Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: The Writer’s Skill/Craft (04/22/10)
TITLE: Once I Loved You
By Carol Slider
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We met the weekend Jim was out of town. I followed a two-lane road into the country, past half-deserted small towns and 100-acre ranches. When I saw an old gray stone house with empty windows and a caved-in roof, I stopped in the driveway and gazed at it for a while. I noticed an antique rose bush that still hugged the slanting porch... and all at once, you were there.
You followed me home, whispering sweet words—and after that, you became my obsession.
I spent every spare minute with you, ignoring everything else, even Jim. Jim understood, as always, even when he realized this wasn’t an ordinary fling.
“This one means a lot to you,” he said one night, sad but resigned. And I admitted he was right.
Nothing cooled my ardor. Even when you were difficult—even when you did things I didn’t expect or want—still I loved you.
When THE END came, it seemed like another beginning. There you were, whole and complete and perfect...
I read you again, savoring your craftsmanship, your power to move and inspire. You pried apart the layers of the heart, exposing its capacities for good and evil. You were a mystery, a grand romance, a profound spiritual journey of sin, grace and redemption. Oh, how I loved you!
Jim read you first. He said “It’s good” in his understated way. I didn’t mind, because I knew he meant it.
I gave you to Lillian, who taught middle school English. She told me I had forgotten a “the” on Page 64 and used “there” instead of “their” on Page 138. As for your plot and characters: “Pretty good story. Kind of wordy in places.”
Did I love you less? No, of course not. When she wasn’t grading atrocious papers, Lillian read fantasy and science fiction. How could she could judge your true nature, when you hadn’t a dragon or spaceship in all your 276 pages?
Finally, with some trepidation, I gave you to Margot. Margot belonged to a support group for writers who had once loved manuscripts. But their manuscripts had disappointed, betrayed and abused them so severely (as their rejection letters proved) that they now seemed to dislike all manuscripts. Margot didn’t always agree with their brutal criticisms, and told me so.
“Sure, I’ll read it,” she said. “And I’ll be fair.”
Two weeks passed. I tried not to look at you, afraid of seeing a flaw I hadn’t noticed before. Then Margot called.
“Okay, I finished it. You want honest criticism, right?”
“Yes...” I said, half-truthfully.
“Okay. Well, you use passive voice too much... you should eliminate every ‘was’ or ‘were’, if you can. You’ve got a lot of stereotypes—good girl, bad girl, greedy tycoon, etcetera—except for Stephen, and no one’s going to relate to a viola player. Most people can’t even pronounce 'viola.' Stephen shouldn’t end up with Elise. It should be Katie, even if she did steal his college money. Those plot twists—the note in the book, the truth about Leonard’s mother... way too predictable. Mainly, though, it doesn’t fit any genre. It’s too sanctimonious and old-fashioned for the general adult fiction market, but it’s not religious enough for the Christian market. You couldn’t sell it, like it is now. But it’s pretty well written, except for...”
Love is supposed to grow and deepen, even when you realize that the one you love isn’t perfect. That should have happened to my love for you. But it didn’t. After that, I saw you the way Margot did.
So I tried to change you. I took away Stephen’s viola and made him play a pronounceable trumpet, but he hated playing the trumpet. I tried to make Stephen love Katie, but he didn’t love Katie—and he broke Elise’s heart. I ruthlessly deleted hints about plot twists, and made them illogical. I wrote laboriously hip dialogue to make the story less old-fashioned, and added a subplot about a minister. Perhaps I made you better—but the shadows of the stone house and the rose bush were gone.
It was over.
I’ve saved you in the directory called OLD NOVELS. If I ever read you again, it will be like finding a corsage pressed between the leaves of a book. There’ll be no hint of fragrance—but perhaps a word or a phrase here and there will remind me...
Once I loved you.
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