In a first for the show, a brave author has taken the grammatical duo up on editing their work live on air.
Clark Chamberlain and Peter Turley take a crack at Robert Hawkwood’s YA story, The Wind Hath Heirs. In part one of three, they go through the chapters part by part, examining how the story flows and sounds. They pose questions on what they as a reader are experiencing and give suggestions in making the work better.
This is where Build a Better Book comes from.
A great episode to get a handle on where to start your own editing.
Prefer to watch?
Here is the text they are working from:
The Wind Hath Heirs
by Robert Hawkwood
You see what power is–holding someone else’s fear in your hands, and showing it to them. Amy Tan.
Jeremy Googe measured the halls of Howard Elementary between the clicks of the classroom clock. Three steps to the door, twenty-five steps to turn the first corner, twenty-five steps to get out of sight before the Brockodile recognized him in the crowd of third and fourth graders heading home for the day. It took a hundred and thirty steps to get from the corner out the main door and to the buses…that is if he didn’t have to make a pit stop in the boy’s room on the way. He had been holding it since lunch. The Brockodile sometimes had to go right after lunch. It wasn’t safe then. It was only slightly more safe now…if he could get in and get out on to bus 64 unseen. He knocked his knees together buying time until the bell sounded, when he could move.
Five seconds before the bell an icy prickling flashed across his upper arm. It had been doing that all day, but this time it was more intense. He rubbed at the place he had been vaccinated a few days ago for the CorvoPorco, a new flu him mom had said was very dangerous. The prickling faded, but the cool sensation on his arm lingered.
The bell. A stampede of nine-year olds erupted from the classroom doors. It was Friday, and school was out. The flap of jackets and backpacks, and the chatter of a hundred voices all talking at once filled the air…completely against the rules. Jeremy wove himself through the surging bodies of his classmates, head ducked and bladder burning. He rounded the corner. No one had grabbed him, tripped him, rabbit-punched him, pinched him, or knocked him against the wall. Thirty more steps to the restroom, including the four extra it took to cross to the other side of the hall. Just in time he made it to the urinal and sighed heavily as his bladder emptied. Two other boys hauled up to the urinals beside him in similar straights. No one spoke. All were in a hurry.
He zipped up and turned to wash his hands at the sinks across from the stalls, and saw the Brock Vincent, the Brockodile, an olive complected boy, ropey muscled, with short black hair, large eyes, and a wide toothy smile that melted teacher’s hearts. That same smile meant something altogether different to Jeremy. It meant, Oh look, dinner-time.
That smile shined on him now. Jeremy ducked his head and tried to clear out with the other boys, but the Brockodile’s arm barred his way. “Going somewhere? What’s the rush?”
“Move please, I’ve got to catch the bus.”
“That’s not very friendly, “Jehwommy”. Besides, I need you to flush for me. I think it might be stopped up.”
Jeremy risked a glance into the nearest stall. A roll of toilet paper had been thrown into the bowl, and it looked as if two or three boys had done their business on it anyway, as sport for the custodians to deal with.
“I’ve got to catch the bus,” Jeremy said, his discomfort morphing into panic.
“I’ve got to catch the bus,” mocked the Brockodile. “I say you’ve got to flush the toilet first.”
“It will make a mess. Now let me go.”
“You are so right. It will make a mess, and we can’t have that can we? So, I want you to reach in, clean it out, and then flush it.”
“No. I’ve got to…,” Jeremy’s voice cut to a squeal as he found his arm suddenly wrenched behind his back.
“Clean it out…Jehwommy, or you’ll miss your bus!”
“Stop it! No!” Jeremy struggled against the pain that drove him his knees, down towards the foulness in the open toilet. His free hand pushed back from wet, slippery rim. The icy sensation returned only to be supplanted by a surging of volcanic fury“ NO!”
