26 days until the release of "Grimm and White."
The self-publishing industry is a foreign world to me. I'm not going to lie, I have asked myself many times, SHOULD HAVE I GONE THE TRADITIONAL ROUTE? The answer is fairly simple, maybe and maybe not. I will never know what would have done better or how I should have gone about this journey. The main point is that I did it. The next 26 days will be spent sending emails, giving people ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies), and figuring out the best ways to advertise. I should be completely honest and say....I have no idea what I am doing. I am really scared. Hell, I'm terrified. This book has been in my head since 2011.
With the countdown getting shorter I have started thinking about the birth of my novel and how it came to be.
I’m a daydreamer. I assume all writers are, but I know I am. My sister says that my narrative is always slightly different than my reality. How I see myself isn’t always the truth of what I am. I paint myself a picture where I have armor surrounding my heart. I am the girl with no strings and who can dance through the world without anyone, but myself. Truthfully, that is because love is complicated. It’s because the same person that can make you see the world with a mosaic tint, can bring you crashing down into darkness. Love is so multi-faceted. It is good and it is bad. Love is a two-sided coin. At my core I am a romantic.
Falling in love is holding your breath under water. It is overwhelming and your senses are on fire. Your lungs expand, gasp, and scream for a release. It is beautiful and scary. You can float. You can fly. It is the exhilarating tip-top of a rollercoaster, until the tracks creak and groan. All of a sudden you lift from the seat and you feel as though there is nothing to hold on to.
Someone told me once that if they could remove their past loves from their brain, from their heart, they would. How could someone want to dissect away a person who had been their everything? Now I know why they would want that. I know how it feels to keep inhaling without the ability to breathe. A knife etches each day you were together, tallies on your bones. Consumed with hate, but haunted by memories. One day you want them back and the next you never want to see their face again. How can one human consume your being? How can love be… so bad? How can love be…so good?
When I worked at Macy’s on State Street I used to have a repeating daydream. There was a boy who would come into the store. He was totally fictitious and only existed within my brain. I imagined that he would come into the store and march up to the counter. He would gather me into his arms and say, “I made the wrong choice.” I eventually started writing this scene in my head on paper. The boy had been given a choice when we were younger between choosing his one true love or dying. This story never went anywhere. It stayed in my drawer and never developed into anything until 2011.
To pick someone, to really choose them is something that has always fascinated me. I became obsessed with the notion of choosing yourself or the one you love. Then came the idea of Cora, a girl born without a heart. To get a heart she would have to steal it. She didn't become Allie until a full year later. I'm glad I stuck with her. I'm glad I gave her the chance to grow. Heartless became so much more than the idea of love. It became a symbol of death and living with the knowledge that you are going to die. All over the world people live with horrible diseases. These medical conditions debilitate them and force them to make decisions. Some people choose to live with atrocious pain, because it gives them hours or days with their loved ones. Such strength individuals can find in the face of death. This is something that I frequently try to dissect within my novel. To what lengths will we go for love? To what lengths will we fight for life?
People have such possibility. I truly believe there is good and bad in everyone. Within each soul there is darkness and light. “Grimm and White” is not necessarily a love story. It is a human story. It is a tale of decisions and making the ones that we can live with, unless of course we choose not to live at all.
The very first draft of "Grimm and White."
This is unedited and I’m sharing for a few reasons. One: Damn, look how far I have come as a writer. Two: Damn, look how far I have come as a writer. (= Three: Don’t give up on your dreams. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. I had a professor who made my life miserable. I think of his voice when I imagine one of the main antagonists in “Grimm and White.” If someone says that you don’t have a voice, scream at the top of your lungs.
The Chapter with a Bleeding Heart
My lungs explode and pop with an urgency that only the sense of imminent death can bring. The muscles in my legs feel as if they are ripping away from my bones, but I know what will happen if I slow down. Instead of avoiding the deep pothole in front of me, my right foot splashes the muddy water onto my jeans. It is my left foot that hooks into the asphalt, causing me to catapult onto the ground. Fast I am, graceful I’m not.
One part of my brain is focused on the throbbing of my ankle, while the other hemisphere feels uneasy. As if I can feel the heat of brake lights on my back, I whip my head around. I’m just in time to see a taxi speeding towards me. Before my mind has a chance to catch up, my body does the thinking for me. I push my hands onto the gritty street and hurl myself towards the sidewalk. My lower half comes up short, but my face makes the mark completely.
There are pennies on the ground. It’s all I can taste. Pennies or maybe that’s blood. I see white spots. White angel wings.
