Tuesday, January 24, 2012

H is for Hill House

Hill House, though abandoned, had remained unscathed during the years of the Dragon's occupation.

Thus begins Veiled Rose, book 2 in the Tales of Goldstone Wood. It is, I think, one of my favorite opening lines I've written.

As a comparison, would you like to read some others?

Two children, a brother and a sister, played down by the Old Bridge nearly every day, weather permitting.

The unicorn stood before the gates of Palace Var.

Once upon a time, great Etalpalli, the City of Wings, was ruled by a Faerie queen.
(Starflower--most recent draft, subject to change)

Let me tell you a story.
(Book 5 draft--subject to change)

The Queen of Arpiar bore twin sons, but only one could inherit the kingdom, so she was faced with a choice.
(Goblin Son. Sorry, this one's unsold, so you don't get to read it. Maybe someday!)

First lines are important. Not as important as first chapters (sometimes, I think beginning writers are told to place too much emphasis on a killer first line), but important nonetheless. It sets the tone of everything to follow. Often (though not always!) it is the first thing the writer puts down on paper for the particular story in question, so it is equally important for that first sentence to catch the writer's attention as the reader's.

Veiled Rose was a difficult story for me to pin down. Second books often are. While this was not the second novel I had ever written (nor was Heartless the first), it was the first sequel. They say the strength of a writer can be told, not by their debut, but by their follow-up novel. Does Author In Question have more than one story to tell? Or will he/she merely rehash the old one in a new setting with different eye-colors for the leads? It's a question far more significant to the writer than to the reader. It's a question that every writer must answer by the all-important labor of writing that second book.

So, knowing only that I wanted to tell a story about Lionheart (a hero/villain from Heartless) and with the character of Rose Red alive in my brain, I set to work on penning a sequel.

The first one I wrote was deemed un-publishable by my editors.

Yikes! I have to tell you, that is not a response any writer likes to hear on their first-ever sequel! While I had honestly believed that I had penned a story alive with great characters and significant plot-threads, my editors, alas, saw only caricatures and rambling rabbit-trails.

I was devastated. I really thought I had something in that original draft of Veiled Rose. But, looking it over a month or two after receiving their comments, I had to admit that, yes, the plot really was rambling around and, due to that rambling, the characters were  not coming across as vividly as I had believed.

However, I also saw potential. So after a certain amount of pleading, my editors did the unthinkable: They told me I could have a second stab at it.

Looking back on it now, I'm nothing short of amazed at the trust they demonstrated by going ahead with the project. After all, I had done nothing to merit that trust! But by God's good grace, they signed off on a hastily-scribbled synopsis and moved on ahead with production . . . leaving me with approximately two months to come up with something they could truly love and get behind.

Two months.

May I just mention that those were two months during which I was becoming engaged, moving all my worldly goods to my fiancé's house, and moving myself temporarily to Wisconsin to plan a wedding? While simultaneously trying to work two other jobs?

Yeah, definitely dropped the two other jobs during that time. The cats and I lived on starvation rations.

So it was that, with an un-publishable first draft under my belt, a handful of notes in my hand, and my head desperately whirling with thoughts of weddings and movings and all sorts of major distractions, I sat down at my desk and wrote that first line:

Hill House, though abandoned, had remained unscathed during the years of the Dragon's occupation.

I won't say it was magic. I won't say that suddenly all my writerly problems were solved.

I will say that God's grace poured down on me in that moment.

When I wrote that line, suddenly scenes, once elusive, took shape in my brain; scenes and characters and twists of a far more focused plot. I saw Hill House where the boy Leo spent an incredible, life-changing summer. I saw the mountain cave where an isolated goat girl was tormented by a manipulative monster.

A whole new story--scarcely recognizable from the original draft I'd written the year before--took shape in my mind. And a book that should never have been written poured from my heart.

I met the deadline by God's power alone. And my editors were pleased.

I came down ridiculously sick (Rubella. Bleh.) a few weeks later, breaking out in red rash all over my body with two weeks to go before I was supposed to walk down a certain aisle wearing a certain white dress. But the book was finished, the rash disappeared, and at the end of the craziest summer of my life, I found myself married and the author of a publishable sequel.

And it all started with that first line.

Hill House was a fun setting for me to invent. The name itself was inspired (as some of you may have guessed) from a famous novel I had read in college, the one-and-only horror story to have crossed my literary path: The Haunting of Hill House. An excellent book, but not one I'll recommend unless you really want to scare yourself out of some sleep.

Hill House in my story is significantly less haunted, though there are plenty of secrets and mysteries in the countryside surrounding it. It belongs to Leo's aunt, Dame Willowfair. When Leo and his cousin, Foxbrush, fought as boys, Foxbrush often planted a winning blow by declaring, "This is my mother's house, so you have to do what I say!" (p. 14). Nevertheless, it is at Hill House that young Leo finds more freedom than he has previously known in his life. Freedom . . . and a true friend.

I hope you found yourself swiftly pulled into the story of Leo and Rose Red when you read that opening line and the scene following. And I am more thankful than I can express that I had the opportunity to share it with you! Personally, I like it even better than Heartless.


Eszter said...

I loved your sequel. I couldn't put it down until I finished it-then I reread it again! and I liked Hill House. Since it remained unscathed during those aweful dragon years, I wondered if it didn't perhaps had a special purpose, or had been a gift from someone whose magic was not affected by the dragon. Maybe a certain prince from another realm???

Rina said...

I loved the sequel! It was a great continuing of the story. And I think it's amazing that you managed to rewrite a reject, plan a wedding and move all at once and write such a great book. Hats off to you!

Anonymous said...

"I will say that God's grace poured down on me in that moment."

This line brought tears to my eyes. "First He calls us, then He enables us."