First came a split second of blackness, then a flash of heat, and his his arm dropped free of the Brockodile’s grasp. Jeremy turned. A blob of burning ooze bubbled where Brock Vincent once stood, and a ragged scream tore from Jeremy’s throat. He did not know his own hands. His fingers had hardened into a dripping talons, each digit a steaming hollow fang…and the snake-eyed red-leather face that stared back at him from the restroom mirror belonged to nothing human.
The restroom door banged open. It was Mr. Lamont, the vice principal. This was definitely going to be big trouble. Mr. Lamont said something Jeremy had only heard adults say in unguarded moments when either angry or scared; then he heard Mr. Lamont’s two-way radio sputter to life. Words followed Jeremy didn’t quite understand, something about a situation. He stepped towards the vice principal…hands extended in a plea for help, and was stopped short by the shock of the radio bouncing off his skull. The next thing Jeremy remembered was another burning puddle of ooze flowing around his feet and into the floor drain. The restroom door opened once again, and this time his homeroom teacher, Ms. Kinnerman stepped in. Flaming oil pooled in all four of his eyes.
She fainted. So did he.
When he awoke he was in the arms of a fireman. Jeremy seemed himself again, though his clothes had mostly burned away, and there remained a few fading red patches on his chest and arms. “It’s okay, kid. You’re going to be okay. Just hold on tight,” the fireman said as he ran towards a pair of paramedics at the curb where the yellow-orange school buses should be. Behind them the school burned.
“I’m sorry.” Jeremy wrapped his arms around himself and began to cry as they strapped him to a gurney and loaded him in the back of an ambulance. A lady paramedic rode in the back with him. Her stethoscope was cold on his chest, but he barely noticed. All he saw was Mr. Lamont dissolving into liquid fire. He was in big, big trouble.
Jeremy lay under a thin blanket on big plaid couch in the den, a TV tray laden with cookies, half a grill cheese sandwich, and a mug of chocolate milk positioned in easy reach as he pretended to watch cartoons. He listened to his mother in the kitchen talking on the phone to Mrs. Vincent.
“No, no. We just got back from the hospital ourselves. Thank God, Jeremy wasn’t injured, scared though. Poor baby, wouldn’t say a word. It must have been awful. Any news on Brock? No? I don’t see how you can stand it. I would be out of my mind. I know. I know, dear. There’s been no news on the vice-principal either…not a word. The police aren’t saying anything. Whoever started that fired ought to be…just…just horsewhipped. That’s what my grandfather would say…and that’s pretty much how I feel. Uh huh. No, not a word. Gary plans to try and talk to him latter when things have calmed down. Well bye, dear. Let me know when they find Brock. Don’t cry. They will. They will. I’m sure of it.”
The phone beeped off, and Jeremy could hear his mother’s footsteps on the kitchen tile headed his way. She stopped behind the couch and stroked his hair, her own pulled back into a frazzled ponytail. “How’re you doing, Sweetie? Enjoying your cartoons?” Jeremy looked away. “Oh, honey. It will be okay…I promise. It will all be better soon.” Her voice continued to drone on, making comforting mom sounds, but Jeremy was not listening. Things would not be okay. They could not be made better. No one was ever going to find Brock or Mr. Lamont. They were the fire…and all that had remained of them had been snuffed out by the fire department. That it was all his fault was not the most awful truth he wrestled with, rather the most terrible was that Mom could be wrong…really wrong. And if she could be wrong, Dad could be wrong; teachers could be wrong, doctors could be wrong…anyone could be wrong. Surety had vanished like ashes scattered in the wind.
“Pearls? Really? It’s just microwaved pot pies…not cocktail weenies and champagne.” A lean boy with a shock of reddish brown hair set the timer on a stainless steel microwave oven and pressed “start”. His older sister with the same colored, though more neatly coifed hair, set three places at a glass topped rectangular dinner table. She wore a calf length shirt dress of a color she called papaya, and a rope of fat pearls around her neck.
