In anticipation of Stepping Stones’ release on August 25th, I’ve dug out my old manuscripts and compared them, one by one. It hasn’t been pretty, but it has been fun! I’ve had help from my trusty sidekicks, Stephanie Keyes (of The Star Child fame) and Hannah R. Goodman (Founder and Editor of Sucker Literary and All the Way YA). These ladies have read over my early drafts and marked then up with red pen. (Side note: Print out your manuscripts and use red pen. It’s SO satisfying!)
Now we’ve reached the moment you’ve been waiting for: THE FINAL FIRST SCENE REVEAL (with a few comments thrown in). I know I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it (at least!) a million more times, but I love this book. I’m so excited to share Onna and Everett’s story with you. You can preorder the digital version of Stepping Stones from Amazon, or add it on Goodreads.
Version Four – 2014
KACEY: I wrote SEVEN OTHER novels from Version One until Version Four. (There is an incomplete Version Three somewhere on my hard drive…I’ll post it if I can locate it.) That number is an estimate because my memory is hazy. I joined the Flint Area Writers. I branched out into short fiction. I read A LOT.
Things I learned between then and now:
*Writing is HARD. Writing WELL is harder.
*There are some words you shouldn’t use. A shortlist:
- Seems, in any form.
- Wonder, as in she wonders if…
- Was, Is, Had, Has, etc.
*A successful novel takes multiple drafts. Hours, days, week, months, years (EVEN DECADES) of struggling.
*You’re still a writer even if you suck. (HANNAH: YES! Because being a writer is not something one can judge without being prejudice. Meaning, being a writer is like having blue eyes…you are born this way.)
*You really should listen to those who are older/wiser/more experienced than you. They’re not critiquing you to be rude (usually), they’re critiquing you so you can learn and grow and become a better writer.
*If writing is something you’re passionate about, don’t give up. It’s always worth it in the long run if it makes you happy.
**In this version, Onna’s brother’s name is now Caleb. Name changes are often part of reaching a final draft.
**The point of view has changed from first person to third person.
This is the first scene of Stepping Stones, which will publish on August 25th. This book is my baby, my rambunctious problem child. I’m SO PROUD of how far it’s come (and how far I’ve come as a writer!). I took this excerpt straight from the digital version of the document, which is ready for publication. See? Just for sticking with me, you get a sneak peek!
Divorce. The word BURROWED deep in Onna’s chest, BARBED like the sharp quills of a porcupine. The sting RADIATED from her heart into her lungs, her head, her hands. She knew she should stick around and listen to her parents’ STUMBLING apologies and paper-thin explanations, but she couldn’t.
She BURST through the front door into DAZZLING sunshine. The sky hung endless above her from horizon to horizon—perfect, crisp blue. She glanced back at the windows, rooms hidden by curtains and blinds. Houses were facades, masks to cover pain and heartbreak. She could stare at the glass all day, where cheery vines and flowers SPILLED from window boxes, and never see past the guise. Even now, her parents were probably sitting in cruel silence, debating how to avoid each other until one of them moved out.
HANNAH: I could go on but I will stop and focus on this section to highlight that this is what makes writing have a sense of movement, a sense that SOMETHING IS HAPPENING even if it really isn’t. The language here allows us to get back story in a way that feels like we are moving through the events of the plot. Amen. (The words Hannah is referring to are BOLDED.)
It made her sick.
Sliding into the driver seat of her Grand Am felt like stepping into a sauna. End-of-summer heat collected in the car and made the interior stifling. Onna CRANKS the windows and cursed her parents for not buying her a car with automatic anything, and the air conditioner was broken. Her dad promised to fix it four months ago. Guess he was too busy planning the divorce to get around to it.
Onna PRESSED her phone to her ear before she backed out of the driveway. Caleb answered on the first ring.
“Baby sister,” he said, a smile in his voice. The knot around Onna’s heart EASED. “What’s shakin’?”
She pictured him on the balcony of his apartment in Traverse City, feet propped on the banister, staring out over Lake Michigan. She stayed with him for two weeks in July, spending her days sprawled on the beach with a book in her hands while Caleb studied for medical boards. At night, they PROWLED the town and sampled swanky restaurants, and Cora, Caleb’s girlfriend, took Onna dancing at a beachside club.
“Caleb—” Onna said, wondering how to break the news.
“They finally told you.”
Onna nearly dropped the phone. An angry honk sounded from behind her, and she realized she’d stopped at a green light. Muttering, she passed through the intersection and pulled into a parking lot. The convenience store was dead, the lot deserted. The relentless heat drove everyone indoors where there was air conditioning and iced-tea and Saturday afternoon movie marathons. Neon signs advertising beer and cigarettes flickered in the window. The attendant inside LEANED over the counter, watching her.
Returning to her conversation with Caleb, she hissed, “You knew?” The pause was long enough to serve as Caleb’s confession.
“Don’t be upset, Leelee.” He fell back on her childhood nickname, even though she’d asked him to stop. Onnie, Leelee, Leigha—her name, Onnaleigh Evelyn Moore, was too easily shortened. “They fell out of love,” Caleb continued. “We can’t expect them to stay together if they’re unhappy.”
“Easy for you to say, you don’t live with them. You didn’t see how Dad looked at Mom. You didn’t see him cry.” Onna closed her eyes. Tears burned behind her lids. She wished she were with Caleb now. He’d tell her a dirty joke or let her drink half his six-pack. He’d make it bearable.
