With my mother and my wife watching my back, my writing career should be pretty much secure. They have given me some excellent writing advice in the past, and their advice for The Dream King’s Daughter is no different. Ironically, they talked about taking the book in two different directions, and I ended up picking the path between them. Even with that, I think the changes will amount to an improvement.
My mother read over the draft of The Dream King’s Daughter in its entirety, and liked it a lot. However, she felt that certain portions needed work. She didn’t buy the Dream King’s background, and she felt that Polk was something of a cypher. In fact, these are her exact words:
(Polk) has many good qualities - loyal, persistent, shows courage when needed, etc. But otherwise he seems like a marshmallow. He trails along after Aurora as if he has no will of his own. This becomes annoying after a while. I keep wanting him to show more gumption and spirit. I suspect you are emphasizing Aurora’s edginess and dominance as an aspect of her inherent power. However, I think you can keep that and also give her a companion with more spark and heft. Maybe make Polk a bad boy, or a rebel, longing to escape from working in the diner in this isolated corner of the world but unable to because… Why he’s unable to would then become a big question mark, adding to the plot tension.
His relationship with Aurora would then be a more edgy one, giving her more to bounce off of. You’d have to think out how he is and how they would react to each other.
If he’s a tougher character, of course, he wouldn’t turn into a dove. Maybe a blue jay? Or a gull? .
If you don’t want to make Polk a bad boy, at least make him a lot stronger, and let him want to take the lead a lot more. He should get furious when she pushes him around, eg puts him to sleep without even asking him. They could even compete for who’s in charge sometimes - it would make the reconciliations and tender moments a lot sweeter.
I think it’s important to make Polk a strong character, because there are long stretches in the book where there are just those two, and not much else. You need a lively interaction that is more than just banter.
The irony is, Erin also thought the set-up of the Dream King needed work, and she suggested a substantial change to fix it: rather than kill off Aurora’s biological mother and have her raised by foster parents, keep Aurora’s mother alive, make her 100% human (and the Dream King 100% elemental) and have her on the run as well. Erin suggested that Aurora’s mother (named Dawn) should replace Matron outright, but I’ve decided to keep Matron in the narrative. She counterpoints Polk in providing the Elementals’ response to the threat of Aurora. Keeping Aurora’s Mom in hiding for those years she’s in Cooper’s Corners also gives me the opportunity to show the drama of having a mother give up her child, and their reunion in Saskatoon (where she becomes the character that Polk and Aurora run to, as suggested by Dan earlier on).
Which means that Polk has to stay not-quite-human. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t be made edgier, as per my mother’s suggestion.
It’s neat how these competing suggestions interweaved. They should produce something different than what each individual suggested, but the individuals still contributed to something which I hope is an improvement.
With that in mind, here is the new scene where we’re introduced to Polk. Feel free to compare it with the original…
Aurora whipped off her apron as she entered the kitchen and strode over to the sink to wash her hands.
“I’m on break, Matron,” she called.
“You don’t have to shout it, Dearie.” The middle-aged woman looked up over the sizzle of the grille. “And you’re not on break yet. Not until the Hobson’s eggs are up.”
“Yeah, I know.” Aurora gave the sturdy, greying, red-haired woman a smile. Their eyes met.
The wind blows the surf against the beach. Palms wave in the breeze and the sky is a cobalt dome. The hot sand rubs between Matron’s toes, but she smiles as she walks with purpose. Up ahead is a Marguerita stand.
Aurora let the images wash over her and soothe her, even though she didn’t really need it. What was she going to do once Matron decided to retire and finally get that Florida bungalow?
“But those eggs won’t be up for a few minutes, will they?” she asked. When Matron stubbornly refused to answer, she added, “Until then, I’m on break.”
“You could do the dishes, you know,” said Matron as Aurora reached for the back door.
“That’s Polk’s job,” said Aurora. She glanced at the sink, a mountain range of dishes and bubbles. “Where is that slacker?”
“Hey, Matron,” shouted one of the regulars through the window to the kitchen. “Those eggs up yet?”
Matron glared, and pointed at the man with her spatula. “They’ll be up when they’re ready, Tom Hobson. You just wait your turn like everyone else!”
In the dining area, Mr. Hobson chuckled.
Aurora shoved open the back door and marched down the back steps.
She found Polk on the gravel parking lot, on the concrete lip that protected a battered stairwell leading to the basement storage area from flooding. He was stretched out on his back, an arm curled behind his head for a pillow, and his baseball cap planted over his face, snoring.
She stood overtop of him, her hands on her hips. “What are you doing out here, slacker?”
The snoring stopped, but Polk didn’t move. “I’m on break, Blondie.”
She kicked him. He fell into the stairwell.
He landed lightly on his feet, and jumped up over the parapet. The gravel scrunched underfoot as he stood in front of her, arms folded, cap on his dirty brown hair, a one-sided grin on his face. “What’s up?”
“There were a lot of dishes in the sink, last time I looked,” said Aurora.
“There were still eggs to be served, last time I looked,” said Polk.
“Well, I’ll go back if you go back,” said Aurora.
“Now who’s the slacker?” Polk’s grin didn’t budge.
They glared at each other a long moment, waiting for the other to blink. Then their tension broke at the same time as both snorted with laughter.
“C’mon,” he said, nodding towards the back wall of the diner.
As she looked up at him, their eyes met. Instinctively Aurora braced herself.
Polk walks across the gravel lot behind the diner and pushes aside the stalks of wheat as he enters the neighbouring field. He grins at the wades into the waving sea of golden brown. The blue skies stretch on forever, and he shields his face from the sun.
And you say that you want to get away from all this, thought Aurora. Liar.
