Friday, March 19, 2010

The Creative Process...Revealed

**I'd like to apologize in advance for the sub-par quality of this post. It's really late and I think my brain is broken.**

So as you all know (or you may not if you haven't read my earlier posts, in which case, shame on you) this blog was started as a journal of sorts to share my experiences while writing my first novel. Since I've never attempted anything like this before, I naively thought that once I finished the manuscript, I would only have minor edits to do and I'd be done. Voila! Publisher ready. Give me the contract and show me where to sign!

Um. No. That is SO not how it works. Turns out, my first draft sucked! Thankfully, I learned that it's pretty much supposed to suck. Yup, it's normal, in fact. But I was so proud of my rough drafts, that I posted them immediately on the blog. "Yea me! Look what I did!"

Well, Hindsight is not only 20/20, it's also a bee-yahtch. Because I'm a perfectionist, I probably wouldn't have posted anything until I knew it was an actual final draft, or darn close to it, had I been more knowledgeable about this whole processs. However, since the entire premise of this blog is to take you along on this journey, it's only fair that I share the bad, along with the good. So I suppose my ignorance allowed me to stay true to my original mission.

Since the first posting of my Chapter 1, I've thought I had made my "final revisions" several times. And yet, I'm still making changes. I'm not sure if the changes are better or just different. Heck, they might even be worse. I have no idea. I'm too close to the project to be objective with myself anymore.

So, at the risk of being redundant and self-indulgent, I'm going to post my lastest version. For those of you who are truly interested in the creative process, you can compare the different versions and see how I changed things, made sentences stronger, added things, cut things, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Here are the links:
Chapter 1 - December 1
Chapter 1 - January 13
Chapter 1 - January 28

And now here is March 16...(click the link below)

Six years ago ~ Evanston, IL

Dom Russo stood on the sidewalk outside the last graduation party he planned to attend, if only to spare his liver from a severe case of cirrhosis. Like everyone else, he’d been celebrating his long-awaited freedom from higher learning in the rituals of old: a series of benders, with very little recovery time in between. The last couple of weeks had been a long, crazy ride of party after party. But now his body threatened to place him in a self-induced coma unless he procured a dark room for some serious hibernation time, preferably with an I.V. drip of Lemon-Lime Gatorade.

The scenes around him looked like an educational video on the consequences of binge drinking. Several graduates were passed out in the grass like inebriated lawn ornaments, clothing in disarray, hands still clutching bottles of beer or red plastic cups. In front of the porch, a girl heaved up the contents of her stomach into a cluster of bushes, while her friend held her hair back with one hand and gagged behind the other. Party-goers everywhere slurred their speech, laughed like hyenas and fell victim to gravity’s unrelenting pull on their impaired equilibriums.

Lucky for him, Dom’s tolerance for alcohol was much higher than that of his classmates. Even when he was completely tanked he was able to walk and talk the same as any sober man. It was a quality envied by all of his friends and always came in handy when he didn’t want to make a drunken ass out of himself. Like now.

Standing in front of him was his lifelong friend and, unbeknownst to her, the object of his late-night fantasies, Angelica Rose Hart. As she chatted with an acquaintance, Dom stood to the side, nursed his beer and let his eyes and thoughts roam without censor.

Silken blonde hair caressed her bare shoulders as the breeze fingered through the long strands. Her deep aquamarine eyes twinkled when she spoke and gave animation to her words. She laughed, drawing his gaze to full, glossy lips that quickened his pulse and heated his blood. He ached to answer their call, to meld them with his own and part them with his tongue.

The smoldering images provoked a sharp mental slap from his subconscious. It acted like a deluge of icy cold water being dumped onto his brain while it was enjoying a nice, hot shower. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the same effect on the part of him that was now pressed against his zipper. Damn, it was a lot easier to control his thoughts when he was sober.

Dom knew he would never be with Angelica as anything more than her best friend. The mental abuse (a.k.a. Reality Check) was a consequence he was used to - even welcomed in a bittersweet way - whenever his mind began to blur the line between reality and wishful thinking. When it came to women, he was known for his charm and confidence, and he used it like bait to reel in one after the other. But Angelica was different. She was like the elusive mermaid, pure and perfect in her underwater world. Even if she decided to slum it with him on shore, he knew it would only be a matter of time before the comfort of the sea called her back, and he would lose her forever.

