After weeks and weeks of shoving thoughts of novel revisions aside to prioritize everything and everyone else, I’m finally back in the thick of it—back into serious writing mode. When I dive into the lives of my characters, I’m Alice Through the Looking Glass and the real world slips away behind me. My field of focus goes no farther than the computer screen in front of me and the imagery created by the typed words.
I’m back to drinking cooled coffee and pulling leg warmers on over my jeans because the floor under my desk is the coldest spot in the house. I’ve learned not to take a quick break to put the kettle on for tea unless I am willing to stand in the kitchen and wait for the water to boil. Walking back to my computer, if “only for a minute”, is a recipe for a ruined kettle, which would be the least of it. Something tells me that if I burned the house down, my supportive husband might rethink being so generous about my writing obsession.
I’m at the stage of revision where I’m re-examining how and when characters divulge information to ensure a steady buildup to the big life-changing reveals, and to avoid secrets being disclosed too soon. I’m deepening some of the character’s emotional responses and internal dialogues. Dialogue is being tightened and the manuscript checked and rechecked for consistency in style, capitalization, etc. I’m trying to be methodical about the process so that I move forward in a straight line rather than my usual spiral. I created files: “cut – use elsewhere somewhere”, “deletions and additions”, and “outline” – a synopsis of each chapter, tracking said changes. There’s more, but I can feel your eyes glazing over from here. Bet you’ve guessed that I’m one of those peculiar writing-major types that actually enjoys the editing and revising process.
So instead of rambling on about a process that puts most people into a comatose state, I’m going to insert an excerpt from the novel, just a few paragraphs from Chapter Six.
Background: Paige has only been at DDS for three months. She’s the youngest instructor and is still at the bottom of the learning curve. Paige is also struggling with a mixture of grief and anger after the death of her mother just eighteen months ago. At 24 she’s alone: no mother, no siblings, and no father—a shadowy figure her mother would never talk bout. Paige has come across a worn, frayed folder in a box of her mother’s junk files that has turned her world upside down.
Comfy in her red and white Hello Kitty pajamas, Paige settled onto the sofa, coffee mug in hand. The infamous blue folder lay where she’d tossed it last night. With the tip of her big toe, she nudged it to safety, away from its precarious spot at the edge of the table. Paige’s shoulders slumped. What was wrong with her? She was angry and wanted to scream her frustration at her mother—her dead mother, no less. How cold and useless was that?
Paige was angry on so many levels. Her mother was a nurse. How could she not have recognized the symptoms of esophageal cancer? Or had she, and chose to ignore them? If her mother had acted sooner, maybe Paige wouldn’t be a stinking orphan at twenty-four? And on top of that, once her mother knew her illness was terminal, why didn’t she come clean about the secret she’d been hiding from her only daughter all her life ?
“Why, why, why? There were too many unanswered whys.” Even to her own ears, her voice sounded whiney. Paige pushed herself off the sofa, grabbed her cigarettes and coffee, tucked the folder under her arm, and went out to the balcony to contemplate. She pulled out a plastic patio chair, lit-up and cleared the fog from her head with a happy lungful of nicotine. As she unwound the folder’s frayed elastic closure, it unraveled in her hands. Well, no surprise there. The whole folder was pretty beat up. How many times must her mother have opened it to sort through the contents? And again, why? Keeping a secret like this implies shame. Is that what Paige was: a shameful little secret? What else was she supposed to think? Had her mom been embarrassed about how she became pregnant? Did her mother think that by keeping this information hidden she was somehow protecting her daughter?
All her childhood Paige wondered why she didn’t have a daddy around, and why he wasn’t there, and who he might be. When she was old enough to be told such things, her mother led her to believe that Paige’s conception happened during one uninhibited night of passion with a stranger at a medical conference. Someone whose name her mother couldn’t even remember. Paige tapped a very long ash off her cigarette before taking another drag. What a load of crap. Why would her mother want her to believe something like that? None of this made sense. Her mother was never, at least not to her knowledge, the one-night stand, party-girl type.
Paige pulled a tattered page out of its plastic sleeve and smoothed it out. The edges were beginning to rip. She made a mental note to buy some Scotch tape. About one-third of the way down the page was a faded handwritten note in the margin: a name, a date, and an age. The date was about eighteen months after Paige was born. Did that mean her mother tracked her birth father down? But based on the age, twenty-seven, wouldn’t he have been way too young to be her father? Her mom was forty when Paige was born. If this man her father, than who was he? Too many questions. The only thing Paige could pull out of all of this confusion is that if you want a secret to die with you, you’d better not leave a paper trail lying around. The shredder is your friend.