Suffering Succotash Manuscript 2012

An Ancient Tryst with Really Shockingly Tragic YA Writing

Oh, the angst of a 15-year-old writer!

You guys, I have a great idea! Let’s all sit around and talk about what awful writers we once were. No, I’m serious — it’ll be fun! What, are you embarrassed? Fine, I’ll go first:

The candle challenged the sullen darkness with its stubborn intensity.[CANDLE HAS SERIOUS ATTITUDE] To any stranger traveling down that forsaken path, the solitary light in the small window would have revealed a lone, watchful figure sitting silently in the flicker of the taper.

Rachel was not sure of how long she had kept her vigil, but her eyes were burning with the strain. As immobile as a statue, Rachel sat stiffly in her hardback chair. [IS THERE REALLY ANY OTHER WAY TO SIT IN A HARDBACK CHAIR BUT “STIFFLY”?] Suddenly she detected movement in the forest beyond. Slowly and deliberately [REDUNDANCY, THY NAME IS “15-YEAR-OLD WRITER”], Rachel rose from her chair. Walking over to the looking glass [BECAUSE “MIRROR” WOULD NOT BE ANGSTY ENOUGH] she released the confinement of her hair. The rich, glossy waves tumbled about her shoulders, released and free. [TWO INSTANCES OF “RELEASED” IN AS MANY SENTENCES LIKE A BOSS] As Rachel pulled her black woolen cloak around her slender shoulders, she extinguished the candle with a single sigh. [SHE’S SO SAD, Y’ALL]

There was no moon that night to light her voyage down the woodland path, but Rachel’s feet found their own way as if in a dream. [I ALWAYS KNOW WHERE I’M GOING IN MY DREAMS DON’T YOU] She was conscious of nothing but her own thoughts. [THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE AN IPHONE TO DISTRACT YOU FROM YOUR INNER SADNESS LOUIS CK] She knew not how many times she had traversed this path, nor did she know how many times she would. She only knew that the compelling force in her heart drew her from the bleak existence of her chilled cottage night after night.[SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE SAID ABOUT THIS SENTENCE BUT I KNOW NOT WHAT]

In the slowly approaching distance, Rachel hears the mournful voice of the brook, still singing its unrelenting, somber melody which the trees of the forest echoed on sympathetic wistfulness. [NOTE MY BRAVERY IN RANDOMLY CHANGING TENSES HERE] To many who passed through the forest and heard the brook, a feeling of overwhelming sadness washed upon them and was so overpowering that they spoke loudly of other things to squelch the mysterious melancholy. [ALLITERATION FOR THE WIN]
‘If only, if only…’ the brook seemed to murmur, never finding and answer, never finding solace. Rachel paused momentarily, her eyes scrutinizing the darkness before continuing. For her, the song of the brook was embedded in her heart deep enough that she never knew any relief from the sadness
[SO SO SAD]. Branches reached out and tangled her hair and stones belittled her faltering steps. Oblivious to these obstacles, Rachel moved stoically onward. [SO SO BRAVE]

All at once, the heart-wrenchingly familiar tree stump came into view. Rachel dropped to her knees on the velvet spring grass. [HOW IS IT “SPRING GRASS” WHEN SHE NEEDS A WOOL COAT AND SITS IN A CHILLED COTTAGE NIGHT AFTER NIGHT] Head tipped heaven-ward, eyes calmly closed, she waited. Her mind flew unbidden to a time long gone and jealously cherished. Visions like the faded autumn leaves drifted through her heart and mind as the jewels of her memory. [I CAN’T EVEN WITH THE MIXED METAPHORS HERE] A young man gazing intently into the eyes of a young woman as the couple shared stolen moments of peace and secret picnics with the grandfather tree stump providing a woodland table. [TRYING TO BE ROMANTIC BUT COMING OFF AS KIND OF GROSS WITH THE IDEA OF A GRANDFATHER WATCHING THEM AND EVERYTHING] Blacker visions of accusing fingers and knifed tongues scalding the exposed happiness, the slamming of an iron door and a judge’s verdict. A lonely sickbed and a cold grave completed Rachel’s memories, turning the jewels to rubble. But her face expressed no more pain or sadness that it has when she fell upon the grass. The visions could no longer wound, Rachel had found her salve. [I BUY MY SALVE AT WHOLE FOODS, WHAT ABOUT YOU]