On the eve of my tenth birthday my mother gave me an aged brown journal. It was wrapped in a pink bow, tied so pretty and perfect. I ran my fingers over the rough cover. Several grooves came together to form the picture of detailed angel wings. Feathers so masterfully drawn, I can imagine their softness caressing my face.
“It’s so beautiful,” I told her, mesmerized.
“A beautiful journal, for my beautiful angel. Now you will always have someone to talk to,” she said. Lumpy tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Mommy, why are you crying?”
“Baby I’ve done many horrible things in my life. The best thing I ever had any part of was you. I need you to know that you always have a choice regarding your life. Even when the best decision has the worst consequences, it is still your decision to make.” My mother’s eyes were like green live wires, full of energy and spark.
I rolled my eyes, “Okay mom, god I’m turning ten, I’m not getting married.”
“I know baby,” she said, kissing me on the cheek. I tugged at her ebony hair, the same shade as my own. Her lilac shampoo filled my nose. She hugged me so tight I could barely breathe.
“Good night mom,” I squeaked, encased in her grasp.
She overdosed two days later, sending her into a coma. Two days, two bottles, 200 pills. Painless-emotionless --- I see white spots. White angel wings. She was right about one thing. You always have a choice.
I open my eyes in the darkness. Both the sidewalk and a piece of green gum greet me. A hand reaches out to me, but I don’t take it.
“I’m fine,” I spit out. An elderly man with big eyes looks down at me.
“You hit your head pretty hard. Are you okay?” he says with kind eyes.
I don’t have time for a pleasant exchange of random kindness. “Thanks,” I mutter.
My feet find a good grip in the earth. My head is still spinning, but I start running regardless.
“Wait,” I hear him call from behind me, “You’re bleeding.”
I look down at my arms. Blood is dripping onto my white shirt. There are gashes on both of my elbows, but the bleeding is not heavy enough to stop. I have to keep going.
By the time I get to the brick apartment building my lungs are on fire. I imagine the flames to be the color of my now blood red top. Miles said that this is where he felt the energy coming from, but the outside of the building seems so peaceful. I pull the slip of paper from my pocket, comparing it to the etched address on the red bricks.
1245 Baker St. Chicago, Il.
I’m at the right place, but maybe we were wrong. Breaking glass shatters my allusion. I always want to be wrong.
No time for knocking. Breaking and entering will have to do. My elbow hits the glass pane, but it doesn’t break. I try again. The second time, my already bloody elbow smashes through the window-pane. I reach my hand in and unlock the oak door. Tempered voices travel down the stairs.
“John, I don’t understand what is wrong. You are scaring me,” a young woman’s voice says.
“Scared. You. Scared. I’ve been scared my whole entire life. You are only going to have to be scared for another minute or so. I’ve had 20 years of fear. The funny thing is it was going to be okay. I cut off all ties with my family. I didn’t truly love anyone. I beat the freaking curse Chelsea, but then you came along. So beautiful and funny. I fell in love.”
I creep along the banister, trying to be fast, but quiet.
“I love you baby. What are you talking about? I think you need some sleep. We both just need sleep. We’re stressed from midterms.”
“Screw midterms. This is life and death.”
I walk into the room the couple is arguing in, startling them. I notice the boy is holding a knife behind his back.
I glance at the girl. She is shaking. I walk over to her slowly, using my body as a wedge between her and the boy. She backs against the closet, scared of us both.
“John, what is happening? Who is she?” Chelsey is whimpering.
He stands very still. His mouth is set in a straight line and his brow twitches slightly.
I turn my body to left. “Chelsey, right? I’m John’s cousin. I’m going to need you to trust me. I need you to run. I need you to run and keep running. John is not well. We have a history of mental illness in our family. That’s why I need you to go.” She looks like a deer caught in headlights. Probably just like I did in front of the taxi. “NOW!”
She runs past me, but John lunges at her with the knife. He narrowly misses her neck, the blade slicing the top of her arm. Her screams vibrate into my eardrums. I jump on top of him, using all my strength to pin him to the ground. I maybe stronger than most people, but he is definitely stronger than me. I take out the gun from my pants.
Chelsea has crawled to the doorway, still sobbing hysterically. “Please don’t shoot him. He’s sick. Something’s wrong with him.”
I glance at the clock. I don’t have to shoot him. I punch him as hard as I can to buy myself the 30 seconds I need.
“Please,” he cries. “I don’t want to die.”
