A few of you–like literally three people–have followed my revisions to the Hansel and Gretel story I posted on here a few years ago.
It’s done. Finally. I’ve learned so much about writing since I wrote my original version of the story (five years ago) that I’ve decided I don’t want to revise any more. I want to write the story like a boss in the first draft. And I can. My greatest learning curve occured when I wrote Assets. I questioned my original story and wrote something else, then spent a year getting back to my original story. I also learned a lot about my process. I get farther faster by spending more time outlining the story than drafting.
What have you learned about your writing process since you began? What have you accomplished since you first set up your ‘author’ blog?
Share in the comments. And here’s a little sample of the changes that Hansel and Gretel has undergone to become One, Two, Blood on my Shoe (now available for preorder at 99c).
New Chapter 1: SKINNED
There’s the little bastard.
A spread of whiskers peeked out from the rat’s hole beneath the sink.
Maybe I should catch it and put it in the soup. Nothing like chewy tails and squishy eyeballs to make Lilith squirm.
Gretel stared at the rat hole, stirring the soup that bubbled in the cauldron. She imagined her stepmother picking the rat out of the soup and dying from the shock. A bead of sweat ran down her spine. Wincing from the salty sting of still-raw whip lashes, she rewrote her little fantasy. This time, the half-boiled rat jumped out of the bowl and dug its teeth into Lilith’s eye.
Gretel smiled as she thought of her stepmother flailing desperately, tipping over in the dining chair and tearing at her own bloodied face to get to the rodent.
The door from the dining room slammed open. For a second, golden candlelight flooded the kitchen.
Startled, Gretel dropped the ladle. Soup splashed and burned her hand. “Bloody fish guts, Hansel!”
“Where’s Gunther?” Her brother repeated. He dropped a heap of something on the kitchen table and leaned over the sink to peer out the window.
“Probably looking for new torture devices.” Gretel edged over beside her brother and stretched onto her tiptoes. “A giant lurching ogre like that can never have enough whips and chains and loathing.”
The grotesque beastie stood in the overgrown gardens behind the kitchen. Twilight shadows deepened in the folds of his gray-green skin and he stared straight ahead, not even blinking.
Hansel shifted his weight. “Do you think he sleeps standing up? Like he’s part mammoth or something?”
Her heart still pounding from Hansel’s grand entrance, Gretel shifted to ease the press of her dress against her back. “Part boulder was always my guess.”
Hansel stepped back over to the table and snatched the lump of something. It stretched into a string of fur and ears.
“Rabbit a la Hansel.” He gave her an impish grin, the light from the cauldron fire dancing on his white teeth.
Nearly sixteen, Hansel still had a round, innocent face and a soul to match.
Her belly growled and she glanced down at the hole below the sink. “I almost had a rat for the soup, but rabbit is much better.”
“We shouldn’t even have rats. Does the cat think it’s just a pet?”
Gretel’s stomach growled again. “We ate the cat.”
Hansel’s eyebrow shot up. “I thought we got another one.”
“We ate that one, too.” She tightened her arms across her belly.
Even in the mix of twilight and flame, Hansel’s face paled. “What else have we eaten?”
She smoothed a finger along a rabbit leg. “Rat, cat, bat—”
“We’ve eaten bat?” Hansel glanced at the cauldron.
“Not yet,” Gretel shook her head. “I haven’t been able to catch one.”
Color returned to Hansel’s cheeks. “Well, these will be the best roasted rabbits we’ve ever eaten.”
“For the soup?” Gretel frowned at the weak smell of onion and carrot.
“No, for us.” Hansel settled his other hand on her shoulder. “You need to eat. You’re skin and bones. I didn’t poach rabbits so that Lilith could fill out her bustiers. I caught the rabbits so I could feed you.”
“But if she finds out—” Gretel bit her lip. The weight of Hansel’s hand rippled down her back and the whip lashes answered. “Where is she? Did you see her when you came in?”
Hansel settled the rabbits back on the table and unwound the snared feet. “She’s probably upstairs curling her hair.”
Hansel’s own mop of dark curls bounced as he worked, long lashes brushing his cheeks.
The older he gets, the more he resembles Father. Gretel’s throat tightened. She counted the months that had passed since their father left to make his fortune on a merchant ship.
Twenty-two. He was only supposed to be gone six.
“You’re thinking about him, aren’t you?” Hansel leaned both hands on the table. “Every time you get quiet and brooding, you’re pouting over him.”