Christ, Russo. The alcohol’s turning you into a chick. Take your balls out of your purse.

At last Angelica said goodbye to her friend, turned back to him and began to gather her hair into a ponytail. Although he usually portrayed sobriety with ease, her full breasts straining against the thin fabric of her pink sundress transfixed his gaze and threatened to expose him as just another ogling fool. He bit back a growl of self-aimed frustration, dragged his eyes away and busied himself with several long pulls of his beer, wishing it was something a lot stronger.

When her hair was completely anchored she sighed and whispered a reverent “thank you” toward the heavens.

Amusement lifted the corners of his mouth into a wry smile. “Who is it this time?” Angelica had a quirky habit of being thankful for inventors of modern conveniences. He’d always thought it strange, but endearing all the same.

“The inventor of elastic hair ties,” she said. “You have no idea how nice it is to snap one of those babies off my wrist and throw my hair up whenever I need to. You know,” she said while fingering the locks of hair that sometimes fell over his forehead, “I think I have an extra one in the car if you want to use it for all this stuff hanging in your face.”

Dom chuckled and playfully slapped her hand away. “Get outta here.”

“You shouldn’t hide those beautiful blue-grey eyes of yours, you know,” she teased in mock concern. “After all, how’s a girl supposed to catch your eye if she can’t see them?”

His bottle of Budweiser froze halfway up to his lips and he cocked an eyebrow in her direction. Partly because she was teasing him about his relationship status, but mostly because she just described his eyes as beautiful. Did she think any of his other features were beautiful? Another mental slap. Dammit, Russo, knock it off. “I think you should stick to being a doctor and leave the role of Makeover and Matchmaker Extraordinaire for someone else. Either that, or look for new clientele, ‘cause I’m definitely not in the market.”

Her infectious laugh coaxed his smile to return and soothed the sting left by Reality’s double-shot of abuse. He rolled his eyes at her mirth, lifted the bottle the rest of the way and took another long swig.

Shouts of playful threats coming from behind the house were a welcome distraction. Two frat boys, clad only in their boxers, sprinted across the lawn in their direction. They each carried a bucket of water balloons and used their free hands to pelt each other with the pastel grenades. Obviously not concerned with civilian casualties, one of them ducked behind Dom’s larger frame to use him as a human shield. The coward’s opponent launched an attack, but fell short of his target. Overly-stretched latex exploded on the concrete in front of Angelica and Dom, peppering them with liquid shrapnel. Angelica squealed in shock and turned her body into Dom’s, her hands and face tucked against his chest. Reflexively, he wrapped his arms around her until the battle moved further down the street.

Dom stepped back from her as they laughed and took stock of their “wounds.” He used his thumb to wipe away water droplets that had splashed onto her delicate cheekbones, then helped to free the damp wisps of bangs that had become ensnared in her long, inky lashes. With any other girl, the affectionate gestures they often shared – hugs, chaste kisses on the cheek, walking arm in arm, playful wrestling – would be taken as flirting or an advance. But with Angelica’s affectionate personality, combined with almost two decades of friendship, the slightly intimate gestures were considered natural between them. And he wasn’t above taking advantage of that little fact.

“Oh, Dom, sweetie!” Dom let out a sigh of aggravation. He didn’t have to look to know who the phony, sugar-laden voice belonged to. It was the president of the Kappa Phi Lambda Sorority, and one of his earlier dalliances in the year, Brit Bana. Turning his head he stood his ground as Brit bore down on him, closely followed by a handful of her sorority minions, each more superficial than the last.

“Hiya, handsome,” she said with a million-watt smile that failed to move him. Her loyal ego-strokers giggled behind her in a wordless variation of her greeting.

“Brit,” he acknowledged politely. “Ladies.”

“I haven’t seen you around lately. I’ve missed that gorgeous mug of yours.” She draped herself onto him like a second shirt. Or straight jacket. “Daddy has a new job coming up for Calvin Klein. Have you given any more thought to my offer?”

