finally find a sympathetic ear somewhere, and more editing and then proofing.  Even then if they take the manuscript, chances are it will be buried somewhere on the mid-list section with no marketing.  Worse, they might market it to the wrong people. If your book has vampires, it will instantly be sold to the Twilight crowd, even if your vampires have nothing to do with Twilight.   If it doesn't hit all the right popular buzz words or trends of the moment (and how could it if it was written years before?) it might never get a shot at an audience.

I just wasn't willing to do that.  I do have a day job, I teach, and I have a family, so I wasn't prepared to sacrifice a huge chunk of my life for a several year prospect, with little hope of ever breaking through.   Good books do rise to the top, once they get past the gatekeepers, but that's the tricky part.  My wife was convinced the book would be a success,  but I wasn't convinced I would ever get the chance.  So we decided to go it alone and publish it ourselves online and sell it for very little.

I got the help of friends to edit it, make the illustrations and cover art and then we set some goals.

Principle writing would be done by summer, editing by September, proofing by October, when the book would be published.

I'm amazed we've hit those goals and yet the book still doesn't feel rushed or sloppy to me or to any of my readers.  The book is ready and yet, I can't quite let it go.

We have entered what my wife calls "hand-slapping" stage.  That's the stage where you can't help picking at it, like a scab, and yet nothing - usually - will be improved by continued picking.  Hence, you have to slap the hand to keep it from picking at it.

But I am still doing this mostly for fun.   I write compulsively now.  I write to entertain myself, but I hope it will entertain others as well.  If I come across an entertaining idea, off I go, and burn ten hours writing some minor side plot when I should be concentrating on editing.

So when my wife found out this last weekend that I had written an ALL-NEW prologue to the book, she was about done with me.

I'm sorry, I can't help it.  Let me explain.  We have a friend who had a pet fish.  This fish had been through so much and yet survived, they had begun calling it "unkillable."  It suddenly struck me that this would be a great introduction to Lucy, her mom and the power they share.  So I wrote it up.  "Fred the Unkillable."

Changing anything at this late date makes my wife put it mildly.  But then we read it and the worst possible thing that could happen happened.  She loved it.

Now I want it make clear that my wife is not an easy woman to impress.  Graduating with a PhD, only merited a 5 on a scale from 1 to 10 for example.

I had first thought that I would include this as an extra on the website, another "Secret Prologue," so when she told me I HAD to include this as the new official prologue, you can imagine my surprise.

So just to make sure we weren't delusional, we passed it by the other two readers who've read the whole thing.  They loved it too.  Furthermore, they all agreed, it had to be the new prologue.

Changing one chapter isn't as easy as it sounds.  It means everything has to be reevaluated in light of the new information.  The old prologue, which was dramatic and tense, now becomes chapter 1.  As the new prologue reveals certain pieces of information sooner than the rest of the book, I had to rewrite some of those scenes too.

So here we are, two days from the publication date and I've undertaken another major edit.  Talk about crazy.  My wife and a couple of readers have agreed to review and proof this new major edit, ASAP, tonight and tomorrow, so it can still be available for you, the reader, on Saturday, as planned.

It's nice to have friends that believe in it as much as you do.  More so even.  It has thrown the whole thing into a frenzy, but I think you'll see the book is better for it.

But my wife has EXPRESSLY forbidden me from doing anything else.

Here then (in not completely finished form) is the new Prologue.  It's just five pages long.  FRED, THE UNKILLABLE.  I hope you enjoy it.