“Not every time.” Gretel curled her bare toes on the flagstone floor. “Sometimes I’m thinking of horrible ways for Lilith to die.”
“He’s not coming home, Gretel,” Hansel sighed.
Anger bubbled in Gretel’s throat. Father had become Gretel’s final thread of hope, a thread strained very thin by her brother’s disbelief. It was hard to hold on to anything when even happy, innocent Hansel had given up.
But she wouldn’t—couldn’t—give up hope on Father.
“He promised,” she said softly.
Hansel looked at her, his blue eyes nearly black in the uneven firelight. “Yeah, well, he promised a lot of things, and then he left us.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “At the end of every rainbow, you see a leprechaun and a pot of gold. Why can’t you believe in Father? Someone who’s real?”
He ran his hands through his hair. “Because Father is real, Gretel. And he really left us and he’s really not coming home. Don’t talk to me about what’s real when you’re the one who’s turned him into a fairy tale.”
Gretel didn’t know what to say. In the silent lull, she heard voices on the other side of the door to the dining room.
“Hansel!” she whispered.
He put his finger to his lips. She followed him to the dining room door and crouched. Hansel hovered above her and pushed the swinging door open a few inches.
Flames glowed at the tips of the candelabras, the light flickering against the drawn velvet drapes. Gretel couldn’t remember the last time every candle in the room had been lit, but it made the dusty dining room sparkle in an eerie way.
Lilith. Gretel glared at her stepmother’s back. Hansel was right. Lilith was upstairs curling her hair.
Blond curls twisted over her stepmother’s slender bare shoulder, the silken tresses clipped back by a silver butterfly.
“A new dress?” Hansel hissed. “Where did she get the money for that?”
Fear and nightmares chilled Gretel’s blood. She knew exactly where Lilith had arranged for each gold, silver, and copper piece that she had spent on silk and lace.
Lilith had charged the men at the tavern five copper pennies each to grope Gretel with their grubby hands. Two silvers to give Gretel an ale-rotted kiss. And one gold piece…
Of course, Hansel didn’t know any of that. Hansel thought Gretel went to the tavern to make pennies doing the wash.
“Sir Orlick, so very nice to meet you. You are early. I haven’t had time to prepare the child.” Lilith curtsied, her blue silk skirt belling out like a ball gown.
A handsome man stood on the far side of the dining table, everything about him purposeful and meticulous. He wore a maroon velvet waistcoat, his starched dress shirt spilling white lace above the top button. White streaked through the dark hair above his right ear, and gold flashed on his fingers as he reached up to take Lilith’s hand for a kiss.
A man. At the house. Gretel’s heart pounded. She could only think of one reason Lilith would bring a man to the house.
She swallowed and tugged on Hansel’s shirt, then backed away in a crouch, her bare feet silent on the stone floor.
Hansel didn’t even twitch. Gretel reached up and tugged at his shirt again, but he was frozen, his eyes wide as he stared through the crack into the dining room.
Gretel’s gut clenched as she heard Orlick’s deep voice.
“Regardless, I am obligated to inspect the merchandise,” his voice soft but firm, like someone who was used to being obeyed. “Bring me the boy.”
Boy? The chill on Gretel’s skin flared into panic, and she dug her fingers into Hansel’s arm.
“What?” Hansel exhaled. “Me?”
“Hansel,” Gretel pulled on his wrist, “run.”
“What does he want with me?” Hansel still stared through the crack in the door.
Gretel pulled harder, her fingers digging into the crease of Hansel’s elbow. “He wants to take you to a fairy castle in the sky and crown you king,” she spit at him. Right now Gretel needed Hansel to be a little less sweet and a little—no, a lot—more run-for-his-life frightened.
Hansel wrenched his arm from her grip and scowled. “I don’t actually believe in leprechauns, Gretel. Or fairies.”
“What do you think he wants?” She tightened her grip, glad when the pain pulled at the edges of Hansel’s eyes. “He wants to do bad things to you, Hansel. You have to get out of here.” Gretel looked nervously at the back door. If they got out and ran along the side of the house, Gunther would not be able to catch them before they reached the trees.
Lilith’s heels thudded softly on the dining room rug, and Gretel wrenched Hansel from the door and past the table. He stumbled behind her, his eyes still fixed on the man in the maroon velvet waistcoat. He bumped into a stool and it clattered on the floor. Candlelight from the dining room sliced through the kitchen.
