Tomorrow (June 7) my middle-grade novel The First Last Day will be officially released. So this seems like a good a time to finally write a new blog post and do a giveaway. (See the end of this post to find out how to enter.)
I’ve talked a lot about how much revision went into this novel. But I don’t think I’ve adequately expressed just how much it changed. I thought I’d give readers a behind-the-scenes look.
Here are just some of the many incarnations of my first page.*
*For more on ways to begin a story, see my earlier posts on great first lines from several of my favorite authors.
THE FIRST FIRST PAGE
Below in blue is the earliest version of my novel’s beginning. With this prologue, I broke what some believe to be a cardinal rule of fiction. I started the story when my character woke up in the morning. (Eek!) At the time, I thought it was necessary to tell the reader about the Groundhog Day trope up front. Turns out, it wasn’t.
The clock seemed to have a mind of its own, ringing promptly at seven a.m. – even though Haleigh hadn’t set it to go off at all.
She should have been used to it by now, the ringing, the repetition, the day ahead with Kevin in which he would think it was their last before summer’s end. But Haleigh knew better; they would have many more August days together.
As she reached across the bed and banged the top of the clock, she recalled her first last day, all those weeks ago. But why, Haleigh wondered, was she the only one who remembered?
Why didn’t anyone else realize that time was standing still?
THE SECOND FIRST PAGE
In this next version, I got rid of the waking up part and started at the beach. It was still in third person at this point, and the language was still a bit stilted. Looking back, I don’t think the semicolons were necessary either. Also, I later had Haleigh going into seventh grade instead of eighth.
The last week of August was always the same at Beach Side Heights.
Still, Haleigh longed to remember every detail. She gazed across the boardwalk and took a mental snapshot. As usual, sunbathers lined the shore like mannequins, soaking up the remaining rays of summer; children sculpted sandcastles, hoping they’d last long enough to show parents before the tide came in; and all across the Atlantic, the blue-green ocean came to an abrupt halt when it met the azure sky.
As she captured every scene with an imaginary click, click, click, Haleigh wished this particular summer would never end, that the beginning of eighth grade was months away rather than mere days.
Satisfied the images were fixed in her mind, she turned toward Kevin and groaned. “Can you believe it’s almost over?”
Kevin slurped the last of his lemon ice and then tossed the cup into the garbage can at the edge of the boardwalk. “Yeah, I’m gonna miss those.” He wiped his upper lip with the back of his hand.
“Those?” Haleigh cried in disbelief. “We’ve got less than two days left and all you can say is that you’ll miss some syrupy slush?”
A grin spread slowly across Kevin’s face.
THE THIRD FIRST PAGE
I got a bit of interest from one editor on the above version. But because her revision request was vague, I never revised that version. Instead, I let it sit for a while and then went back to a prologue. I also changed the novel to first person, which helped me a lot in finding Haleigh’s true voice. I also added Kevin’s cow suit.
English, Period 3
What I Learned This Summer
By Haleigh Adams
1. When you wear a cow suit on the boardwalk, you can learn a lot about people.
2. If you had enough time and paint, you could probably create an infinite number of shades of blue.
3. Most people pronounce van Gogh like van Go, but in Holland they say it as if they’re coughing up phlegm.
4. Some of the best science fiction movies ever made were in black and white.
5. All good things come to an end.
6. Some bad things come to an end, too. Like braces. And stomachaches. And sadness.
7. Oh, and one more thing: if you ever happen to find a mysterious set of paints in your backpack, be careful. Be very careful.
THE FOURTH FIRST PAGE
The version above went through a few revisions before I finally tossed it. I can’t remember why. I still kind of like it. But for some reason, I went back to several first person beginnings with no prologue until my agent suggested I write another prologue. I wrote this one below, which goes back to revealing some of the plot and hinting at the mystery. The novel sold with this version. But it isn’t the one that appears in the book.
Dear Ms. McLaughlin,
First, I want to apologize for turning in this “What I Did Over My Summer Vacation” assignment late. But as you can see, it’s rather lengthy.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have written this much. Last year, in sixth grade, I turned in half a page—about how I went swimming, drew pictures, and ate pizza all summer.
Come to think about it, I wrote the same thing the year before. That’s because nothing unusual ever happened to me.
Until this past summer.
It all started the night before we were supposed to leave the New Jersey Shore. I was cleaning out my backpack and found a strange yellow box with the words, Magic Paints, written on the front. How did it get there? I had no idea.
Still, I used the paints.
I know what you’re thinking: they weren’t mine, and I shouldn’t have even opened the box. And I certainly shouldn’t have shut my eyes and made a wish afterwards.
But what would you do if you found magic paints? Would you use them?
What would you wish for?
I wished that I could have a do-over of my last day at the shore with Kevin Damico.
Honestly, I didn’t think it would really happen. But I got my wish—and more.
After that, well, you’re just going to have to read my story: “A True and Accurate Account of My Summer Vacation.” It starts on my first last day of summer.
P.S. See if you can solve the mystery of who slipped the paints in my backpack before I did.
THE LAST FIRST PAGE
Below is the final beginning of The First Last Day. When I still had the prologue, this was the chapter that followed. Once my editor acquired the novel, she suggested I get rid of the prologue. She said to trust the reader to let the story unfold by just telling it from the day Haleigh finds the magic paints. She was so right!
I also like this version better because the first line is a metaphor for the whole novel. Like the Eiffel Tower, Haleigh “grows” a great deal during her endless summer. If you compare the earlier versions to this one, you can see how the voice changed when I switched to first person and how Kevin’s character became more rounded during revisions.
I once read that the Eiffel Tower can grow more than six inches in summer because heat makes iron expand.
When I said that to Kevin, he stopped on the boardwalk and turned to me wide-eyed, like I’d just revealed the secret plot to the next Star Wars movie. “Do you know what that means?” he asked. “If people were made of iron, you’d be five feet three—and I’d be five feet ten.”
I straightened my back and stretched my neck. “In a really hot summer, maybe even taller.” As I let myself imagine that I wasn’t always the shortest twelve-year-old in the room, Kevin took his notebook out of his backpack and jotted something down. “What are you writing?” I asked.
“An idea for a movie: a kid who becomes a giant every summer but shrinks back to normal size when it’s over.”
“Interesting. But who would you get to play the giant kid?”
As families strolled past us with dripping frozen custard cones and funnel cakes, Kevin thought for a minute. “I have a friend who’s really tall. Maybe he—”
A ping sounded from Kevin’s cell phone, and he stopped to read the text. “It’s my mom. She and Dad just drove in from Montclair to take me home tomorrow.”
“Please,” I begged. “Don’t say that word.”
“Which one? I said sixteen of them.”
“Tomorrow. I’m trying to forget this is our last day at the shore.”
So that’s the story of how I got to my last first page. If you want to read more about Haleigh’s adventures, the book is available wherever books are sold.
If you want a chance to win a signed copy, a bookmark, and this nifty pen below that looks like a paintbrush, please share this post on Facebook or Twitter and tell me about it in the comments section. Even if you don’t care about winning, feel free to share
You have until next Sunday, June 12, at midnight to tell me where you posted the link. I’ll pick a winner at random and announce it on Tuesday, June 14. (Continental U.S. only, please.)
Thanks for reading!