Today Writing Wranglers and Warriors
welcomes a new blogger,
novelist and consultant Keri De Deo.
I started writing Nothing but a Song at the age of 14. I played violin and sang in the choir, and my mom, a musician and music teacher, told me about Ludwig van Beethoven, who had gone deaf in his early 20s. Horrified, I wondered how anyone could survive such a tragedy. How did Beethoven continue making music? I couldn’t imagine being deaf and still being able to sing and play violin. I couldn’t imagine how life could continue.
With that in mind, I started writing the story of a fictitious girl named Rebecca Kendall, who would lose her hearing at the young age of 19. She was a musician, same as me, but she wanted to be a singer. “Not a rock star, but someone special,” she reveals to her friend Stefan.
I think at some point in all of our lives, we dream of being a rock star. We bring that brush or comb up to our mouths and sing along to our favorite song. We imagine the cheering crowd and the fame of being on stage. I wasn’t any different, so I gave a similar dream to the protagonist in my story.
She wrote her own songs, played piano and guitar, and sang in her church choir for as long as she could remember. I described how she struggled to come to terms with losing her hearing, and I showed her anger and depression as best as I could. I gave her technology to help her sing—to help her know whether she was in key or in rhythm. At the time, those tools didn’t exist—well, not like I had imagined them. So, I put the story away, figuring it would never see the light of day.
At 17, I picked up the story again and made changes to the character, the storyline, the ending. I played with the descriptions and the character. I crossed out lines and rewrote some of the songs. I read it to my friends who liked the story, but didn’t think a handheld computer that could listen to tones and keep a person on key was very realistic. Again, I put it away.
For over 30 years, I carried that story with me through countless moves across the country: Arizona, Nebraska, Sweden, Wyoming. Despite the fact that it was buried in a 50-gallon tub full of my notebooks and writing, the story stuck with me. In 2016, I dug it out again after mentioning it to a publisher.
“I need good stories,” she had lamented to me as we discussed the latest book I was editing for her. She hadn’t met her publishing goal, and she was looking for stories to publish. Hesitantly, I mentioned my story. “I love it!” She said. “Send it to me.” I did. I warned her it was in bad shape—that it was handwritten in the scrawl of a teenager. She didn’t care. She loved the concept, so I dug my story out of that box, scanned it into the computer, and sent it on its way.
I waited with increasing anxiety. I worried about it being good enough. Eventually I received an email with my manuscript typed up in rough form. The excitement began. But it needed a lot of work before it would be ready. There were plot holes, inconsistencies, misspelled words, and old clichés. I read it, made changes, updated the technology, and read it again. Now, a handheld computer wasn’t impossible. I gave my character a smartphone and researched apps that she could use. I added characters and more modern descriptions, and when I felt satisfied, I sent it back to the publisher. It took nearly a year, several edits, two galley proofs, and several Skype conversations, but I had a book. I never thought a story I wrote at 14 would be published.
I’m glad I didn’t throw it away. I’m glad I didn’t listen to my friends who said technology like I described in my story would never exist. I’m glad I didn’t listen to the negative voice in my head and the naysayers who said I would never get published.
I look at that 50-gallon tub in the garage and wonder what else is in there.
Keri De Deo, owner of Witty Owl Consulting, lives in northern Arizona and works as a writer, editor, researcher, and instructional designer. She is author of the young adult novel NOTHING BUT A SONG, released December 5, 2017. She loves technology and finding innovative tools for a happy, healthy life. Keri spends her free time with her husband kayaking, hiking, and walking her two beautiful dogs: Maiya and Lilla. To learn more about Keri, visit her website keridedeo.com!