A Writer’s Evolution
I wrote A Butterfly in Winter over the course of two years from 2000-2002. A couple years after that, I self-published it. Now, it’s been over a decade since I wrote it and nearly that long since I first published it. With the move toward digital publishing, I figured that there was no reason to leave the book on my computer and that I might as well make it available.
A Butterfly in Winter has glaring flaws and I am the first to admit it. I’ve changed so much as a writer since it was written and I look at it now and don’t know where to start. Not only am I a writer, but I am an editor as well. From an editing standpoint, I feel like I need to tear it apart and start over. The problem I have is that I’m worried I don’t really know the characters anymore.
My process back in 2000 was simple. I typed a few chapters, printed them, and shared with a critique group. I took their feedback and revised. Now, I had recently graduated from college with my English degree and I’d completed my creative writing seminars in school. I knew that criticism was the foundation of good writing. However, I still had yet to figure out how to apply it effectively. At first, it bothered me. I would feel offended after every group meeting and tell my husband (boyfriend at the time) that I didn’t want to keep writing. He encouraged me, although in our critique group, he was the harshest critic. It took me a while to separate the feedback from the people, but it was that or lose my friends, so I did. Eventually.
Once I moved on to that stage of accepting the criticism, the pendulum swung to the absolute other end of the spectrum. Suddenly every note was the word of God. I changed everything. If someone didn’t like the phrasing somewhere, or if I was told a character was inconsistent or unclear, I revised and revised until my small writing group was satisfied.
The trouble is that I was not. By taking every single suggestion because “it’s important to have a thick skin as a writer,” I lost MY voice. I wasn’t yet able to filter what I wanted to use from the feedback and what I didn’t. So the final version ended up being the work of five different authors rather than one, in a way. And now, a decade later, my writing has tightened, I have practiced and honed what I do, and I look at A Butterfly in Winter and think about how best to resolve some of the issues it has.
At its heart, the novel is a good story. I know that and I am proud of what is good about it. The characters, even with some inconsistencies, are realistic and developed. The theme is relevant and important. Some of the prose is clean and I’m happy with that. As an editor, writer, blogger, and critic, though, I look at it differently today. And maybe that means it’s the perfect time to go back and rewrite. I’m no longer emotionally attached to it. Sure, a bad review still bugs me, but who is thrilled by a bad review? Yet I don’t want to cry when I cut entire pages from the manuscript and that, to me, is evolution.
Allison Stafford is fourteen. As if that is not enough to deal with in itself, her parents suddenly move her from her small town in Vermont to suburban Michigan, all in the middle of her freshman year of high school. For Allison, there is more to learn at her new school than just finding her way around. Soon she is attempting to make sense of her newly discovered sexuality, and wondering what it takes to fit in with the “cool” people at her school. Despite tragedy and several mistakes, Allison manages to survive. This novel leads the reader through the murky depths of high school, and reminds us all of the importance of true friendship.
There is something sadly pathetic about being a fourteen-year-old girl. My own memories of early adolescence sometimes seem like they belong to someone else. Yet there are times when the heavy pain that I thought surrounded me only when I was younger manages to sneak back up. Generally, it happens when I couldn’t feel any lower. The lucid and tangible existence of adolescence still lingers in my daily life and, sometimes, the slightest remark can trigger an emotional outburst I didn’t even know still thrived inside of me.
Until I was fourteen, my life was simple. I managed to split the entire world up into either good or bad. It’s amazing how straightforward life seems until the first twinges of sexuality set in. It was always easy to tell who was a friend and who was not. Friends had the same taste in teen heartthrobs, trendy television, and pop music, slept over on Friday nights, and stood in the same corner during junior high dances. Enemies stole boyfriends. They created degrading nicknames and made sure to use them every chance they got. Enemies shot spitballs from the back of the classroom. Trust was never an issue, either because people hadn’t yet learned the art of lying, or because the secrets we shared just weren’t worth it.
When I look at pictures from my childhood, I sometimes wonder if my parents really took them or just cut them from the pages of The Saturday Evening Post. Everything looked so pleasant. I went out for ice cream with my parents on Saturday nights and, not only was I not ashamed to be seen with them, but I actually enjoyed the time we spent together. I still rode my bike around the neighborhood and went swimming in the neighbor’s pool. On hot days in July, everyone swam in that pool and the friend/enemy distinction was forgotten for a short period. Temperatures above ninety degrees brought us together.
The summer before high school started was exhilarating. We were discovering our newfound adolescent freedom at the town band concerts. Our parents encouraged us to go because they knew it was safe and it was better to let us spend time together in public than to worry about the alternative. My town was the quintessential New England town. The band concerts took place on the grassy town common in the center of Brookdale. Deliberately placed in the exact middle of the common was a white gazebo with green trim, where the band performed. I am not sure who the townsfolk thought they were kidding when they advertised “band concerts.” Brookdale’s band consisted mainly of old men, most of them World War II veterans, who rarely varied their set list, playing the most lackluster rendition of “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Perhaps this had something to do with the brass section that contained only two trombones.
Every Thursday, my friends and I gathered on the common, and relished our imagined lack of boundaries. We would kiss our boyfriends underneath the weeping willow tree, and flirt with the high school boys when our boyfriends got bored with kissing and decided to go play at the dunking booth. We sat together against the wrought iron fence, drinking juice spritzers and smoking candy cigarettes, because we thought they made us look older and more mature. We talked to each other, but never shared anything of consequence, bonding only through a mutual need to fit in somehow.
Summer delayed for us the upcoming anxiety of Freshman Year. We went to summer camp and, as we rode in canoes around the lake, we talked about boys, clothes, anything but high school. At campfires, we sang silly songs about the Zulu King, and enjoyed our last days of youth. Sleeping in platform tents, surrounded by mosquito netting, we forgot that we had to grow up, and stopped pretending, for a few days, that growing up was what we wanted. However, summer still ended, and we changed.
After a one-day orientation, we were thrown into the midst of high school. Northern Webster County High School was more than just a building. It loomed over our collective imagination with its promises of the future. Inside the brick walls, people were dating, thinking about sex, and planning parties. These things were as foreign to us as algebra. Gone were the trustworthy fractions and multiplication tables of our childhood, replaced by formulas and logarithms. Yet, still, I was looking forward to reading Shakespeare, eating in a cafeteria without teacher supervision, and attending football games, where people hid under the bleachers, smoked real cigarettes, and drank more than juice spritzers.
About the Author:
Tara Entwistle-Clark is a former high school English teacher who lives and breathes books. Whether reading, writing, editing, or blogging about them, she seems to always have books on her mind. She is currently working as a freelance editor, blogger, and cover designer while writing an untitled fantasy novel as well as another contemporary realistic teen novel called How Quick Bright Things. She lives in Connecticut and loves to travel.
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