Fred the Unkillable
Maggie Miller tore down the hallway.  There were angry voices and pouty voices and upset voices, but she knew her six-year old daughter Lucy well enough to recognize a “horrified” voice when she heard it.
            She came into her little girl’s room expecting to see a monstrous spider or something far, far worse.  That was why it was such a surprise when she stopped at the doorway and all she saw was her daughter Lucy sitting on her bed holding a fishbowl in her lap, crying.  Maggie looked at the fishbowl.  The beautiful purple and red tropical fish inside it was belly up.
            “Oh honey…” Maggie said coming into the room.
            “Fred’s not moving.”  Lucy whimpered.
            Maggie sat down on the bed beside her daughter and put her arms around her shoulders and gave them a little squeeze.  Then she laid her head on top of her daughter’s.  Maggie stroked her little girl’s sandy hair while she sobbed, but she didn’t say anything.  Sometimes these things just needed to be cried out.  After a long while, it was Lucy who started speaking.
“It’s not fair.”  Lucy suddenly said, angry.  “I didn’t overfeed him or let him get too hot or too cold or anything! I did everything right!”
            Maggie just sighed through her nose. This was going to be a hard one.
            “Honey…” Maggie paused. “Honey, fish don’t live forever.”
            Lucy began sobbing again.  Maggie stroked her arm.  Maggie hated this part of being a parent.  She loved her daughter very much, but it was so hard being the grown-up, having to be tough all the time.  So she just held her daughter and tried to punctuate the tears with the best parental advice she could muster.  She never knew if this did any good or not.  She wasn’t even certain if she believed it herself.  So much of what people said about death was so trite as to be meaningless, but she just felt as if she had to say something, so she soldiered on.
She started with, “Fred lived a good long life for a fish and it was just his time.”
            The sobbing petered out to some light whimpering.  Maggie rubbed her girl’s back and decided to go on.            
“The best we can do is to remember the good times.”
A few more snuffles.  Lucy was nearly cried out now.  Just a few more minutes and it would be over.
            “Bad things happen. We just have to be strong and move on.”
After a few minutes more, Lucy had almost stopped crying completely and was just sniffing back tears and a runny nose now.  Maggie hugged her daughter again, gave her an extra squeeze and then leaned back and looked into her daughter’s eyes.  They were big and green and moist, but they weren’t tearing anymore.  She was almost there.  She decided to say one last thing to try and comfort her.
“Sometimes these things happen and they just don’t make any sense and we just have to accept that.”
            Lucy looked back at her mom with wide eyes and spoke. “Like dad?”
Maggie took in a breath but it never came back out. Her eyes darted nervously around the room at first and then between the fishbowl and her daughter’s equally glassy eyes.  She remembered now the circumstances of when and why they had bought the fish.  Her husband was dead.  Her daughter was sad.  She wanted a pet, but Maggie had insisted on a simple pet, a safe pet.  Something she wouldn’t have to worry about Lucy ever touching.  It was in the months, no…weeks! after her husband had taken his…after her husband had passed away.  How long ago was it?  A little over two years now?  Two years and three months, but how many days?  She didn’t know exactly.  Not without counting it up in her head.  How could she not know?!  She had thought about his death every minute of every hour of every day the first year, but this year, the next year, it had gotten easier.  Had she thought of him today?  Yesterday?  This week?!  She didn’t know when she had thought about him last.  It was a week at least.  She felt guilty, ashamed, alone and hurt and it all suddenly dawned on her.  Here she was parroting back all the trite things her friends and coworkers at the library had said to her back then.  No wonder her daughter was so upset.  It wasn’t just the fish, it was her dad dying all over again, and here she was telling her it didn’t matter, suck it up, move on, grow up, get over it.
Maggie’s heart was suddenly in her throat.  Her face went stiff and hot.  She tried to turn away but couldn’t.  A sob erupted from her mouth.  It was more of a gulp of air really.  She tried to hold the next one back but couldn’t.  She slapped her hands over her mouth, but it didn’t matter.   They sobs just kept coming.  Soon the crying was racking her whole body with great heaving sobs.
            “Mommy!”  Lucy buried her head into her mother’s chest and threw her arms around her mom to try and comfort her, but with both arms around her mother’s middle, she didn’t have a hand free to hold onto the fishbowl.  It slipped off her lap.
            “L-Lucy!”  Maggie yelled through sobs.
            The fishbowl crashed to the hard oak floor, shattering into dozens of sharp pieces, sending glass and water and colorful gravel everywhere.
            “Mom!” Lucy cried.
            “It’s ok honey, it’s ok.”  Maggie reassured her daughter.  “We’ll just clean it up.”  Maggie was instantly glad the fishbowl had shattered.  Somehow the shock of the breaking glass had brought her back around.  There was something to do now, something to clean up and something to distract both of them.  Maggie pulled herself together and the two of them got down on their knees and started picking up the pieces.
