Thursday, March 25, 2010

Would you keep reading?

I've been working on revisions for my YA Faerie/Changeling tale, "The Between."   After going back and forth about the opening--balancing too much of the protagonist's ordinary life before the story vs starting too far into the strangeness without anything to latch on to--I think I've struck a balance.

For your perusal (and, I hope, pleasure), the first 1500 words of the revised opening to "The Between."

Lydia decided to wait for the late bus. Clive wouldn't be expecting her to stay after school on the Friday before a three-day weekend and she just wanted to leave school for once without him watching her. It wasn't as if she was afraid of him, exactly, but the way he seemed to know where she'd be at any given time was getting more than a little creepy. Before he showed up, no one really paid all that much attention to her, except her cross country coach and that was only because she was the fastest girl on the varsity squad.

She used to wonder what it would be like to be one of the popular kids. Now that she had her own groupie, she decided she liked being ignored a lot better. Lydia slammed her locker door shut. The loud clash reverberated through the quiet hallway. An answering metallic clang made her jerk around, her heart racing.

It was one of the High School custodians pushing a mop and bucket toward the cafeteria. He saluted her with his free hand and she nodded back, annoyed at her body's over-reaction. Lydia exhaled, leaning back against her locker. The past few weeks, having to deal with Clive was making her paranoid. It was odd enough that someone would just happen to enroll as a senior and end up in all of her classes, but Clive was always studying her instead of anything any of their teachers said or did.

It wasn't right. He wasn't right. Clive's attention went way beyond any normal level of interest. Somehow Lydia was sure he didn't want to ask her out.

She waited in the shadow of the school entrance until 4:15 before sprinting across the field and boarding the mostly empty bus. There were only a few kids she knew. The rest were from band, their instruments taking up space in the seats beside them. It had been a long week and Lydia didn’t really want to talk to anyone. She shoved her backpack under a seat in the back and leaned against the window.

The bus driver shut the doors, air brakes squealing as he disengaged them. Thank God it was Friday. With Monday off, she had three days to work on her college essays and get her history paper finished. Three whole days without having to dodge her personal stalker.

"May I?" a deep voice asked, full of exaggerated politeness.

She jerked her head up. Clive was standing, leaning over her seat, staring at her with his odd emerald eyes. Lydia forced herself not to react. What was he doing here? He didn't live anywhere near her side of town. She looked around, but as usual, no one even glanced her way. It was as if she was invisible to everyone but Clive. She wondered what they would do if she screamed. If he tried to touch her, she sure as hell would. He sat down beside her and she inched closer to the window.

"It's the glamour," he said.

Maybe he would just go away if she closed her eyes.

"That's why they don't notice you.”

Lydia could hear the perfect smile in his voice. Ever since he came to school in September, most of the girls and even some of the guys practically drooled over him. But no one else seemed to catch the odd things he said to her. Not the kids who orbited around "Planet Clive," not the teachers who somehow never called on him or collected his homework. Not the guidance counselor who didn't seem to register her complaints. No one.

"But it's wearing off,” he said.

At least her stop was next. Then she could go home and pretend there wasn't anyone named Clive Barrow following her around at her school. And in seven months, she would graduate and head off to college. With any luck, she would never, ever see him again.

“Once it's gone all together, you won't be safe here anymore. Even Oberon couldn't keep you hidden forever."

She opened her eyes. He was staring at her, the corners of his mouth upturned. Oberon. Shakespeare. He was talking nonsense again. And she was pretty sure he was mocking her. She shook her head. They just finished reading "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in English class. "Taking the in-character exercise pretty seriously, aren't you?" Lydia said, irritation making her sarcastic.

"Where do you think he got his ideas from?"

"Who?" she asked, before pressing her lips closed. She shouldn't have opened her mouth. The last thing she wanted was to encourage him. In a few minutes, she would be home. Surely he wouldn't follow her there.

"Shakespeare." Clive glared at her and shook his head, his straight black hair falling to frame his oval face. "Never mind."

"What's wrong with you? Just leave me the hell alone," she said, tugging her backpack free from under the seat in front of her. The bus groaned as it turned the corner of her street. Lydia glared at Clive but he didn't budge, effectively trapping her there.

"Excuse me," she said, not even trying to mirror his formal tone. Her mom's Subaru was parked in the driveway. Good. The bus stopped with a jerk and the door hissed open. Clive stood up and swept his arm in a bow that should have seemed weird and awkward in the confined space of the bus but somehow didn't.

"After you,” he said.

She stood up and shouldered her bag, trying not to think of what she'd do if he followed her. Yell? Call the police? Run? She smiled. There weren't a lot of kids who could outpace her when she poured it on. "Whatever," she said, pushing past him into the aisle.

