Saturday, September 14, 2013

GYDO: Amy Butler Greenfield

Amy Butler Greenfield, Author of Chantress
            How does the story start?
            It’s one of the most important questions a writer faces, and it’s not always easy to answer. 
When I sat down to write Chantress, I knew my main character, Lucy, was in her teens, but I started with a prologue about something that happened when she was much younger. Here’s how one of those early drafts began:

            Lucy has no memory of that night. Oblivion was part-payment for her safety, and the bargain cannot be undone. But what she has lost sometimes returns to her in dreams. And they always begin this way:
            With singing.
If you could call it singing, that is, for the eerie melody is unlike anything Lucy has ever heard from human lips. And yet singing it unmistakably is. The notes snap on the wind and soar into the salty sky—a wild song for a wild night, churning the sea into fury…

             I truly loved writing this prologue, and for a long time I wanted to keep it exactly as it was. After it got a special mention in a writing grant contest, I was even more determined to stick with it.

The trouble was, I couldn’t seem to make that voice work for the rest of the book.
Not sure what to do, I kept going, but I ended up with several drafts that didn’t quite work. I felt removed from the story, and at a distance from Lucy herself.
            One day, while unpacking from a big move, I ran across some very early writing I’d done, back when I wasn’t sure how to start the story. In that snippet, I’d let Lucy speak for herself. And when I read it, I knew that’s what had been missing: Lucy’s true voice.
            It meant a lot of rewriting, but I tackled the story again, and this time I let Lucy tell it. Even as I wrote it, I could feel the book coming alive in a whole new way. When I sent the manuscript out, it was snapped up by an agent right away, and soon we had editors racing to buy it. This is the beginning of what they read – and the way Chantress still begins now:

I was digging in the garden when I heard it: a strange, wild singing on the wind.
I sat back on my heels, a carrot dropping from my mud-splattered hands.  
No one sang here. Not on this island.
Perhaps I’d misheard—
No, there it was again: a lilting line, distant but clear. It lasted hardly longer than a heartbeat, but it left me certain of one thing: It was more than a gull’s cry I’d heard. It was a song.
But who was singing it?
I glanced over my shoulder at Norrie, hunched over a cabbage bed, a gray frizzle poking out from under her linen cap. As far as I knew, she was the only other inhabitant of this lonely Atlantic island, but it couldn’t have been Norrie I had heard. For if there was one rule that my guardian set above all others, it was this one: There must be no singing. Ever.
Sing and the darkness will find you...

            So what did I learn about beginnings? Two things stand out:

(1)   Don’t get too set on one way to tell your story. Be willing to try new things.
(2) Trust your instincts! When it’s right, you’ll know.

Chantress Blurb
“Sing, and the darkness will find you.” This warning has haunted fifteen-year-old Lucy ever since she was eight and shipwrecked on a lonely island. Lucy’s guardian, Norrie, has lots of rules, but the most important is that Lucy must never sing. Not ever. Now it is 1667, Lucy is fifteen, and on All Hallows’ Eve, Lucy hears a tantalizing melody on the wind. She can’t help but sing—and she is swept into darkness. 
When she awakes in England, Lucy hears powerful men discussing Chantresses—women who can sing magic into the world. They are hunting her, but she escapes and finds sanctuary with the Invisible College, an organization plotting to overthrow the nefarious Lord Protector. The only person powerful enough to bring about his downfall is a Chantress. And Lucy is the last one in England. 
Lucy struggles to master the song-spells and harness her power, but the Lord Protector is moving quickly. And her feelings for Nat, an Invisible College apprentice and scientist who deeply distrusts her magic, only add to her confusion... 

Author Bio
Amy Butler Greenfield was on her way to a history Ph.D. when she gave into temptation and became a writer. Among other honors, her books have won a PEN/Albrand Award, the Veolia Prix du Livre Environnement, and a Beacon of Freedom Award.
Born in Philadelphia, Amy grew up in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. She studied at Williams College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she earned a graduate degree in history at Oxford University on a Marshall Scholarship. She now lives with her family on the edge of the Cotswolds in England, where she writes, reads, and bakes double-dark-chocolate cake.
She loves music, romantic adventure, history, quirky science, and suspense, which explains how she came to write her first YA novel, Chantress, due out from Simon & Schuster in May 2013.


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