Brit’s father was a freelance professional photographer. It was a well-known fact he gave his daughter commission on every good looking college guy she brought in for photo shoots. It was a lot cheaper to pay frat boys with minimum wage, pizza and beer than it was to hire professional models for beaucoup bucks.

“’Fraid not, Brit,” he said as he pried her arms from around his neck. A quick glance in Angelica’s direction showed him she was too amused with his current problem to be of any assistance. Wonderful.

“Come on,” she whined through her smile. “It’s just a couple of pictures. And all you have to do is be your devilishly-handsome self. Dark hair, olive skin and chiseled features…” she made a noise like she’d just tasted Heaven. “You’re image is classic Calvin Klein, Dom. And there’s nothing wrong with showing off that luscious body of yours. I promise I’ll make it worth your while.” She ran a suggestive finger down his chest. His muscles visibly tensed from the unwelcome attention, but when her eyes lit up he could tell she thought it was for a different reason entirely. He caught her hand and held it away from him just before she reached his waistband.

“I appreciate it, but flattery won’t get you anywhere. I told you before it’s not my thing. You’ll have to go find some other college boy to be your father’s picture monkey.”

“Okay, fine,” she sighed with great exaggeration. “Then let’s head back to your place and I’ll let you take all the pictures you want…of me.” A throaty laugh laced with pure seduction bubbled from her lips as she attempted to press her body against his. Again.

He stopped her with a hand to her waist. The girl was in serious need of a pass for the clue bus. “You’re drunk, Brit. Go home and sleep it off. Alone.”

Dom expected her to pout and whine, but she surprised him when her brown eyes shot him with a cool indifference. “Whatever, Russo. It’s your loss. Come on, girls, let’s go.”

Brit spun on her heel and wobbled a bit before stalking away from him, her posse close on her heels spouting off words of encouragement and crude comments about his character. Dom scrubbed a hand over his face and felt the beginning scratches of his beard coming through.

Angelica laughed as her amusement switched to all-out delight. “It’s nice to see the Russo Reputation is alive and well.”

She was of course referring to his relationship habits – or lack thereof. He never engaged in anything more than short-lived, casual trysts. Just because he was in love with a girl who harbored nothing but platonic feelings for him, didn’t mean he wasn’t a guy with an itch that needed to be scratched once in while. After all, he wasn’t exactly a monk. “Hey,” he started in his defense, “You know I’m always up-front with them about not wanting a relationship. So they can hardly hold that against me.” He glanced in the direction Brit had huffed off to, grimaced and added, “Though they usually do anyway.”

Dom finished off the last of his beer and threw the bottle into a nearby trash barrel. He winced as the echoing crash of glass striking the metal drum rattled his brain before fading into a low thrum of vibrations behind his eyes.

Angelica tried to anchor her long bangs behind her ear. Her brows knitted together and her teeth worried the corner of her lower lip. “Are you sure you don’t want me to give you a ride home?” she asked. “It’s late and with as much alcohol as I saw you consume today, I would have to think that your already shaky sense of direction has to be more than a little compromised. You could end up wandering around all night in your condition.”

Dom gave her an incredulous look and tried to appear emotionally wounded. “What? My sense of direction has never been shaky. I’m hurt that you would even suggest such a thing. When have I ever been lost?”

Without hesitation, she held up her hands and started ticking off examples. “Well, let’s see. There was that time in high school when you were driving our group to that new restaurant in Chicago before the Homecoming dance and we almost ended up in Indiana. Oh, how about the time a few years ago when we went on that camping trip up to Devil’s Lake and it took us an extra day to get there because –”

“All right, all right,” he conceded, palms facing her in surrender. “You’ve made your point. There have been a couple of times in the past where my impeccable sense of direction has failed me. But to be fair, if it weren’t for your OCD tendencies, it wouldn’t have bothered you so much.”

“Oh, come on. Preferring that my plans and schedules are followed doesn’t make me obsessive compulsive,” she argued.

“Preferring? Is that what you call your little bouts of hysteria when plans change?” He laughed when her cheeks colored to match her dress. “One of these days you’re gonna have to learn how to roll with the punches, you know.”

“So you keep reminding me,” she said wryly. “Come on, get in. I’ll take you home.”

