I finished the first draft of Jack last week and have set it aside to do a little pre-revision reading and earn some actual money. I will pick up the manuscript in a week or so and do my own edits before sending it off to helpful friends to excoriate and shred before the third draft begins.
That, by the way, is the process I’ve settled into–three full passes before showing it the cold, harsh world of literary agents and/or small presses. Everybody does this differently, so I’m not prescribing, just letting you know what works for me.
Meanwhile, here is one of my favorite scenes:
Then: April 1876
Jack and Lily walked along the dock throwing crumbs from their penny buns to the seagulls. It was early spring and the weather was fine, the sun sparkling on the water, the sky wide and blue.
“Jack?” Lily asked.
He looked at her.
“How did your father die? You said it wasn’t the war.”
Jack took off his cap and smoothed down his curls before putting it back. He still wore the waistcoat he had worn when Lily first met him, but now he was fifteen and it was too small, rather than too big.
“My grandfather killed him, I guess.” Jack said calmly.
Lily dropped what was left of her bun. A gull swooped in for it and in an instant it was gone.
“Have mine,” Jack said, giving her his half-eaten one.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Jack shrugged. “I don’t remember either of them. I was just a baby—not even two years old.”
“My mother was a planter’s daughter in Georgia—before the war, you know. So there were lots of people…slaves…working there. When my grandfather left to fight, my mother fell in love with the Negro blacksmith. He moved into the house with her. Then there was me.”
“When my grandfather came home and found us all there, he went after my father with a gang of other men and they hung him up from a tree. My grandfather put my mother and me on a train to New York and told her that if she ever went home again he wouldn’t stop the same gang from stringing her up too—and me with her.” Jack paused. “Anyway, that’s what my mother told me happened.”
“But how could he? How could a man do that to his own daughter—his own…” Lily had been going to say “grandson,” but then she remembered that Jack had been a girl. Somehow, that made it even worse.
“The world is full of hateful people, Lily.”
But how could anyone hate Jack? Lily found it impossible to imagine. He was so beautiful and good.
“And when your mother got here she left you in the orphans’ home?”
“Not right away. She kept me for a few years, but when I was seven, she met a man—a white man. He told her he would marry her if she got rid of me.”
“How do you know?”
Jack shrugged. “I heard them talking about it when they didn’t know I was listening,” he said. “She told him she wouldn’t do it, but then she did. That’s how I knew she wasn’t really coming back to the orphans’ home. Sometimes, I imagine she’s living in a nice, big house again, like her father’s, with other children—that man’s children—and servants who…look like my father.”
Jack spied a small stone near his feet, picked it up and threw it long and hard across the sea. Lily lost sight of it before it dropped.
I have extraneous commentary about this scene, but don’t know if I’ll have time to get to sharing it in the busy days ahead. So in lieu of that, feel free to add your own below.