“Really,” she replied, “All the Junes are wearing pearls for dinner. It’s a statement. A commitment to a higher standard of living.” She fingered the pearls a moment. “These are grandmother’s. In her letters she says they were a gift from her father on her sixteenth birthday.”
“Grandma you mean.”
“Grandmother. It’s more formal, more civilized.”
The boy rolled his eyes and opened the refrigerator, “ Juice, tea, or cola?”
“Water for me, milk for Jeremy, and whatever you want.” The girl made a promenade around the table adjusting the plates on the placemats, the angle of the flatware and the fold of the paper towels that served as napkins.
“We’re out of milk.”
“Juice then for Jeremy. I’ll let Mom and Dad know to pick up some milk before they come home from work.
“You’re kidding?” Tucker closed the refrigerator and glared in disbelief at his sister. “It’s been two days, Addy…since that stuff on the news about…about downtown.” He glanced into the den where their little brother sat with his attention fixed on the television’s non-stop coverage of the crisis in the city center. It showed long shots of dense rising smoke, with flashes of what might be lightening deep within. Coverage cut to police barricades manned by grim faced officers. They showed an interview with a distraught family in an overloaded car, trapped in bumper to fender traffic headed away from the smoke. They switched to a commentator pointing out distant military helicopters and convoys of national guardsmen snaking through the main arteries of the city, past the barricades and on towards no one knew what. Over and over again, every twenty minutes the T.V. recycled a dozen unanswered questions, and a hundred inarticulable fears. Transfixed by it all, an eight, nearly nine, year old boy crouched upon a sofa clutching a throw pillow to his chest.
“Hush.”said Addy in a stage whisper, “They’ll be home.”
“What if they’re not?” Tucker poured a glass of cola for himself.
“Tucker! I mean it. They’ll be home. We have to be patient.”
Just then, the microwave timer chimed and Tucker slipped on a pair of oven mitts. “I’ve got a little money in my box. If Mom and Dad aren’t back by morning, I’ll bike to the Mini-Mart and pick up some milk.”
“And a couple of boxes of Mac and Cheese…if they have any?”
“And some Mac and Cheese.” Tucker saw the moist shimmer of uncertainty gathering in his sister’s eyes. He saw the fear she refused to name. “You’re right. They’ll be home.”
Addy nodded, wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, took a deep breath and went to fetch Jeremy from in front of the television. She picked him up, pillow and all and held him close. He buried his head in her shoulder and sighed, silently mouthing the words “It’s all my fault” to himself, and to God, if He was listening.
The morning news was as full of panic and desperation, as the night had been full of racing sirens and the constant flicker of neon blue lights. Long shots from eyes-in-the-sky showed the smoke nearly cleared from the city center. It also showed ragged gaps in the skyline, where bank towers and corporate skyscrapers once stood. New columns of smoke tilted and frayed by a rising wind stood over other parts of the city. New military barricades barnacled with machine gun nests, hovered over by tanks, cut off the suburbs from any contact with the chaos downtown.
Addy flicked through the channels as she made breakfast, french toast and bacon. It was a very June sort of breakfast. Jeremy still slept, and Tucker hunkered over the family computer in their dad’s home office.
“Addy look at this. Hurry,” Tucker called.
“Addy Mae, come’ere. Seriously. Come see.”
“Just a sec,” Addy plated the french toast and bacon before she crossed to the office and struck a disinterested pose in the office doorway. Tucker had a VueTube video paused. It looked like it might be the beginnings of a riot in a city park somewhere.
Tucker pressed “play”. It was a riot. Police with helmets, vests, and shields on one side, and a gang of teenage boys with ridiculous hair-dos on the other. One boy with yellow and orange hair leapt towards the police line. He crouched like a comic book ninja demi-god, riding the arc of the dragon’s back till he struck an officer, who imploded and spun away. The shockwave rippled out, casting all the policemen on either side to the ground.