“Nah, that’s okay.” Being alone with her was a bad idea. The high blood-alcohol level made his tongue loose and his inhibitions damn near non-existent. “I need the fresh air before I crash and become oblivious to the world for the next few days.”

Angelica cocked her head to the side and narrowed her eyes, probably trying to decide if she should force the issue. Her scrutiny was beginning to make him feel self-conscious. He most likely looked like hell. His jeans and white tee shirt bore an array of colorful stains, courtesy of sloppy drunks and their sloshing cups. He probably looked like a walking abstract painting.

“Okay, if you insist,” she said, finally giving in. “Call me when you get home, though, okay? I don’t want to lose any sleep thinking I’m responsible for you lying in a gutter somewhere. I mean it, Dominic.”

For some reason, Angelica had never used the shortened version of his name. She was the only one he allowed to get away it, too. Hell, who was he kidding? He’d let her get away with just about anything. Thank God she didn’t have a manipulative bone in her body.

“No problem. I think I can manage that.”

She reached up and put her arms around his neck for a hug goodbye. The sweet smell of cherry blossoms wafted around him, prompting a barrage of memories his mind associated with her signature scent. Dom wrapped his arms around her, but was careful not to hold her too close. To do that would make it more of an intimate embrace. He breathed a silent sigh of contentment. My angel.

He’d used her goody-goody reputation as an excuse to give her the nickname when they were kids, but as they grew older it had metamorphosed into a term of endearment, albeit a casual one. Given her name it was a predictable and obvious choice, but Dom used it because that's what she was to him. An angel. His angel. So many things in his life had been dark and evil, but she’d always had the ability to save him from all of it, whether she knew it or not.

She ended their hug and flashed him her killer smile. With all the alcohol coursing through his veins, he had a hard time controlling the image of her bouncing on the clouds, sporting a shiny halo and a pair of wings. Wipe that dumb-ass look off your face, Russo, or she’ll think you’re too smashed to walk home.

“Goodbye, angel.”

She screwed up her face like he’d just said something distasteful.

“Goodbye? What happened to your usual ‘see ya later?’ You make it sound like we’re never going to see each other again.” Actually, he wasn’t sure what had prompted the change in his usual farewell. “If you miss Sunday brunch at my parents’ house my mom’ll have your head. Now, get your butt home and call me when you get there. Be careful, okay?”

Women. How do they survive on a daily basis with as much as they worry? Dom had learned it was always better to placate them to avoid unnecessary nagging. With a finger marking an X over his heart he said, “I’ll call as soon as I’m home. I swear. And don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of missing Isabella’s famous waffles. Or messing with your schedule.”

His smart-ass remark got him a punch in the arm. “Ow.” He dutifully rubbed his bicep and pretended like it hurt, though he couldn’t hide his smirk.

“How’s that for rolling with the punches?” She seemed satisfied with herself as she walked around her Volkswagen Beetle to climb in behind the wheel before he could retaliate. The pink-metallic Bug purred to life and pulled away from the curb. It shrank in size, blinking in and out of the pools of street lights, until it finally blinked out of sight. Taking a deep breath and letting it back out slowly to try and clear his head, he turned in the direction of his small apartment and began his walk home.

With nothing to distract his thoughts from Angelica, Dom forced his brain to focus on other things. For starters, he needed to get ready for the police academy he was joining in a week. He was anxious to finally start his training and become a cop. It had been a pain in the ass going to college for police science when it wasn’t necessary to join the academy, but Dom wanted every edge he could get. He didn’t have the personal connections a lot of the new recruits had that gave them political advantages. He’d always known that whatever he did in life would have to be earned through hard work and a never-say-die attitude. That was exactly what he planned on using to work his way up quickly through the ranks. He had no desire to be a beat cop his entire career, sitting in a squad car and waiting for speeders to pass by. He wanted to be a detective and fry much bigger fish. Particularly, the kind of asshole fish he had been forced to live with growing up.

He had heard about foster parents that were caring and nurturing. The kind that fostered children to give them opportunities and loving families they wouldn’t otherwise have. Unfortunately, Dom had never actually met any. He’d been given over to people that were in it for the extra paychecks every month. People that were neglectful and abusive, more than not. They’d been reported to the authorities on several occasions, but to say the system was flawed was a gross understatement. In the end there had never been any serious repercussions.

