This was the week I was nervous for. Posting first drafts, letting others read your work… those are things I’ve done before in other venues, but having a professional editor sit down and critically read what I’ve written? That’s a whole ‘nother world.
But it happened, and it was fantastic. As it turns out, Maria Tureaud is wonderful and managed that difficult feat of pointing out all my weak spots while giving me the confidence to cheerfully tackle them. Heck, she managed to give me enough confidence to actually reject a couple of suggestions.
As far as story development, Maria felt I was pretty much there. I thought it was close, but was a little less certain. When I write a short story I generally have an arc in mind that I want to explore, but the first draft of this story was barely more than a descriptive piece of a scene. It took a lot of turning it around in my head to finally come up with something that seemed like a satisfying ending. Regardless, I did, and thanks to Maria I learned that my instincts are pretty good.
I also learned about em dashes! Honest, I didn’t realize they were something more than hyphens. Thank you, editor!
Most of Maria’s comments were my favourite kind as they pointed out where I could make the language more precise and/or tighten up my prose. I took most of her advice, but she created a monster of confidence with her kind work, so there were a few bits I decided to ignore. I kept a couple of words I felt fit Lil’s voice better and some commas that, despite how much I like to think I’m not a fancy-pants aesthetic writer, I choose not to include because they fussed with my rhythm as I reread the piece.
Without further ado, here’s the final piece, polished to a shine.
Written in Sand
This wasn’t her bay. This one was sand and seagrass all shaped into hillocks like a badly stuffed mattress. Home was all rocks, black ones slick with weeds that would slip you under the waves in a heartbeat, and huge gray ones further back where you could sit and watch the water if there was no work to do. But home was also across the bay, a thin line on the horizon. On days when she had the time, Lil settled on a stretch of wet sand with home in front of her and the city walls at her back.
The wind picked up a little, and Lil pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them to keep off the chill. The tide had come in enough that the water nipped at her bare toes. At home there’d be hard work, splitting wood with Tique or pulling young lobster from the upper cove for supper. She might have even shaved a branch to make a staff so she could accompany Bryson on a trip to Big Bend On The Narrows. There was no work like that here. No bare feet on grey rock while watching the surge, and no hard labour to sweat out any troubles.
Here there was a desk and paper and an ink bottle and a quill.
It was stupid work for stupid people who couldn’t manage to keep their stories in their heads. She grabbed a stick from the ribbon of dry drift the last tide had pushed up and started scratching in the sand. It was the symbol for the sound a person made when they touched their tongue to the roof of their mouth, like in her own name. It wasn’t half bad, and that annoyed her. Their symbols shouldn’t take to her hand like that.
The water was around her feet now, but not deep enough to carry the cold. She etched another figure in the sand below the first. This one was a boat — long and clunky like Aven’s. She sketched in a few lines for the planks in the hull, then a low cabin on the deck. She’d wanted on that boat, had begged Aven for the chance to work it — prove herself — and earn the coin she’d need to build a boat like it one day. He’d humoured her for a bit by letting her go out on the water with him, and eventually her hard work and persistence earned his respect. It was a dream she’d almost managed to churn into something solid.
Then the Guild had come to the village and, with a spell no one understood, had passed a hand over the head of every child and unbetrothed young adult. This decided who would return to the city with them to learn their magic. What a betrayal that her tall, strong body built for hauling nets and swinging an axe was harbouring some spark that attracted those outsiders’ attention. She’d thought she was permanently attached, as immovable as the boulders on the shore. I wish it weren’t so, her mother had said as she’d wiped the tears from Lil’s cheek, I wish it weren’t so.
The top edge of her letter crumbled at the touch of a wave. Another few moments and the symbol and boat would both be gone. She wondered if the magic they’d teach her would be able to hold back the tide. Not likely.
She had an idea. At her desk behind the walls, they wouldn’t let her write her name. No paper or ink could be wasted for a fancy before she could write perfectly. But here… Lil quickly scrawled a few more of their symbols into the sand beside the first. There. She tossed the stick into the water, wishing it was her quill.
Another wave came up in a rush. It broke the edges completely and filled the trenches of her writing before dragging the sand back over it to leave nothing but soft mounds in its wake. It took her name with it. It wasn’t real magic, but if they were going to claim her and carry her off, then she was going to claim the bay. When she walked back behind the walls and sat down at her desk, she’d be able to close her eyes, remember the beat of the water on the shore, and know the same water that took her name touched the black rocks of home.