            Not a minute into the cleanup, Lucy yelled out.
            Maggie looked up.  Her daughter was looking at her finger while a single trail of scarlet dripped from the fingertip.  “Just great.” Maggie thought.  Lucy had cut her finger on the glass.  Already Lucy’s lip was trembling and in a moment the whole thing would start up again.  Maggie couldn’t be certain she wasn’t about to start up again herself.  Just when the waterworks were about to get going, Lucy looked down to the ground, stunned.  The lip had stopped trembling.
            “Mom look!”
            Maggie looked down.  Fred was twitching.  A few seconds on, and the fish was practically flopping around in a small puddle of water caught in one of the larger fragments of fishbowl.  A drop of Lucy’s blood was slowly dissipating in the tiny puddle too.  In an instant her daughter went from despair to elation.
But Maggie went from distress to near abject horror.  She went rigid.
            “Don’t touch it Lucy.”
Lucy just looked at her in disbelief.  “But MOM we have to save him!”
            “DON’T TOUCH IT!!”  Maggie screamed.
            Lucy looked back at her mom scared.  Why was she so angry?
“But mom…” Lucy went on.
            “Um…ok, honey, hold still, don’t move! I don’t want you to get cut again.” Maggie had to shake herself to bring herself back to the moment.  What to do?!
“But MOM!!”
            “HOLD ON LUCY!! I’ll be right back!!”
Maggie got up and ran to the kitchen.  She found a large mason jar and filled it with water and ran back to the room.  She paused, looking disbelieving at the flopping fish.
            “Mom!” Lucy implored.
            “Right,” Maggie set about her task.  She scooped up the fish and plopped it into the Mason jar.  Fred swam around the smaller confines of the jar contentedly.  Lucy began jumping up and down holding out both hands for her chance to hold her fish once again.  Maggie reluctantly handed over the Mason jar.
            Lucy was beside herself with relief. 
            “I can’t believe it!!  FRED’S OK!!”  She gazed into the Mason jar with wonder.  Maggie stared too.  She hugged her mother around her middle, but Maggie Miller didn’t hug her daughter back.  Instead she just stood there, hand on mouth, staring at the fish.  After a while Maggie gingerly pried the jar and miraculous fish from her daughter’s hands.
            “What?” Lucy protested.
            “Honey, Fred’s ok, and I still need to clean up all this glass. Ok?  Now just go out into the kitchen and bring me the dustpan, broom and some rags. Ok?”
            “Honey, please don’t argue.”
Lucy reluctantly went.  After she came back with the cleaning supplies, Maggie sent her to the front room to wait.  Lucy didn’t want to go, but Maggie insisted because Lucy didn’t have shoes on, and there was still a lot of glass.  Lucy didn’t want to be parted from the resurrected pet so soon, but she was so happy to have Fred back, she didn’t complain too much.
            Maggie swept up the gravel and glass and mopped up all the water, but she never took her eyes off of Fred swimming in the jar on Lucy’s dresser.  When she was all done, Maggie went over to the fish and narrowed her eyes at it and tapped on the glass once or twice.  It looked just like a normal fish.
            Maggie leaned back and put her hands in her back pockets.
            “Well, at least we’ll save on fish food.” She muttered to herself before leaving and shutting the bedroom door.  “Thank goodness you weren’t a kitten!”
            From that point on, Lucy and the fish were inseparable.  In the years to come, the fish survived many more accidental hardships, including a couple more dropped fish bowls, being accidently placed under a heat lamp and even an unexpected freeze when left outside. It didn’t help that Lucy insisted on taking the fish everywhere: show and tell, vacation, camp.  It had survived so many mishaps that Lucy began calling it “Fred, the Unkillable.”  When she got older however, and she learned that fish simply don’t live for that long, she began to suspect that her mother was secretly replacing her original fish with identical fish all along.  On a couple of occasions, she even found bags from the pet store lying around the house with receipts for new fish in them.  Lucy hid the incriminating evidence when she found it and tried not to let on that she knew.  Lucy never said anything about it to her mom even when she turned thirteen.  She just figured it made her mom happy to keep up the pretense.  It must have been a way for her mother to hold onto the innocence of her childhood just a little while longer.
But those receipts were for fish Maggie Miller secretly gave away to neighbors, coworkers and the children of friends.  Maggie gave away enough fish over the years people began to think she had an odd fascination for them, but Maggie Miller didn’t care for fish at all.  She only needed the bags and the receipts.  She left them around the house for her daughter to find every time Fred “miraculously” survived another calamity.  The truth was, Fred really was “Fred the Unkillable” and Maggie was prepared to do anything to keep her daughter from finding out the truth.  She just wished her daughter wasn’t so accident-prone.  Those fish were expensive.

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