“No one wants to die,” I say. I stroke his face gently. His tears fall into my cut up knuckles. “Unfortunately, you don’t get to make that choice.”
I can pinpoint the exact second when his eyes turned cold. Death is such an ugly friend. Swooping in to save one life, while grasping at another with hungry lips.
The girl clambers over to her boyfriend’s lifeless body. “No. No. He can’t be dead. Please.” She puts her head on his chest, listening for a heartbeat. “Please, God. John, hold on. Please, you can’t be dead.” Her eyes find mine, full of pitiful desire and sadness. “He has no heartbeat, I should do cpr, because he…he has no heartbeat.”
“He never had a heartbeat,” I say. I grab my gun and put it in my bag.
Her lip quivers, “You are sick. There is something wrong with you to.”
“What can I say, I must have no heart,” I say walking out the door.
She must feel so lucky that I got to her in time. Her tired screams follow me all the way home. They even tuck me in. Goodnight.
At one time poetry was the only medium I wrote in. I liked messing with different forms. Now, I primarily write longer stories, but I still dabble in poetry occasionally. Tonight, I jotted down some words that have been stuck in my head since September. Poetry can be very cathartic. This is a very rough draft, but I thought I would share. Sometimes I write for other people, with an audience in mind. Sometimes I write for myself. I write to heal. This poem is the latter.
He unwrapped the moon and handed me a flower
Laughter erupting in a strange hour
The day before the word yes had been said
A heart that was torn was easy to thread
Twenty-four hours had flown the coop
Yet, I still shook on my front stoop
I remember how it felt to lose all my air
Then I kissed a boy who tasted like safety
I remember two days, just hours between them
Being a woman means keeping no in a pocket
Yes provides protection. Yes is a locket
One broke me with his hands and the other with his promise
Bruises are just blue and purple paintings, spread out – anonymous
How not to edit:
There are tons of good websites and author pages devoted to editing and they give really solid advice. However, I decided to be a rebel last month and follow none of it. I also decided not to listen to countless other smart people. I made the decision to mess with my final manuscript one month before I need to upload it to KDP. You have to upload ten days before when you are self publishing.
I wasn't in love with my ending.
It was okay. It was like low-fat ice-cream compared to the good stuff. You know you really want the good stuff. Some people say it tastes the same, but they obviously haven't had the original Ben and Jerry's.
Here's my favorite rule of writing, THERE ARE NO RULES. I might fall completely on my face with this. My novel could come out a complete disaster, but I made the decision knowing that I would never forgive myself if I wasn't 100 percent happy with the ending. I guess it's impossible to be 100 percent happy, but I wanted to be as close as I could get. That's life, following advice, but also listening to your gut is important. In the end, it's you who have to be proud of your work. I want other people to love my characters like I do, but ultimately I have to do what I think is right. Recently someone said, your book will be great, because you put your soul into it. That is why I took the leap to re-do the ending.
Ray Bradbury said, "We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out."
SO with two months left I cut 20,000 words. I re-wrote them completely.
This is what that looked like:
Some quick re-writing tips:
1. Read everything out loud. EVERYTHING.
2. If you don't love it, cut it. Don't trash what you cut. Put it somewhere else. Maybe you have a "I hate this now" folder on your desktop. Go back, look at it later and maybe you'll love it again.
3. Every word counts. Do you need it? If not, take it out. IS your character running or are they scampering? This counts. Every freaking word counts.
4. Most importantly. There is a balance to editing. Use a critical, but kind eye. Be honest about what isn't working, but be kind to your art. A scene or chapter could simply be missing one or two descriptions. Think of editing like making a good drink or for the under 21-year-old crowd, imagine you are baking a cake. The best recipes are made by tasting and then adding ingredients accordingly. For example if my drink is too strong, I know that I can add a little bit of grenadine to make it sweet. The hard decisions are often the best ones. Maybe a whole character needs to be cut, but think of your overall book or piece of work. Isn't it worth it in the end?
I feel so lucky to be a writer. I'm humbled to have met unbelievably talented authors over the years. I have done my best to learn from them. Mostly, I don't take myself too seriously. I know that I'm human and I make mistakes. I can only get better. I will continue to work, grow, and master my craft.
The only way how not to edit, is by giving up.
xoxo Emily Ann Hansen
About the blog:
Emily Ann Hansen
I'm a writer and teacher living in Baltimore City. I'm originally from Chicago. I graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a BA in Fiction. Instead of babbling, I will list a few of the things in life that make me happy: