Beginnings, as I’ve stated in another post, are challenging to write. Loving Alan Watt’s 90-Day Rewrite and all that it’s doing for MARKED. It’s kicking my butt, don’t get me wrong. But in the best way possible. Like I’ve re-outlined MARKED. Rewritten its beginning. And realigned my character’s dilemma and goals. All, of course, required some serious cuts and adds to the rest of the book. Kicking. My. Butt.
It’s giving me fresh perspective on MARKED’s beginning. For example, my original beginning is through Aaron Mingus’ POV — we get drama; we get action. But it delays the audience from understanding our hero’s dilemma. My new beginning puts us directly in the eyes of Oliver. Directly in his angst. His dilemma? His secretive, unfunctioning mark has kept him from living a normal life. If only his mark would work. Then kids would see just how normal he is.
If only life worked that way. Oliver will suddenly be forced to learn the cost of “normal”; ultimately (and hopefully) learning that defining your own “normal” leads to the deepest sense of self-satisfaction.
Bits of my beginnings for your viewing pleasure:
You’re certain you saw it?”
“As clear as glass, sir. When the bus lurched, he practically shoved his palm in my face.”
“And did he use it?”
“Yes, Aaron. His mark. Did he use it?”
Taken aback, Aaron answered slowly. “He’s only a child. I hardly think–”
“That’s just it. You hardly think,” hissed Declant. “Only a child means nothing. That’s exactly when Otto realized his mark’s potential.”
“Then we stop him,” said Aaron quickly, hoping to dissipate any thought of insubordination.
But Declant wasn’t having it. He dragged his hand through his blonde hair, muttering something to himself. He looked awful. Unusual. Bags under his eyes; clothes limp; body hunched. Three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of the year Declant looked poised and polished. Tonight, he looked as overworked and under-slept as any one of his sycophants did. Which, though he’d never admit it aloud, filled Aaron with the slightest sense of victory.
(Click here to read the entire original first chapter.)
New beginning (in-process excerpt)
Since birth, Oliver Pastorius bore a mark on his left palm like every other Marked. But unlike the rest, he had to keep his mark hidden. No explanation was given to him except he’d find out one day. For months, years even, he bugged his grandma for answers. But each time, her response was the same: “You’ll find out when it’s time.”
“But when?” Oliver would counter.
Her eyes twinkled as they surveyed his face, shooting him the tiniest bit of hope; however, as predictable as always, she’d say with a sigh, “When it’s time.”
Finally, Oliver gave in and stopped asking. He cooperated. He stayed home for school. He succumbed to the fact that eventually he would find out what his mark meant. But that didn’t help ease the jolt of jealousy he felt every time he’d see kids use theirs.
But today. Today could be different. Today was his ninth birthday, the first birthday his Grandma Pamp had allowed him to invite kids over to the house. Like normal. That was the one word he rarely felt applied to him. Normal.
He peered out his window to a landscape of gloom. The fog crept low and thick and covered the hedges with cotton-like wisps. Even on July 13th, the stormy clouds disguised Oliver’s birthday as a brisk December day.
He pulled his nose away from the window and snuggled back into bed, waiting. The house was dead quiet. No creek of his grandma’s door. No rattle of pots or pans. Nothing. The hallway clock hadn’t even chimed seven yet. Only a little while longer now, it had to be. Excitement warmed his stomach as he shut his eyes and imagined the day’s events. Breakfast of his favorite things. A party with the neighborhood kids. Today was going to be different.
But Grandma Pamp, who thought anything before ten in the morning was early, said his birthday celebrations wouldn’t start until seven. Her body simply would refuse anything earlier.
Seven couldn’t come fast enough.
He peeked a glance at the clock on his side table and bolted upright. Six-fifty-nine appeared in neon green numerals. Jumping out of bed, he eased his door back and heard the soft clinking of dishes downstairs. As best as he could, he got dressed slowly. Actually brushed his hair, made his bed, put his favorite socks on. But when a smell so sweet, so delicious wafted upstairs, he took the stairs two at a time, and jumping the last three, flew into the kitchen.
Grandma Pamp had decorated the table with glistening confetti and flaming red napkins with Happy Birthday! scrolled out in multicolored lettering. Balloons, tied to his chair with string, bounced against each other as he took his seat. He glanced up at them swaying, like they were waving at him. But what snapped him back into place were the golden pancakes and bacon stacked high on a plate his grandma just set in front of him. Cake-like sweetness fused with the salty tang of pork. He shut his eyes, breathing in the flavors. Then proceeded to inhale everything on his plate.
His grandma, with robe cinched tightly around her waist and curlers looped in her hair, placed two steaming mugs of hot chocolate down on the table.
“Happy birthday, Oliver.”
“Fankyoo,” he said between bites.
“Goodness. You’re as hungry as a teenager,” Grandma Pamp said with a laugh as she unfolded a napkin on her lap. “You sure you’re only turning nine?”
Oliver swallowed. “You say that every year. And every year I say, yes I’m only turning whatever my age is, and then you laugh and serve me thirds.”
“At least we have a tradition,” she said. And smiled while she heaped another stack of pancakes onto Oliver’s plate. She buttered her own and slowly cut into her pieces and for a while, only the sounds of clinking cutlery filled the room.
Finally, Oliver’s stomach felt as full as a freshly pumped soccer ball. He set down his fork and knife, leaned back into his seat, and shut his eyes in a stuffed haze, not wanting to move for at least an hour.
“So, about today.”
Oliver flinched. Then moaned as his stomach didn’t like that. “What about it?”
Grandma Pamp looked at her hands for the longest time before saying, “Sweetie. No one replied to your invitations. Which means–”
“They got them but didn’t know they had to respond. They’re just kids, grandma,” he said, trying to calm the churning in his stomach. “That doesn’t mean anything.”
“I have a feeling it means they’re not coming.”
“But why? We sent them out like two weeks early!” He had stamped them himself. Put them in the mailbox.
She started clearing the plates. “Maybe it’s best. Maybe, you know, since…”
“You mean because of my secret. My secret I don’t even know the answer to.”
“One day,” said Oliver at the same time as Grandma Pamp. He narrowed his eyes at her and raced back upstairs to his bedroom. He shut the door and flung himself on the bed, not caring that that lousy picture frame that never stayed hung on the wall fell to the floor. Not caring that the glass this time broke. He buried his head in his pillow.
The thought of no one coming haunted him. He tried shoving it out of his mind. It was no use trying to make sense of it. It would only make him hate his oddities even more. But, there it was. Rolling through his mind over and over again. Why weren’t they coming?