Writer in Motion: Week Four

Revising with a professional editor’s feedback

Last week I updated my middle grade Steampunk story for Writer in Motion based on feedback from my critique partner. As one of this year’s lucky Writer in Motion raffle winners, I got to submit that draft to professional editor, Jeni Chapelle.

I was really excited to get feedback from Jeni, and she did not disappoint. She made some edits to the actual draft that look minor but had a big impact, like letting certain lines stand by themselves. She also caught some proofreading errors, which I really appreciate. She gave me a couple suggestions on how to tie the story together better based on what I was trying to do. And she gave me the overall note that I needed more emotional reaction from my main character throughout. So those were the things I focused on in this draft:

Rainey’s Painting draft 5, week four

Amadeus, a fluffy orange cat, nestled into a blanket on the airship’s deck, his tiny nostrils flaring in the breeze, the perfect subject for Rainey’s cloud portrait.

Finders, keepers,” Rainey had sung when the cloud painter’s wand had fallen from the sky. Now, she imagined herself a famous cloud painter—diving into the depths below the ship, pulled back by the connecting bungee, steering and braking with a beautiful swath of red nylon.

But her parents’ airship wasn’t outfitted for cloud painting, and without the low hanging perch on the ship’s hull, she’d had to improvise. She sprinted toward the deck railing, swinging a broomstick out over the edge, an orange plume ejecting from the wand strapped to the end. Just as she leaned out, the bungee girding her waist to the ship’s door snapped her back, and she swept the broomstick in an arc, twirling backward, trailing orange mist behind her. Excitement buzzed through every muscle, one orange flourish at a time.

Being a cloud painter beat out her summer internship on the airship any day. Studying airship mechanics with Father and recording nano-steam pressure readings from the airship’s gazillion gauges was the worst. Father had tried to sell her on the importance of her job. The readings Rainey recorded helped her father know when the ship needed service and head off any malfunctions before they occurred.

Her mother had emphasized the travel aspect of the job. “You’ll be the envy of your friends, traveling through the Undersphere for a season.”

Maybe Jaime would envy her, after a summer sweating in his father’s forge. Or Katria, whose fingers would be raw by summer’s end after ribbing corsets in her family’s shop. Still, the airship at the heart of her parents’ import-export business was a boredom factory dragging Rainey through one disappointing day after another.

Until cloud painting.

She danced and daydreamed until her portrait of Amadeus was complete. The orange cloud-cat hovered in the sky near the ship, filling Rainey with satisfaction. But soon the cat’s image dissipated, far faster than Rainey expected, filling the sky with orange. She gaped at what she had done. Orange fog as far as the eye could see.

Her father poked his head out onto the lower deck. “Rainey! Bring the cat in. We’ve all been ordered to land. Visibility is too low for us all to hover up here safely.”

Rainey’s chin quivered, her chest tightening. She had learned from Father that the airships only got grounded when there was serious danger in the skies, like major storms, or military action, or pirates. Now they were all landing because she didn’t know how to cloud paint properly.

Rainey bit her lip and scrambled inside with Amadeus. If anyone found out she had done this, she’d be put off the ship in the port below. Her mother would have to escort her back to the Oversphere by land. Her father would have to hire a crew to replace them or bring back fewer wares to sell, and a bad year could ruin the family.

#

On the ground, throngs of people crowded around a towering wooden stage that overlooked the seaport. Tied to a chair in the middle was a cloud painter. Rainey recognized the aerodynamic red bodysuit, the swath of nylon for diving gathered up into a side cape, short hair peeking from behind her ears. She had never seen a cloud painter on land. Or one in trouble.

The Port Steward strode tall onto the stage, wrath trailing close behind.

“Cardinal Sky willfully discharged her wand to create a smokescreen forcing the ships to land,” his voice boomed. “She must stand trial for her multiple crimes.”

“Multiple crimes?” Rainey whispered up to her father.