A shadow fell over the bus. Outside, the late afternoon sunlight dimmed. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Clive stared out the widow, the color draining from his face until it was chalk white.
Something ruffled his perfect composure. She frowned and followed the line of his gaze to her house. Her brother Marco's bike was leaning on the railing of the front porch, his muddy soccer cleats draped over the handlebars as usual. One of her neighbors was walking a yapping corgi. The sky that had been threatening rain all day let loose with a spray of fat droplets. It was all perfectly ordinary. She couldn’t see what had weirded Clive out, but something in his reaction made her uneasy.

Lydia's pulse pounded in time to the beat of rain on the roof of the bus. The door closed. They jerked forward. "You idiot, you made me miss my stop." Lydia reached out and shoved him in the chest. He muttered something under his breath.

A flare of lightning turned the other kids on the bus into distant silhouettes. She closed her eyes against the momentary brightness. A roar of thunder sounded like a freight train outside, rattling windows and leaving her ears ringing. The hair on her arms fanned out and a wave of pressure thrummed against her chest. The bus lurched to an abrupt stop. Lydia was thrown against the seat in front of her. The edge of the high back caught her in the stomach, leaving her gasping for breath.

The sound of screaming cut through her confusion. She blinked, trying to clear the afterimages from the lightning strike. Her ears still buzzed. A few students were crying. Others were picking themselves and their backpacks up from the aisle or each other’s laps. The bus horn wailed like a siren.

It all seemed so far away. Lydia stared out the windshield, her mouth falling open, as a torrent of water rushed down the street. Flashes of lightning pierced a dark sky. She had to get out. She had to run. Lydia shivered, pushing her way through her panicked classmates to the door.

The driver was slumped over the wheel, blood running from his forehead. Outside, a huge maple tree lay across the road. If they had been any further down the street it would have crushed the bus. It was a miracle they hadn't hit it.

"Come on!" Clive said. "They're looking for you."

"What? Who?" Lydia shuddered, his words like the cold rain lashing the bus. She reached for the door release.

"Not that way, you fool!" he shouted. "Look!" Clive pivoted her shoulders around toward the front of the bus.

The next flare burned a nightmare into her memory. The darkness outside was moving, like a sky full of insects. Each lightning strike erased huge swaths of wriggling blackness. As she watched, more of the swarm poured in to fill the gaps. She couldn't look away. They ate their way closer to the bus with a single-minded hunger that repulsed and fascinated her.

"What the hell is that?" The sounds on the bus faded and all Lydia could hear was a low vibration from outside, pressing against the skin of the bus.

"Darklings. Let's go," Clive said.

So, what's the consensus?  Would you turn the page?


  1. Cool, Lisa, kinda rushes forward, from Lydia's "normal" into a 'glamorous' uber-ABnormal, which will leave Lydia sort of suspended it the constantly-REacting state; perhaps it would do well to show just a little bit more of who/how (strengths, internal resources, etc.) Lydia and her normal-normal are. It would give me a better grip on how she might begin to react/respond to all this whirl of new-and-(smugly, so far, thanks to Clive!)-unexplained turn of events.
    (Like, I would feel swept off my feet, first, with the paranoia, and then find myself backing into a stubborn, defensive corner at the sheer RUSH of strange. I'd be far more likely to BITE Clive than follow him. But that's me, informed by MY back-story...) What's Lydia's back-story? Or, at least...a bit more of it?

    [If this is one of an on-going series, featuring Lydia's charactor, of course, then...the question is moot, as your audience would already be familiar with her personality/charactor and internal "tool-kit".]

  2. Packrat--thank you so much for stopping by to take a look and taking the time to leave a comment.

    It's a real balancing act to decide when to start a story. There's the huge push to begin 'in media res'--right in the thick of things, but I also agree that some orientation to the protagonist's life *before* the inciting event starts is crucial.

    One of the arcs of this story is how Lydia moves from reacting to acting, taking back her power to decide. So the fact that she feels as if she's reacting is intentional.

    However, if you felt like it was hard to feel oriented to the story, or feel connected to Lydia, then I haven't done my job well enough.

    Your comments and thoughts are very useful.


  3. For what it's worth ...

    The first paragraph right away made me wonder about this Clive guy. The more we learn about his incessant presence and the odd things he says, as well as Lydia's negative reaction to him, the more I want to see what he's up to.

    The action did seem just a touch fast off the cuff, but not anything that turned me off.

    There was enough characterization to give me an initial feel for Lydia - brought me back to my own high school self.

    Looking forward to reading more!

  4. Anne--thank you for stopping by and for sharing your reactions with me! Much obliged.


    Clive is definitely more than he appears, yet he is not Lydia's enemy.