They were back on their feet in an instant though, some with guns full of rubber bullets, some with batons. All that followed belonged in a comic book as well. The only thing missing were the graphic sound effects, biff, swack, splat. The other boys joined in, some kneading the air until an incandescent ball of light blossomed between their palms, some reprising the martial arts prowess of the first boy, and then there were a few who transformed.
Arms bulged and lengthened, backs hunched, fingers curled into raptor hooked claws. A couple shrieked with the pain, but they changed just the same in seconds. The strangest thing though was not that a gang of teens with an odd fashion sense had somehow acquired super powers. It was the look of panic on their faces. They were trying to escape something more terrible than themselves, and the police line stood in their way.
“What movie is that?” Addy asked.
“No movie. Downtown yesterday afternoon. Watch.” The fighting continued. It looked as if the ninja boys would have an easy enough time of it, until a glimmer of movement in the background. Something was moving up behind them. A trio of unkempt toddlers rounded the ruin of a green minivan. A voice, maybe a girl’s voice, hissed, “O Christ. Wombats! Go!” That was it. The camera flicked off, and the video ended. Tucker gestured to the sidebar. There were a dozen other videos just like it, some less than an hour old.
“What’s happening? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I don’t know. Maybe…” Addy’s reply was cut off by the chirp from the telephone. The caller ID showed a name she didn’t recognize, but she answered it anyway, “Hello? This is….Daddy! Daddy, when…yes. Yes. We do. Yes. Daddy! No. Daddy! Daddy!” She dropped the phone and slumped against wall, her face buried in her hands and shoulders shaking in barely stifled sobs.
“Was that Dad? What did he say. What about Mom?” Tucker shook his sister. “What did he say!”
Addy looked up, her eyes wide and streaming, “He said to get out while we could.”
“What about Mom? When are they coming home?” Tucker swallowed hard at the jagged lump in his throat.
“He said he loved us, and then nothing. The signal dropped or something.”
“Nuh uh.” Jeremy stood at the foot of the stairs looking at the frightened forms of his brother and sister. “Daddy made a funny sound, a hurt sound.” Jeremy slid his socked feet across the floor into the kitchen. “I’m thirsty. I want some chocolate milk.”
Addy took a deep breath, and stood to her feet, still shaking. “We’re out of milk, sweetie. Tucker is going to get some in a little while. How about some orange juice for right now?” She could hear Jeremy open the dishwasher, then heard the tap.
“Never mind,” Jeremy said. “I’ll wish some.” When he came out of the kitchen he licked at a frothy brown mustache, and carried out a ten ounce tumbler full of what looked for all the world like cold chocolate milk.
“Where did you get that?” Addy swooped over and took it from him. She sniffed it and took a sip. It was chocolate milk.
“I wished it. Give it back.” Jeremy was indignant. “Wish your own.”
Tucker stepped around his sister, and knelt down beside his little brother. “We don’t know how to wish for chocolate milk. Could you wish some for us.” Jeremy rolled his eyes. It was an old game, like can you count to ten, or can you say your ABC’s. Of course they already knew, they just wanted to see if he knew, but there a certain pleasure in the adulation of getting it right. Jeremy ambled back to the kitchen, filled another glass with water, then handed it to Tucker. It was tap water…just tap water that grew denser, and more opaque, and turned brown, and got so cold in his hands that beads of condensation rolled down it’s sides. He dropped the glass with a cry, and ran to the other side of the room. “What..what…was that? That’s not normal.”
It was Addy’s turn. She bit at her lower lip then asked, “Can you wish other things?” Jeremy nodded. “What things?” she continued.
“I can wish TV in my head. I can listen to the phone or the radio in my head if I want to.” Jeremy lowered his gaze, “and other things.”
“Like what, sweetie?”
Jeremy retrieved a slice of raw bacon from the meat drawer of the refrigerator. “Like this.” The bacon liquified in his hands and puddled in a gelatinous mass on the tile of the kitchen floor. It began to bubble and smoke, and then there was just ash, which Jeremy pushed at with his toe. “If I dream it. I can wish it.”