“With the sky shrouded in orange smoke, the city is vulnerable to attack. Calling up the Land Guard meant shutting down the market, so no one can trade today,” her father said, not taking his eyes off the stage. Her mother squeezed her hand.

Rainey shuddered. The knot of guilt in her stomach throbbed. The multiple crimes were hers, not Cardinal Sky’s. But if she came forward, it would be worse than being put off the ship. She might not be allowed to go home. Even if she were, Jaime and Katria would be too embarrassed to talk to her. Their families would never allow her to make up her internship in the forge or the corset shop. Without trade experience, Rainey wouldn’t be able return to sixth grade. She would be a disgrace.

“What’s going to happen to her?” Rainey whispered. A look from Mother to Father, the slow shake of her mother’s head. Her father’s silence.

“Wait!” Rainey yelped. But her voice was lost in the din of the crowd. Cardinal Sky was about to be convicted, and it was Rainey’s fault.

The Port Steward loomed over Cardinal Sky. “We now convict you of treason and sentence you—”

Rainey raised her wand into the air and squeezed. Orange pigment streamed high into the air above the crowd.

“Let me through!” she shouted, waving the fountain of orange above her in desperation.

The crowd scattered, and Rainey made her way to the stage, her parents hurrying after, calling her name. She ran up the steps, winded, tossing the wand at the Port Steward’s feet.

“It fell on my parents’ airship yesterday,” she gasped. “I colored the sky with it.”

The wand must have belonged to Cardinal Sky. When Rainey picked it up off the deck, she had felt her whole fortune change, her summer ahead going from gray to rainbow. How wrong she had been. Rainey had wanted to be a cloud painter – not punish one for Rainey’s own mistakes. She wished she had just let the wand roll off the edge of the deck.

Rainey felt the crowd’s stares, her stomach full of stones as she waited with Cardinal Sky while the Port Steward took her parents aside for a hushed conversation. After what seemed like forever, they faced the crowd.

“Through carelessness and refusal to report a blunder, Cardinal Sky and Rainey Cadence each put the city in danger today. Neither may be allowed to leave without first atoning for their mistakes.”

Standing next to Cardinal, Rainey couldn’t see Cardinal’s face but could feel her fear.

“Cardinal Sky is suspended for one month. She will review our code of conduct so she will take appropriate action should she lose another wand. She will also work in the market for free to make up for today’s lost trade.”

Cardinal exhaled. Rainey froze. So she would be the one they imprisoned. She imagined the dingy walls of the cell and the damp smell, and her mother’s tears. The Port Steward turned his attention to her.

“Rainey Cadence will serve as Cardinal Sky’s page for the month. She will return to her parents’ airship knowing how to conduct herself in the presence of cloud painters for the rest of their trip.”

Rainey’s heart leapt. This was no punishment! She would learn all about cloud painting, get to spend a whole month with an actual cloud painter. And get a whole month off from the plodding maintenance of the airship. This would be the summer of her dreams, after all.

“Both shall start as all cloud-painter interns do,” the Port Steward gestured grandly, “with a detailed review of airship mechanics.”

###

The Breakdown

One of the reasons this round was so helpful is that I had a lot less work to do on this story than I thought I did. Could I keep working on it? Yes, and I may. But it was so helpful to get a few pieces of feedback I could focus on instead of reworking the whole thing, when maybe it didn’t need to be overhauled THAT much.

I did go over 1000 words (this round is 1233) but Jeni said that was ok if I needed the space to get the character reactions in place. I’ve noticed that 1000 words is a cutoff for some places that accept flash fiction, so in that case I’d have to stay under 1000. But this is a good example of where it was good to let myself go over the cap and then if I need to cut back I can find ways to do so…on the next draft.

I’ll try to update this post with a tracked changes view like I did last week. If you’re reading this and not seeing the update but you’d like to see the tracked version, let me know.

Today is Thanksgiving and among the many things I’m grateful for is the opportunity to participate in Writer in Motion.

P.J. Powell

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