“Hurry!” Gretel threw the back door open and shoved Hansel out in front of her. The heel of his boot caught her shin before they skittered down the steps to the gardens.
She sucked in a breath and snapped Hansel’s suspenders against his back.
“Ow!” He shot her a glare. His eyes widened as Gunther loped toward them from the carrot patch. Hansel ran, not looking back once. Gretel exhaled with relief when Hansel disappeared in the shadows of the trees. She limped as quickly as she could through the thorns and brambles that had taken over most of the yard.
She beat Gunther to the trees. She tucked herself behind the thick trunk of a hickory and peeked back toward the house.
Lilith stood in the kitchen doorway, the curves of her expensive new dress framed by the glow of a kerosene lamp that the visitor must have carried into the kitchen.
I hope the house catches on fire and Gunther goes in to save them and they all burn. Gretel peered through the veil of dusk, searching for the ogre. As big as he was, Gunther could be unnervingly quiet. Sometimes Gretel only knew he was coming when she smelled him.
The yard was clear. No sign of Lilith’s oversized pet, and Gretel’s stepmother stepped back into the kitchen and closed the door.
At least Hansel got away and Lilith’s customer won’t get what he came for.
The forest buzzed and chirped and the cool ground chilled her toes. Gretel hugged her knees to her chest and closed her eyes, still imagining Lilith’s screams and the house burning to ash against the clear night sky.
But I don’t really want the house to burn, she told the universe just in case her little fantasy had been mistaken for a wish. The house has to stay because that’s the only way Father can come home. But you can take Lilith and Gunther and the stranger.
Shivering, Gretel tightened her arms around her knees. A crow cawed in the branches above her. Gretel searched the shades of darkness for the bird. Then she wrinkled her nose at the corpse-rotting-in-a-bog scent of ogre.
Original CHAPTER 1 (Not Titled)
Gretel threw the ladle, the scoop spinning over the handle in a neat line to the far wall. She missed the rat by a hair, the scuffle of its retreat into the wall drowned out by the clatter of the ladle on the smooth stone floor.
Gretel sighed, a frustrated puff of air stirring against the damp heat of the tiny log cabin. She hated cooking in the late summer. Steam from the pot collected on her cheeks and the back of her neck, mixing with her own salty sweat and running down her spine. Her thighs chafed as she crossed the room and snatched up the ladle, crusted in dirt from the floor. She wiped it off impatiently with her apron and crossed back to the pot.
As she lifted it, her face stretched in a dim reflection off the clean surface of the scoop. Her father told her once that she looked like her mother, dark brown hair and blue eyes so dark they were nearly black. He said her mother had been beautiful, mysterious, and kind. That sounded nice, but all Gretel knew of her mother for sure was that she had died in childbirth at the age of fifteen.
Gretel stuck her tongue out at herself and splashed the ladle into the thin broth bubbling over a low fire.
The surface of the soup puckered as the ladle ran through the bubbles. Gretel stared at the unsteady liquid, watching sparse bits of carrot and leek turn in the broth. Her stomach complained loudly even though the brew had a weak smell, only qualifying as soup because it was wet and hot.
Maybe she should have caught the rat and dropped it in the stew instead of scaring it back through its hole. She had eaten rat soup before; it tasted like rabbit.
Gretel looked back at the rat’s hole. Shadows drew a thick line in the crevice where the weathered log wall met the stone floor. She watched it while absentmindedly stirring. She caught a flicker, a pink paw or part of a long tail, and pulled the ladle out of the soup and hung it on a nail jutting out of the wall.
Gretel tiptoed across the room, hugging the wall away from the door so that she wouldn’t disturb the shadows. There it was again, a flicker of furless flesh. This time Gretel was sure she saw whiskers draw fine gray lines against the uneven opening. She braced one leg into the corner and settled her other foot a few inches from the hole. Gretel leaned over, her hand hovering, ready to snatch the rat by the tail.
She waited, still and tense, for the span of a heartbeat, then two…three…
“Hey, Sis!” the door opened so hard and fast it slammed into the wall behind it.
Gretel jumped back and her hands startled into fists.
“Whoa,” Hansel grinned at her, putting his hands up in submission. “I come in peace, oh Princess of the Boiling Pot.”
