In high school, I had been a member of the marching band. (My writer friend Pix was also in her high school band.) I played trombone, rather than trumpet, and I never had a solo. I grew up in an affluent suburb with a well-funded music program. My band performed in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena. We competed in reviews and festivals in Hawaii and in Florida. Mostly, we performed closer to home, in band reviews held up and down the State of California.
I didn’t want Zack to have the exact same experiences that I had. Mostly, I didn’t want my friends asking me, “Which character is me?” Still, band reviews had been a big part of my life, and I wanted this story to reflect those experiences.
I wrote a chapter that detailed Zack and his friends competing in a real band review, the Del Oro Band Spectacular, held every year in the small town of Loomis, California. I added as many details as I could, adding internet research to my own memories of competing at this event.
A few weeks after I suspended work on ETYS, I published the “Loomis” chapter online at Tablo.io, as part of my short fiction collection, Every Stone a Story. (The collection also contains an excerpt from Revelation.)
Though sentimentally attached to the “Loomis” story, I quickly grew critical of it. When I would read through the manuscript, as I did every so often during this period, I found my attention waning at this section. It repeated too many ideas from earlier chapters, especially my descriptions of the band playing at the Homecoming football game. Deep down, I knew I would have to cut this chapter.
Just as I had sensed, instinctively, that it was time to finally write this project, I knew when it was time to return. I cleared away or finished the other projects I had been working on. Knowing deep down that cuts were coming, I created a new file for my manuscript. This way, I could excise chapters and move sections around, while preserving my original draft. Also, by doing this, I cut out Pix and my other readers. For the time being, I wanted to proceed without their input.
On November 11th, 2018, I resumed work on ETYS. At my side I had my printed manuscript, covered in scribbled notations. My handwriting was so bad in some sections that it took me several minutes to decode what I had written.
One of the first things I did was to eliminate the “Loomis” chapter. I pulled a few sentences that I was particularly proud of, and set them in the Homecoming section. I cut other sections as well, using that same instinct as my guide: wherever my attention waned as I read, that was a section I cut or removed. In total, I eliminated over 4000 words.
I left it as part of Every Stone a Story, however. It serves as a good introduction to the characters. Your welcome to check it out: https://tablo.io/kj-cartmell/every-stone-a-story
It took me a week or so of editing, every night in the evenings after work, to come to the abrupt end of my draft. Before me was the brief arc of Zack and Layla’s relationship. I had to show what attracted Zack to Layla while making a case that this was not the right girl for him. I wanted to be brief, as this is just a learning experience for Zack and not a novel unto itself. It was an uncomfortable few chapters to write, but this time, I was prepared to muscle through it.
Suddenly, I was at the very end, the last scene. Zack and Camille meet after work in the drug store parking lot. I had imagined this scene many times over these last ten years. I had rehearsed what Zack said and imagined Camille’s responses. I came to this moment late one evening, and, instead of pushing through to the end, I paused. My wife was watching TV in the next room. I was weary from a day at work. I closed the file and took the rest of the night off.
On the morning of Sunday, December 28th, I took a walk by myself through my neighborhood. I rehearsed the scene one more time, much like a musical director rehearsing a band: “Let’s take it from the line where Zack says . . . . Okay, good. Now, from the top . . . .” I returned home to a quiet house and quickly wrote the last page and a half.
Ten years after I first imagined this pair of young lovers, I had reached the end. But, as any writer will tell you, the work is never done. As soon as I had finished, I reached out to my original set of readers, including Pix, plus some new ones, like Julia Maiola, author of the historical drama The Red Flag, who I had met through the Writers Community on Twitter. Like nearly everything else I’ve written, I printed out a full manuscript copy for my mother.
I have an excerpt from ETYS, a short story called “Practice,” out at a literary journal. I have two more short stories planned for the next few months. I would like some recent bylines to my credit when I begin shopping ETYS to publishers. My plan is to skip agent queries for now, and focus solely on small presses.
When I make a match, I will be sure to let you know.