Yes, I’m still here! I’ve been reworking my fantasy novel Shards, AKA “The Big Book”, since mid-December. At this point I should have Part One available within a few months, to be followed (in another ten or twelve months, based on how long it has taken me to rework Part One and on the fact that Part Two is longer).
Why is it taking me so long to finish editing Shards Part One, you ask? Well, I finished Shards quite a while ago (“quite a while” being at least a decade) and when I finally went back to edit it … well, when you go back and read something that you wrote that long ago, what immediately strikes you is that it’s terrible. That’s what happens to me, anyway.
How bad was the original version of Shards? Let’s compare its opening section to the current revision, which still isn’t finished — I will be going through it at least once more for further editing. Is it an improvement? I sure think so, but you be the judge.
Shards Opening: Original Version
Shards Opening: Current Version
Mercy sighed and rolled over, twisting herself up in a cocoon of sheets. She had just checked the digital clock by her bed and its big red numbers currently declared it 5:58 in the morning. In two minutes, the alarm would ring and force her out of the warm, soft embrace of her covers. She closed her eyes and tried to shunt herself into a pocket dimension where time moved more slowly.As usual, it didn’t work.
She told herself she wasn’t going to look at the clock again, and then of course she did. It was still 5:58, but then the minute passed and it was 5:59. Mercy groaned and pulled a pillow over her head.
After the alarm would come another routine day. She would get up and take a shower, find something presentable to wear, eat a bowl of cereal, and meet Bernard for the walk to school. At school she would sit through her classes waiting for lunch; then at lunch she and Bernard would sit at the table in the corner by themselves, ignoring the occasional spitball or piece of food that flew their way. Then after lunch it would be back to the classes, and she would sit through them waiting for the bell to ring and free her to go home. Then—
Suddenly the radio dial flared into life, and after a crackle of static came the voice of Tom Tuttle, the morning DJ. He was in the middle of a weather report. “Blue skies today but cold, cold, cold!” he announced cheerfully.
Tom Tuttle was cheerful because he didn’t have to walk to and from school. Tom Tuttle had a car with a heater.
“A mass of cold air is moving down from Canada and it’ll send temperatures plunging when it gets here,” he continued. “The high today will be near forty degrees but don’t expect it to last very long! That’s—”
Mercy’s hand came down hard on the snooze button. She could, albeit briefly, deny that the world once again had her in its grip.
But when she touched the radio a shiver like an electric shock shot up her arm, freezing her fingers on the button. Static surged over Tuttle’s voice, burying it under cosmic hiss; and through the static she heard something else, a deep bass voice rumbling in a strange and garbled language. “Aramarûl,” it said.
And again. “Aramarûl.”
She wrenched her hand off the radio. The voice stopped instantly but her arm still tingled, muscles like taffy. She’d almost been electrocuted!
It was definitely time for a new alarm clock.
She rolled over onto her back and looked at the ceiling. Mercedes Vaccaro, she thought, was electrocuted at 6:00 a.m. by an alarm clock. There will be no calling hours as she had no friends.
She threw herself out of bed and padded softly across the room to her large mirror, where she clicked on the light and gazed mournfully at her reflection. Her hair, the color of the sand on some nondescript beach, lay limply against her skull and trickled lazily down the back of her neck to gather in a muddy puddle at her shoulders. Her eyes, puffy from sleeping, were too big for her face and were a watery green that impressed no one. Her nose was too small, and there were freckles across its bridge and on to her cheekbones; her lips were thin and pale; and her body still looked much like it had five years ago, when she was twelve. No wonder the other kids hadn’t missed the irony of her name. The taunting had started in elementary school, and although it had largely stopped, she was still generally ignored by her schoolmates.
Except Bernard, of course. Bernard was her best friend. But he had a crush on her that he thought she didn’t know about, and she was worried it would end up ruining what had been, and still was, a mutually entertaining relationship.
She sighed and reached up and turned off the light.
Mercy sighed and rolled over, twisting herself up in a cocoon of sheets. She had just checked the digital clock by her bed; its big red numbers decreed that it was 5:56 in the morning. In four minutes, the alarm would ring and force her out of the warm, soft embrace of her covers. She closed her eyes and tried to shunt herself into a pocket dimension where time passed more slowly or, better yet, didn’t pass at all. She concentrated on this most intently, focusing all of her mental energy on making it happen, on finding cracks in the plaster walls of reality, forcing her fingers into them (metaphorically of course), stripping them off the way one might peel an orange.When she opened her eyes, it was still 5:56.
“I did it,” she whispered. She could feel the pressure of Time pushing against her, building, building, relentless as a storm surge pounding at a levee, until something inside her snapped and Time, with gleeful malice, skipped over 5:57 and 5:58 and went straight to 5:59. With a frustrated groan, she pulled the pillow over her head. Obviously her bleary morning vision had taken the nine to be an eight, seeing what it wanted to see; although if she were going down Hallucination Alley, she could think of better things to imagine than an extra minute or two under the covers.
The appointed hour arrived and her clock radio came to life, spewing the voice of her cheerful nemesis, Tom Tuttle, the morning DJ on the local Top 40 station. She seemed to have caught him doing one of his highly technical weather reports. “Blue skies today but cold, cold, cold!” he chirped.
Tom Tuttle didn’t care how cold it was outside; Tom Tuttle was sitting in a nice, warm studio, drinking an enormous mug of hot cocoa, and at the end of the day would be driving home in a car with self-warming seats. Or something.
“A mass of cold air is moving down from Canada and it’ll send temperatures plunging when it gets here!” he continued, projecting a slightly crazed enthusiasm, as if he were a cold air huckster hoping to attract gullible buyers from among his listening audience. “The high this morning will be near thirty but don’t expect it to last very long. Stay bundled up, folks, I don’t want any of my listeners to freeze!”
Heaven forfend he should lose a listener and get a few pennies knocked off his advertising rates. “Sorry, Tom, no sale on the cold air today,” Mercy said as she hit the button to turn the radio off, stopping Tom just as he started talking about his live New Year’s Eve broadcast from wherever it was he would be doing it. A car dealership, most likely, or maybe a carpet store.
She rolled over onto her back and looked at the ceiling, her eyes tracking a spider as it scuttled along a rafter, passing through a moonbeam and vanishing into the protective darkness of a corner. “I know just how you feel,” she told it. “I hate mornings too. But at least I don’t have to eat flies for breakfast.” If the spider sympathized, it didn’t write her any messages with its web to tell her. She had probably annoyed it with that crack about flies.
Mercy threw herself out of bed and padded softly across the room to her large mirror, where she clicked on the light. Here was another reason to hate mornings; every night she went to bed a girl and woke up a zombie. Her hair, the color of the sand on some nondescript beach (not one of the famous ones, like Coronado or the Riviera, but one on some lake way out in the forest that no one had ever heard of, and that had served as a dumping ground for generations of loggers), lay limply against her skull and trickled lazily down the back of her neck to gather in a muddy puddle at her shoulders. Her eyes, puffy from sleep or the lack thereof, were always too big for her face, especially in this shadowy semi-darkness. Perhaps because it had been crowded out by her massive peepers, her nose was too small. Her lips, too, were thin and pale, as if all of her other features were terrified that her eyes would spot them and muscle them off her face.
She sighed. It was tough when your name was associated with a brand of luxury automobile, but you looked like something that had been dragged out of a used-car lot out behind the junkyard. No one really teased her about her name anymore—being seniors, they were above such childish antics—but some of her old nicknames had stuck. On any given day, a random classmate was as likely to call her “Edsel” as they were “Mercedes”, even the ones who were her putative friends.
Except for Bernard, of course; Bernard, her best friend since fourth grade, would never call her anything but “Mercy”. Disturbingly, though, he had recently developed a crush on her that he thought she didn’t know about. She couldn’t help but worry that it would mess up what had been a long-standing and perfectly satisfactory platonic relationship, as boy/girl stuff was wont to do.
Maybe she should take a picture of herself in the mirror and give it to Bernard. That ought to cure him.
She sighed and reached up and turned off the light.
You may not have found reading the drivel that was the first version as painful as I do, but only because you’re not the one who wrote it. But don’t be afraid, the final version of Shards will contain nearly 100% new and rewritten material! Which in ten years I will no doubt look at and think is terrible. But we’ll worry about that in ten years.