“Arrivals” alpha

Writers are rewriters. Some of us are inveterate rewriters, incapable of leaving anything in its virgin state—novels, letters to editors, notes to the paperboy, quick emails to offspring. Some of us find that the chief joy in being a writer is that for once in your life, it doesn’t matter if you’re slow off the mark with the quip or the retort because with the written word, there’s always a second chance, not only to achieve devastating timing, but to reshape the entire sequence of events that led up to the quip, to change the whole setup from a passing cleverness to a downright zinger. Rewrite history? I do it every day.

(I rewrote that paragraph three times already, and will probably nudge one or two words before I hit the Publish button.)

Over the coming weeks I thought I’d drop a few examples of rewrites on you, mostly from Language of Bees (which will, I’m sorry to say, be edited carefully so as to remove spoilers.) However, I thought I’d start with what I wrote here the other day, giving an earlier version of the post “Successful Arrivals,” (earlier as in, parts of it were only rewritten twice.)

This is an exercise only an English major would enjoy, however, I believe there are several such out there, so have fun, and let me know if you agree with my choices. The rest of you, please do ignore the following and get on with your lives.

San Francisco airport’s international terminal has two arrival portals. After trekking in from the arrival gates, claiming bags, and smiling at the nice man in Immigration as he scrutinizes their passports, passengers are then loosed to wend their way through the final hallways, shoving their carts and hoping the customs people don’t pop out and ask to see their bags.

People waiting to greet-and-fetch arrivals mill around in the terminal, necks craned towards a series of television screens that show the traffic in those hallways. A constant trickle of people: exhausted families with heaped-high baggage carts, spiffy executives with a single rollie-case, teenage girls grasping pillows: the camera in the roof of the arrivals hallway shows them all: drooping with exhaustion, delirious with happiness, irritated with bureaucracy, or just plain comatose, they make their way upstream like fish in a stark white stream, oblivious to the people waiting on the other side of the walls.

A few of us know the eye is there, and remember it in time to wave to the invisible friend outside. When I came back from the UK three weeks ago and hit that last turn in the hallway, I remembered. I looked up and waved at the little lump in the ceiling with the lens in the middle. And outside, invisible to me, forgetting in her excitement that there is no way I can see her gesture, my daughter waved back.

This is what I am currently trying to do with The Language of Bees: make it so the reader waves back.

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  1. LaideeMarjorie on July 25, 2008 at 8:53 am

    …(which will, I’m sorry to say, be edited carefully so as to remove spoilers.)…


    Please don’t be sorry!

    I wouldn’t want a single spoiler, because it might only make the additional months of waiting for the book’s publication even harder to endure. I know that the world is divided on this point. Those who want to know stuff in advance and those who don’t. One of my (other) passions is theatre and when a new musical opens on Broadway, some folks want to listen to the music, read the reviews and watch video clips in advance. They say it makes seeing the show better to come to it prepared. I say I want to go into the theatre innocent and waiting for the wonder and the magic of the unknown to wash over me. And so it is with LANG. When I plunk down my money and crack open the fresh binding and begin read the first page, I look forward to the wonder and freshness of it all.

    So thanks for trying to avoid spoilers while including us in your writing process. You are a gem.


  2. KarenB on July 25, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Thank you, Laurie, for sharing your work with us. I find it fascinating the editing, tweaking, etc. you do to make us “wave back.” Which I do, with great enthusiasm! Please continue to share what you can of your writing process.

  3. Strawberry Curls on July 25, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    I printed these out to review at length. It is sort of like taking a writing class from Laurie R. King. Thanks so much.


  4. Sara on July 25, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    I cannot speak for anyone else, but when I read your books, I don’t just wave. There is a great deal of boisterous whooping, clapping, and screaming back. I too forget that you can have no way of seeing or hearing it, and we are farther than a terminal away.

    Also, why are there not 2-way cameras, so that those arriving can see who awaits? Might perk up the walking dead sort of traveller.

  5. Pat Floyd on July 26, 2008 at 1:43 am

    Pat Floyd says:
    Rewriting is such a delicious process! Laurie, your work is an inspiration. Your rewrite illustrates Mark Twain’s observation that the difference between the almost right word and the right word is like the difference between the lightning bug and lightning. You add vivid, concrete images, strong verbs, and humor in a most effective way. I love the image of writing so the reader will wave back.

    For anything serious I need at least four rewrites. I’ve tutored a few people who needed to improve their writing skills and discovered that all of them thought confident writers need only one draft. For most of these people standard English wasn’t their natural language. I failed to teach them to love writing, but I was able to help them graduate from college or seminary or feel more confident in their jobs.

    However, I had little patience with a woman who thought travel magazines would clamor for her boring account of what was an exciting hike in the Alps–my sister’s off-the-cuff report was far better. The aspiring writer catalogued each days routine (breakfast–but what did they eat?), scenery (many colorful flowers), and the crowning blow: “We laughed at the funny incident of the goat.” My sister, a slow climber, didn’t arrive in time to see the goat, so I’m still in the dark.

    I’m not an English teacher, but I had Miss Celeste Penny for both junior and senior English in high school. She required that we write correctly and with clarity, coherence, and grace. After her, college English was a breeze. Her student still remember her and sing her praise.

  6. KathyElliot on July 26, 2008 at 11:02 am

    I agree completely with LaideeMarjorie; I wouldn’t want any spoilers either! Apart from the fact that I’m really excited to read any and all snippets from ‘The Language of Bees’ that might come my way.

    And yes… the above description of an author really fits me like a glove, I’m embarrassed to say. I often spend more time reading and re-reading what I’ve written rather than writing more to follow it up, and it even spills over into my email and every day life. It gets to the point where I’m going back to revise my Livejournal posts and comments five or six times before I let them be, so I see where you’re going from. It’s a blessing in a way; at least with the written word, we do have total control of what comes out of our mouth – pardon – fingers.

    So here’s to waving back! I’m doing it with a large Styrofoam hand that has a satellite-picking gadget on it too, since you have to pick it up all the way from San Francisco while I live in the Mediterranean *laughs*.

  7. Marcia Diane on July 26, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    So, did I get it you wanted comments on your two versions of the airport check-out?

    I found the original the more engaging around descriptions of the disembarking passengers; especially loved the two teenage girls in PJs with pillows larger than life. These first descriptions are more ‘crisp’ in my mind. They put me there, milling about mouth open with exhaustion but at least having the rich complexity of humans to distract.

    and we are all waving still…LOL

    M. Diane

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