“When did you dream about melting bacon?” asked Tucker from across the room.
“Last week. The night before Brock tried to push my head in the toilet at school.” Jeremy stood with his chocolate milk in one hand and wiped at the tears welling up in his eyes at the other. “I didn’t mean to wish it. I just wanted him to leave me alone! I don’t like it when I get angry anymore. It’s scary. It’s so scary.”
Tucker locked eyes with Addy. “I’ll bet buddy. I just bet you are the scariest dude ever when you get mad.”
“I want Mom.”
Addy straightened her dress and kissed Jeremy on top of his head. “We need to eat quick, then pack. Dad said we needed to go. I’ll clean up this mess.”
She dumped the broken glass into the bin. As she dampened a mass of paper towels to clean up the spilled chocolate milk, the lights flickered out, and the house fell silent.
Jeremy fetched his slice of french toast, and drizzled it with syrup. “They turned it all off.” He said, “They sound scared.”
“Who?” asked Tucker.
“The soldiers I can hear in my head. I don’t think they want to let anyone else out of the city anymore.” Jeremy paused, head cocked to one side, brow furrowed. “What’s a DEFCON 2?”
They rode through the suburb on their bicycles, backpacks stuffed with a change of clothes, and few pieces of fruit, and some bottled water. Every house looked eerily deserted. Here and there an abandoned cat darted from hedge to hedge, or a dog paced the sidewalks, or yapped behind its fences. Tucker stopped. “We can’t leave them. They’ll die.”
“Leave who?” asked Jeremy.
“All the animals. They are trapped in their yards or houses. There’s no one to take care of them. They can’t get food or water. We have to let them out.”
“We have to go,” said Addy. “We have to get out of the city. Something bad is coming. I just know it.”
“They won’t let us out anymore,” said Jeremy. “They want to…contain the situation.”
“I don’t care,” said Tucker, “Just this street, then we’ll go.”
“Hurry then. You get the left, me and Jeremy will get the right.” Addy dumped her bike in a yard and ran to the house nearest her. Over the next two ours they discovered most of the pets were gone, but there were a few dogs still enclosed within their fences, and a cat or two found peering from behind curtains at the birds flitting from hedge to tree to wire. Jeremy dissolved a hole in the windows for them. At one house the owner was still there, and cursed them roundly for vandalism, while chasing them from her yard with a golf club.
The sudden roar of a low flying military aircraft startled them. A short distance past their subdivision they could see red plumes pouring into the air over what was once downtown. Seconds later it was followed by another, and then another, until a lowering red haze hung in the sky. They snatched up their bicycles, and raced down the abandoned street towards the intersection that would lead them out of the city altogether. By the time they reached the highway, a second flight flew overhead. This time though there were no red plumes. Just as the aircraft reached whatever was supposed to have been their release perimeter it was like someone had pulled a dangling thread from a knit sweater. Piece by piece, the planes fell apart in the sky, and crashed into the city below, first a wing, then an engine, then the landing gear.
Jeremy turned away ,squeezing his eyes shut to block out the sight of their plummeting. He could hear the frantic cries of the pilots trying to eject, trying to escape the unraveling death traps their planes had become. “I want Mom.”
Addy gathered Jeremy and Tucker in her arms, tears standing in her eyes. “We all do sweetie; we all do.”
Once again they mounted their bikes and pedaled steadily towards the on ramp to the highway that would lead out of town. In the distance they could hear the shrill chitter of sirens, and the honking of horns in their hundreds, and in their thousands. Jeremy stopped and canted his head. “The Army’s up there. They’ve got the road blocked. Nobody’s going out. They’re bringing trucks, lots of trucks. They’re going to put us all in the trucks and take us away. I don’t want to go in the trucks, Addy. I want to go home.”