Gently and lethargically the air around her seemed to grow warmer, charged with substance and vitality. Eyes still firmly closed, Rachel reached out her arms to the darkness, as if in expectation of an embrace. A light shimmered uncertainly before her, Rachel opened her eyes. The light wavered slightly once more, then seemed to grow brighter with her encouraging smile. Without a sound Rachel rose, and walked to the light until she stood illuminated inside of it. [AND I HADN’T EVEN SEEN DR. BEVERLY CRUSHER HAVE SEX WITH A SCOTTISH CANDLE GENIE ON STAR TREK YET] Head bowed and shoulders relaxed, Rachel stood, silent and grave. [“GRAVE” THAT’S PROBABLY WHAT YOU CALL “FORESHADOWING”]

As secretly as it has come, the brilliance began to fade. It no longer surrounded her form, but haloed her head and rested on her serene face. Rachel raised her full eyes to the light and smiled as diamond brilliant tears tumbled down her face. [I MIGHT BE WRONG BUT I DON’T THINK TEARS “TUMBLE” AS MUCH AS THEY MIGHT “STREAM” OR EVEN “COURSE”] The light faded completely. Touching fingertips to lips, Rachel waited until the whispered “Forever” was heard on the wind. The tree branches took the whisper and tossed it through the branches until the mournful brook added it to its melody.

Few of these midnight trysts remained for Rachel. There came a time when the light would no longer be joined with her earthly body. When that night arrived, no candle burned in the bleak little cottage. No light shone anywhere except in the forest where the light suddenly grew brighter than before and was extinguished with a single peal of joyous laughter. The mournful brook ceased its song of sorrow and the trees rested.[OMG]

They tell you that a large part of being a writer is writing a lot of crap before you get to the good stuff. However, what they don’t tell is that the stuff might be such crap that when you come upon it 25 years later, you can’t even read it in its entirety and instead end up peering at it through your fingers as you take it in.

I wrote the above — which, I will have you know, is a bona fide piece of Hester Prynne-Rev. Dimmesdale fanfic because I was so moved by the tragedy of their romance in The Scarlet Letter and yearned, positively YEARNED, to give them a happier ending — about 25 years ago with, evidently, an open thesaurus at my side. It’s a perfectly awful piece of writing what with the run-on sentences, confused and tortured metaphors, excessive use of adjectives and adverbs, and prose so purple you can actually smell grapes as you read it. But it’s also a perfectly wonderful piece of writing BECAUSE of how awful it is. Do you follow? Fully 25 years later, I now know enough to know just how bad it is! This is exciting! And humbling! And USEFUL! Because in the future, when I’m pulling my hair and toenails out over a writer’s block and sweating a deadline, I’m going to click on over here, read, and realize: IT COULD BE WORSE.

That I once considered this Thing an amazing piece of writing manages to be both mortifying and inspiring. (The mortifying part is obvious: you just read it.) But the inspiration comes from knowing that I didn’t give up. I kept trying, I kept writing, and I’ve come far enough that I can look “An Ancient Tryst” full in the face and see exactly what’s wrong with it. I can look critically at my creative failures and see them honestly for what they are without losing all hope or confidence in myself. (And I get a good guffaw out of it as well, because oh my god what was I thinking?)

Now pony-up, my friends — I know you have some awesomely bad writing hidden away in attics, on hard drives, and in boxes stuffed under the bed. Share with the group! Set it free! Revel in the weird, embrace the embarrassing, roll full-bodied the crap. It just means you’re getting better.

(Also stay tuned, because I just found a file called “Medea Pastiche” and another called “Birthmark Pastiche.” I have a feeling they won’t disappoint.)

    Impatient author, reluctant runner. THE END OF SOMETHING WONDERFUL w/ @GeorgeErmos (@SterlingKids 2019); HELLO, STAR w/ @VashtiHarrison (@LittleBrownYR 2021).

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