Her parents always laughed about Onna’s devotion to her older brother. Whenever she hurt herself as a child, she ran to Caleb. From the time she could walk, Caleb was the one who kissed her scrapes and chased the boogeyman from beneath her bed. Even now, she called him with breakups and bad grades and for advice about everything. He was the only twenty-five-year-old male Onna knew who would listen to her ramble about boys, makeup, and what color dress she wanted for prom.
During Caleb’s drawn out silence, a vintage, kelly green Mustang pulled into the convenience store lot, all sleek lines and muscle. Onna GROANED as the driver, instead of choosing a space near the entrance, pulled in next to her at the far corner. She wiped her eyes and debated rolling up the windows. There was nothing worse than crying in public, except having a witness. In the end, she settled for glowering at the driver as he emerged.
Much like his car, which was a sex-machine with four wheels, the guy was hard lines and hotness. He wore board shorts and a blue t-shirt over dark, olive skin. A longish crop of unruly brown hair hung to his eyebrows. Black aviators perched on a straight nose.
HANNAH: Enter the Hot Dude. What an entrance. It is short and teasing, just how it should be. I particularly love hard lines and hotness, as it evokes voice. I like the varied sentence structure of the three lines after it. This is sophisticated writing. This is good.
Onna swore she felt his gaze on her face. She sank lower into the seat and her cheeks heated. The guy nodded in her direction before crossing the lot and disappearing into the store. The doorbell’s jangle reached her ears, followed by Caleb’s worried voice.
She swallowed, heart thudding against her ribs in a frantic dash to be free. The Grand Am’s vents blew hot against damp cheeks. She propped her door open and gulped fresh air. Who is that guy?
“I’m here,” she said, peeking over the seat back. She lost sight of the guy between the shelves.
“Cora and I are coming home next weekend. Can you survive until then? I have some time off saved for a special occasion, but I wouldn’t mind spending it on you.” In the background, the excited tone of Cora’s voice rose, and Caleb mumbled, “It’s Onna.”
There was a moment of deafening static, and then Cora was on the line. “We’re engaged!” she yelled.
Onna squealed. “You’vegottabekiddingme!”
“Not kidding. He got me a rock. I can hardly hold my hand up.”
“Lies,” Caleb said, voice far away. Another rumble of static and Caleb spoke again. “She was supposed to wait until next weekend.” His voice distorted as if he covered the mouthpiece with his palm. “You were supposed to wait… You know, wait. Should I spell it for you?”
Cora giggled and Caleb’s voice lifted to full strength. “Keep it to yourself. With everything going on…” he trailed off and suddenly Onna was back in the living room, seeing her mom glare at her dad while tension churned around them.
“Right,” she said, forcing brightness into her words. “Congratulations, Caleb.”
“Thanks. Hang in there. At least school starts soon. Senior year.” He faked a sob. “My baby sister’s growing up. Anyways, call me if you want to talk. Cora and I are headed out to tell her parents. She thinks her dad will chase me with a shovel.”
Onna was horrified. “He wouldn’t.”
“That’s what I said,” Caleb agreed, laughing.
“He’s got a shotgun,” Cora yelled.
She’d just hung up when the guy came out of the store carrying two jumbo blue slushes. Prickles crawled up Onna’s neck. She tossed her phone onto the passenger seat and closed her driver door. When she looked up, he was outside her window, dripping plastic cup held through the opening. A red swirly straw sat atop the melting blue drink.
“You looked like you could use this,” he said, leaning down so his face filled her open window. His mouth curled in a sexy smile that made Onna lose conscious thought. She wished she could see his eyes, but the lenses of his glasses were so opaque she couldn’t guess the color behind them.
“Uh—thanks?” she said, hoping he’d go away.
He pushed the drink closer. The sharp sting of cold condensation falling onto her bare legs jolted her from the stupor. She took the slippery cup, burning fingers brushing his freezing ones. Her stomach tickled.
“See you around, Onna,” he said, standing.
She watched him climb into his car. He rolled down the windows—also manual—giving her a view of an all leather interior and shiny four-speed shifter on the floor. The guy put the straw of his slush—also red swirly—to his lips and drank deeply. Onna thought she would die before that sip ended. Then he smiled, backed neatly around her car, and tore out of the parking lot.
HANNAH: Steamy awesomeness. What’s awesome is that this is actually a sex scene and yet, no sex has been had.
STEPH: LOVE, LOVE! So much stronger than the earlier version. You know the expression. There are no good writers, only good re-writers. The only thing I’d like to see is more of a transition in the first paragraph when she runs out. A glimpse of what her parents look like. A line from them and then, boom, she runs.
HANNAH: A huge improvement that really showcases your skills and hard work. I love that now I know how you grew as a writer. Bravo! (KACEY: I just love her…)
KACEY: You can see how the scene progressed from version to version. A lot of the same things still happen, we learn about the divorce, Onna’s devotion to her brother, and we get to meet (YAY!) the male main character and introduce his mystery to the story. The backstory remains, but it’s woven in between action scenes that move the story along. Onna doesn’t spend much time sitting around thinking. Information is learned from her dialogue with Caleb and Cora, along with a glimpse into her personality and values.
Now, I’ll never say that a draft is perfect. Perfection is IMPOSSIBLE to achieve, but feeling satisfied over a journey is allowed. I hope you’re intrigued enough to pick up a copy of Stepping Stones when it releases August 25th, especially now that you’ve seen the process it underwent from inception to final draft.
I’d love to hear your thoughts or horror stories over your first drafts. Comment below!