Gretel lowered her hands and glared at her brother. “Hansel,” she dropped her face and stomped her bare foot on the stone. “I almost had a rat for the soup.”
Hansel’s grin fell at the pout in her voice. “Sorry, Sis. I know how much you like chewy rat tails, and their squishy little eyeballs,” his shoulders slumped forward and he dropped a heap of fur and blood at her feet, “but I guess you’ll have to make due with some fresh rabbit.”
Slim, sweaty arms squeezed the breath out of Hansel as Gretel hung on her brother. After a moment, she slid back to the floor and squatted by the pile of rabbits. Three of them with thick, gray pelts.
“Where did you—“
“It doesn’t matter,” Hansel’s gaze warned her not to press. “Just put them in the pot. Here,” he picked one up by its feet, “I’ll help you skin them.”
Gretel’s heart sank and her stomach complained, “But what about—“
“I said,” Hansel looked at her meaningfully, “that it doesn’t matter. She‘ll eat them, and she‘ll be careful not to ask.”
Gretel grabbed a knife from the kitchen’s chopping table. “You mean she’ll eat one and then give the rest to Gunther and tell him he’s been her good boy.” Gretel picked up one of the rabbits by the feet and punched the blade through its belly.
Blood stuck to her fingers like jelly. Gretel pulled the skin back from the muscles along the rabbit’s spine. Hansel already had his first skinned. He made quick work of the next one and came over to help Gretel finish peeling her skin off the ridges of the spine.
The flesh hung limp, tendons wrapping like white cords around the muscle.
Gretel’s mouth watered and her stomach clenched.
Food. Real food. Not watered down carrots and leeks, but meat.
“Save these,” Hansel gathered the skins carefully, laying them out one on top of the other and rolling them up like a thick stack of parchment. He pointed to her feet, smeared with dirt and blood. “You’re going to need some shoes before it snows. A couple more of these and I can probably piece together a pair.”
Gretel looked down and watched the jellied blood slip around on her fingers. Her last pair of shoes had been her mother’s, left behind in a trunk of clothing that Lilith saved so that Gretel could wear the clothes when she was grown. They had been silk slippers, yellow with small roses embroidered on the toe, shoes for dancing and not cooking. When Gretel turned fifteen, Lilith declared her of age.
The shoes were abandoned under a bed at the tavern, left behind when Gretel learned what it meant to be ‘of age.’ That had been last summer. Lilith took her to town with the promise of work and prospects. Gretel came home with bruises and nightmares, and without her only pair of shoes. Lilith punished Gretel for that, too, with twenty lashes from her lapdog Gunther.
“You’d think the witch would at least buy me shoes,” Gretel wiped the blood on her apron. “Even Gunther has shoes.”
“You’d better not let her hear you say that,” Hansel leaned in, whispering harshly. “You know what she’ll do.”
He had dark blue eyes like her, his hair a scant half shade lighter, but noticeable only when they stood next to each other in full sunlight.
Her brother. Her twin brother.
A lock of long bangs slipped out of Gretel’s braid and caught in the sweat next to her eye. She brushed it aside with the back of her hand.
“I don’t care anymore what she’ll do,” Gretel spoke defiantly. “When Father comes home, he’ll know what she’s done to us and he’ll–”
“Why do you always have to make her so mad?,” Hansel challenged her. “And Father’s not coming back, so there isn’t ‘when.’” He knew Lilith scared her, more than she would admit to him.
“He’s coming back, Hansel. He left because of us, because the money’s all gone. The only job he could find was on a ship.”
“That was three years ago, Gretel. And he didn’t just leave us, he left us with her.”
“He’s coming back,” she insisted.
“Yeah, well, until then, watch your mouth and watch your back.”
Gretel flinched. The scars tingled, remembering all too well the bite of fresh lash wounds. Hansel had watched Lilith whip her once, Gunther holding him back as Lilith splayed her back with twenty lashes.
Even through the screams and pain, Gretel remembered most the metallic smell of her own blood as it traced a web down her back and soaked into her dress.
With a defiant sigh, she picked up the fattest rabbit from the pile and stuck it through with a spit.
“That one’s for us. If she finds out, well, I’ll be sure to tell her how good it tasted.”
Hansel didn’t know it, but getting whipped was not the punishment Gretel feared. Getting whipped was easy; after the pain, it ended. Lilith had discovered other ways to keep Gretel in line, ways that crawled in her head and kept her up at night.