The only thing that had saved him from drowning in that morally depraved life had been Angelica and her parents. They had invited him over often for play dates, and his could-give-a-shit foster parents had only been too eager to get rid of their burden as much as possible.

Dr. and Mrs. Hart always did whatever they could for him without crossing the line into condescension or pity. Somehow they understood that his pride was all he had in the world and they were always careful to leave his intact.

Growing up around the Harts, Dom was shown what life could be like. What a real family should be. He couldn’t deny that he wanted to have his own family like that someday, but Dom knew it wasn’t likely. Even though he knew he could never be like the people (and he used that term loosely) that raised him (he used that term very loosely), the niggling thought that he had been permanently tainted by them scared him to death. What if he couldn’t be the type of husband or father that he wanted to be? What if, no matter how hard he tried, the slime from his upbringing was a permanent fixture on his soul and it ended up destroying those he loved? Even if that wasn’t a factor, he had to consider that his DNA was probably corrupted as well. He didn’t know anything about his biological parents, but they had to be real gems for the state to take him away as an infant. In the argument of “Nature versus Nurture,” he was screwed either way.

Those were the true reasons Dom never came clean with Angelica about his feelings for her. Although he believed he had the power to change his path in life, to be a better man than the ones he grew up with, he couldn’t take the risk of hurting her if the evil traits he merely repressed came oozing through the bandage like a festering wound.

No, there would be someone infinitely better suited for her, he was certain of that. Someone who had grown up as she had and would know how to give her that same type of life and love. There was only one problem with that scenario. He hadn’t figured out how he was going to prevent himself from choking the lucky bastard to death.

Dom came to an abrupt stop. A man had suddenly appeared in front of him on the deserted sidewalk. Not like he stepped out from behind the bushes and made his presence known. No. It was more like “now you see him, now you don’t”…only the other way around. Now he blocked Dom’s path with a wide stance and arms held out slightly from his sides.

At 6-feet, 3-inches Dom was taller than most, but this guy looked to be even a few inches taller. Despite the hot weather, he wore faded jeans and a long brown duster, but apparently thought to compensate for the extra material by not bothering with a shirt. Dom half expected to find spurs attached to the worn cowboy boots to complete the outlaw motif. Sandy blonde hair hung past his broad shoulders, which were coincidentally attached to the frame of a Mack truck.

Dom didn’t like the guy’s attitude or the cocky smirk on his ugly, bearded face, which incidentally wasn’t all that ugly. He actually looked like he’d stepped off the cover of a western romance novel, but a strong male ego refused to let Dom admit that on anything more than a deeply subconscious level.

“Dominic. It’s nice to finally meet you face to face,” the man greeted him in a smooth voice. “My name is Griffin. I’ll be your escort this evening.”

Griffin? Dom racked his brain, trying to remember if he’d ever heard anything about anyone named Griffin or how the guy might know his name. Dammit, why’d I have so much to drink at those parties?

The man’s mysterious presence pricked Dom’s survival instincts and his adrenaline kicked into high gear. He usually tried to be the bigger man and walk away from fights, but he was always secretly disappointed when the other party didn’t press the issue. In his opinion, there was nothing more honest than a bare-knuckle brawl. The pain reminded a man he was alive and how he finished let him know where he stood in the pack.

Taking a wide stance, Dom clenched his fists at his sides to prepare for an attack. “If you think you can mug me you’d better think again, pal. I won’t go down easily.”

The arrogant male laughed quietly and gave Dom a wide smile, baring a row of glistening white teeth. The light from the street lamp above glinted off of two longer fangs, highlighting their sharp tips as though the light itself was trying to flash him a warning.

He’d heard about those Goth Vamp-wannabe clubs, but never had the displeasure of meeting one of their deranged members. Great. A mentally unstable mugger. Just what he needed right now.

“I’m not here for something as trivial as your wallet, human. And I predict you’ll go down very easily.”

A split second later the guy was right in front of him, swinging a right hook towards his face. Dom barely had time to process what happened when his world was swallowed by a swift black void.

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