But as he broke the connection and leaned against the wall, Aurora reflected that this was, frankly, a relief. For the four years since she became a teenager here at Coopers Corners, it was getting so she couldn’t look any of the other teenage boys in the eye. It was just too embarrassing. But Polk had none of that. No crass thoughts about wet t-shirts. His dreams consisted of nothing but the ground on which he stood.
Liar, she thought. You talk big, but you don’t dream about anywhere or anything else. I like you.
“Fine,” she said, following him. “But call me Blondie one more time and you’ll regret it.”
“Sure thing, Blond—” He chuckled at her.
Aurora leaned on the sun-bleached siding next to him and stared out across the fields. The wheat rolled like golden surf in the hot, dusty wind. The sunlight settled on them like a warm cloak. Aurora scuffed the gravel with the toe of her shoe. Then her toe hit something. She looked down.
Knocked loose by her foot was a small, flat stone, dark where the gravel was white. She frowned, and picked it up.
There was heft to it, like a baseball. It narrowed from half an inch thick on one side to almost a knife’s point, but there were no sharp edges to cut her. Her palm and forefinger curved around the thick side perfectly.
It was a skipping stone. She knew it was a skipping stone, though they were miles away from any water to skip it on. She could picture herself leaning into the throw, bringing her arm around, letting the perfect stone go, and watching it catch the air like a sail and meet the water along its smooth, flat end, arching back into the air again, and again and again.
But before her, only a sea of tassels waved.
Polk shifted against the siding, bent down, and snapped a stalk of wild grass growing by the base of the building. He leaned back, put one end of the stalk between his teeth and started chewing.
Aurora rolled her eyes. “Polk?”
The grass stalk arched up. “What?”
“Take that out of your mouth!” She snatched at it, but Polk ducked away. “I swear, some city folk see you like that, they may as well pose next to you for photographs.”
He shrugged. “They could, if they paid me a dollar.”
She sighed. “Only a dollar?”
Then movement caught Aurora’s eye and she looked past Polk, past the diner, and the strip of asphalt that vanished in the distance. A cloud of dust was rising where big sky met the ground at the road’s vanishing point.
“Truck,” she said.
Polk leaned back and closed his eyes. “Hmm… It’ll be a ten-wheeler, white, with a grain logo, and it won’t stop.”
“No points if it doesn’t stop.” Aurora levered herself from the wall and stepped out into the gravel lot, watching the growing cloud like a hawk. The whine of its engine and the growl of its wheels grew as it shaped itself into a dark cab and two points of light. Aurora walked to the edge of the wheat field, keeping the truck in sight until it passed behind the diner and roared past.
“Well?” said Polk when she came back.
“Ten wheeler,” she grumbled. “White. With a grain logo.”
His eyes stayed closed, and his lips quirked up. “And it didn’t stop.”
“I told you: no points for that. No one stops at this place. You don’t deserve an extra point for that.”
“They could stop sometimes,” he said.
“And seeing as we’re in Saskatchewan, I’m being extra generous giving you a point for the grain logo.”
“Four points, then,” said Polk.
She shook her head at heaven and leaned on the siding beside him. After a while, she said, “What are you going to do with your life, Polk?”
He shrugged, a quick jerk of his shoulders. “Well, you know me,” he said. “I’ve got plans. I’m going to see the world. Join a circus. Take a computer course and make it rich in Redmond. I’m going to ditch this little patch of nowhere, just as soon as I figure out what I want to do first. I can’t wash dishes for the rest of my life.”
Yeah, right, thought Aurora. But she bit back the next question: what’s keeping you?
“What about you?” he asked casually. “What are you going to do with your life now that you’re almost sixteen?’
She made a face at him. Lately, he’d always mentioned that she was ‘almost sixteen’, reminding her yet again that she wasn’t sixteen yet, and he was — almost seventeen, in fact. Like that made any difference. Except that it did.
But as she shoved aside the taunt and focused on the question, she frowned.
“I don’t know,” she said at last. “Something. Anything. It’s not a life, serving coffee in some village diner. It’s something temporary. It’s got to change…” Her voice trailed off.
It’s got to change because it’s wrong, said a voice in the deepest part of her mind.
“You seem okay with your life here,” said Polk.
“Aunt Matron’s okay,” said Aurora. “She takes care of me and we get along. But she’s not a mom, though.”
‘Mom.’ The word echoed briefly, then was filed away.
“There’s nothing to do here,” she said, with more force than she’d intended. But the words had popped a cork, and more came flowing out. “It’s like I’m a prisoner!” She blinked. Where had that thought come from?
And just like that, the impulse to question hit a brick wall. In her mind’s eye, she was surrounded by dark, soft as a comforter, wrapped with the loving care of a mom, as insidious as a straight-jacket.
Polk arched an eyebrow. “A prisoner? Matron got you locked up in your bedroom, spinning gold from wheat, does she?”
Aurora sighed. The door didn’t even lock. “You know what I mean.”
She felt the heft of the stone in her hand again. She gave it a quick glance, then looked out at the sea of tassels. Then she stepped forward and threw it.
It arched like her imagination, cleared the driveway, and sailed over the tops of the wheat. It curved down…
The wheat thrashed. Black erupted from the sea of gold. A crow, cawing angrily, rose from the waves. The stone arched up, came down again a few feet away, and burst the wheat a second time as another crow soared and flapped away to the horizon.
The stone fell a third time and disappeared among the stalks.
Polk’s arms dropped to his sides. The grass stalk fell from his mouth. “Two birds with one stone? Great shot!”
But I didn’t mean to hit them, she thought. They were just there. I got lucky, I guess.
Why should I feel lucky that I hit two crows?