“Home’s not safe, sweetie, not for long. We’ve got no power, only a little food left…and whatever bad thing is happening downtown is spreading, moving closer. We have to get out. Dad said, right?”
Jeremy nodded. “But, I still want to go home.”
“Maybe we ought to,” Tucker said, “Just for tonight. If we can’t get out this way we need to figure another way. There used to be an old road atlas in the office somewhere…we can plan where to go.”
A shriek from a tatty apartment complex across the empty thoroughfare interrupted their deliberations. “Help me. Help me. My baby. Help me.” A woman in a terrycloth house robe and an open pajama top came lurching out a doorway across the parking lot and into the street. She saw the Googe children, and cried, her face, a deeply graven mask of terror. “Help me!” She kept clutching at something partially obscured by the robe. Addy shoved Jeremy toward Tucker, ran to her side, and just as quickly reeled back, and heaved. The woman tugged at the body of an infant whose face had been welded to her breast. It swung flaccidly, nearly dead, choking on its own vomit, which oozed in a froth from its nostrils.
When Tucker saw he pulled Jeremy back. “Don’t look, Buddy.”
The woman shrieked again as the the limbs of the infant began to churn. “Help me,” she said, and she collapsed in the road sobbing, cradling the infant in one arm trying to pull it’s face away from her breast with the other.
Addy found her feet and joined her brothers. “Jeremy.” She knelt down, “Can you do the melting bacon thing with the baby? Can you get it off of her?”
“I don’t know. What if I hurt the baby? What if I kill it? I don’t want to kill the baby, Addy. I don’t want to kill a baby. I don’t wanna. Don’t make me Addy, please.” He buried his face in her shoulder.
“Sweetie. If you don’t they both die. I can’t do what you can do, or I would. I would never ever ask you to hurt anybody. Maybe you can try…just a little…just enough to separate them. Addy cried with him, but every so often she would whisper an encouragement to do the best he could. After a few minutes of reluctant tears, Jeremy went to the woman, and touched the crease where the baby’s face had attached to her breast. For a few seconds it began to melt, but then the dripping slurry of flesh congealed and healed.
“It doesn’t want to let go,” said Jeremy, “It’s unwishing my wish.”
The woman gaped at the child before her who could melt skin with a touch. “What are you?” She regarded the baby welded to her body, her own child knit back into her skin and sinew. “Take my breast. Do it quick. Take it.”
Jeremy looked to Addy, brows furrowed in dismay. Addy met his gaze and and mouthed, “Yes”. Jeremy touched the woman below her collarbone. A line of skin began to glisten and flow. The woman breathed heavily, clenching her teeth. It was apparently not a painless procedure. Then the breast just sheeted off, exposing the raw muscle and sinew of the woman’s chest. She shrieked, and laughed, and cried in a single ululation or pain, relief, and sorrow as her blood pumped away through the seeping ruin of her torso.
She let go her infant and staggered away, leaving it to suckle on her dying breast. But the breast didn’t die. In the few minutes it took for the woman to pass into unconsciousness from blood loss, the sundered breast had healed. Indeed, the raw expanse across the woman’s chest appeared to be healing as well. Where the blood stopped, a new pink ribbon of skin rose like a pie crust at the edges of her wound and pressed inward, knitting her flesh anew millimeter by millimeter.
As the Googe children watched, the breast melted away from the face of the infant and flowed in a slow snaking streåam towards the unconscious mother, while the infant with a strength beyond its few weeks of life, drew itself up on hands and knees, and began to crawl back to his mother.
“No” said Jeremy. The baby turned a curious vomit encrusted face, considered Jeremy for a moment, but kept crawling. “No,” Jeremy repeated. “No.”
The baby cooed, but ignored him and crawled on. Suddenly, the baby glowed an incandescent white and fell to ash. Jeremy grabbed his backpack, kicked his bike out of the way, and with barely contained rage said, “I told you, I didn’t want to kill the baby. I’m going home.”