SING SWEET NIGHTINGALE by Erica Cameron
Title: Sing Sweet Nightingale
Author: Erica Cameron
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Synopsis: Mariella Teagen hasn’t spoken a word in four years.
She pledged her voice to Orane, the man she loves—someone she only sees in her dreams. Each night, she escapes to Paradise, the world Orane created for her, and she sings for him. Mariella never believed she could stay in Paradise longer than a night, but two weeks before her eighteenth birthday, Orane hints that she may be able to stay forever.
Hudson Vincent made a pledge to never fight again.
Calease, the creature who created his dream world, swore that giving up violence would protect Hudson. But when his vow caused the death of his little brother, Hudson turned his grief on Calease and destroyed the dream world. The battle left him with new abilities and disturbing visions of a silent girl in grave danger—Mariella.
Now, Hudson is fighting to save Mariella’s life while she fights to give it away. And he must find a way to show her Orane’s true intentions before she is lost to Paradise forever.
Dream War Saga Website: http://thedreamwarsaga.com
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Sleeping is the best part of my day. Everything goes slowly downhill from there. Waking up, searching for new music, faking my way through school, studying useless information for hours, suffering through dinner. The only thing I look forward is the buildup of anticipation before it’s finally time to go to sleep.
Can you imagine living like that? What kind of life that would be? I can tell you right now.
It’s no life at all.
That’s why I’m trying so hard to make sure I spend the rest of my life asleep. Who wouldn’t if they had a choice between Paradise and Swallow’s Grove?
I saw my mom at the grocery store this morning. In most people’s lives, this wouldn’t be a story that goes beyond that sentence. That’s it. I saw my mom at the grocery store this morning. The End. That, however, is not my life.
In my life, this event is much, much more complicated. Don’t believe me? Just watch. You’ll see.
Horace forgot that we were almost out of food, so he asked me to make a run for necessities. I don’t think twice about this because A) I don’t really have the right to refuse Horace such a simple request and B) it’s the grocery store. What can happen? I grab a cart at the door and start coasting through the aisles, automatically pulling our usual staples off the shelves as I pass. The normality of it, the routine of the actions lulls me into complacence; I don’t see the danger until it’s too late.
It’s the hair-raising tingle that alerts me first. My head snaps up and some inner sense I’ve always had immediately locks on to the watcher. I almost drop the glass jar of spaghetti sauce in my hand when my gaze meets my mom’s.
I haven’t seen her in months. To be more precise, I haven’t seen her in two months, twenty days, and eighteen hours. And that’s just the last time I saw her. The last time she saw me was two weeks previously when she told me in no uncertain terms in front of an entire hospital ward that she never wanted to see me again. She looks tired. Stressed. Her normally straightened hair is still curly and pulled back into a ponytail, and instead of stylish clothes of one name brand or another, she’s wearing an oversized shirt I recognize as my father’s and a pair of yoga pants. Even so, she’s a sight for sore eyes.
Indecision is a rarity in my character; my mind seems hardwired to use a fight or flight reaction to everything. Somehow, though, I’m locked in place, unable to approach and unable to retreat. Part of me—a very small part of me—hopes that seeing me will change her mind, that she’ll realize I couldn’t stop what happened and let me come home. That hope blooms just a little bit more when she shakes herself out of her shock and pushes her cart toward mine. That hope dies just as fast when I see the expression on her face.
She halts the cart so sharply that the whole thing rattles as she says, “You look like you’re doing well.” The disdain and fury are obvious in her voice. I wonder what she’s thinking. I wonder, but I can’t let myself care because that’s a road that definitely goes nowhere.
I cannot think of a single thing to say that won’t make her even more furious with me, so I drop my eyes and say nothing. Unfortunately, that, too, makes her mad.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you, Hudson Charles Vincent.” Her voice is low, barely carrying over the chatter and background noise of the store. I raise my eyes and that’s when she sees the change, the one obvious to everyone on the outside looking in.
“Holy hell!” she shrieks, stepping away so fast she slams back into the opposite shelf. Cans clatter off the shelf and boxes of pasta thud to the ground, but she doesn’t notice any of it. Her large hazel eyes are locked on mine; my eyes used to be mirror images of hers but now they look like orbs of onyx set in a human face. Like most people who have looked me directly in the eye for the past three months, my mother is terrified. She’s attracting attention of other shoppers, but since no one can tell what is actually going on, no one interferes.
“You stay away from here,” she orders, wrapping her arms around herself and scooting sideways as though I might grab her and… I don’t even know what. Tear her limb from limb in front of a store full of witnesses and security cameras? I know I have a violent history, but I’ve never hurt her. Not even when she almost deserved it. Watching her now, I’m surprised she doesn’t fall over she’s shaking so much.
“You stay away from us,” she screams. “Leave! I never want to see you again. You are not my son.”
After reaching what she must consider a safe distance, she turns around and runs like the furies are after her. I watch her go until I can’t see her anymore.
Groaning silently, I turn and see a couple employees cleaning up the mess. I’m careful not to meet their eyes as I bend down to retrieve a can of diced tomatoes that rolled under my cart. I really hope they won’t remember her little freak-out if she ever comes back in here.
Looking across the aisle, I see my mother’s cart. With her purse still sitting in the child seat. She’s going to need that, but since she always keeps her keys on a cord around her wrist, she probably won’t even miss it until she’s home. That’s another detail confusing me. She never used to shop in this store before. It’s miles from the house I grew up in.
I glance over my shoulder, glad to see the other shoppers are gone. They probably left as soon as my mom did. It bothers me a tiny bit I didn’t notice the movement; guess I was so wrapped up in the meeting that everything faded away. I need to pay better attention. What other horrors will I need to face before I learn I have to be ready for anything?
After one more check to make sure no one is around, I pull Mom’s wallet out of her purse and read her license. Well, that answers that question. She and Dad moved. As I replace the wallet, I make a mental note to tell Horace he either has to do all the shopping from now on, or we’ll have to find a new supermarket. It takes some maneuvering, but I manage to push her cart in front of me and pull mine behind until I reach the registers. I drop Mom’s cart in an empty lane, quickly explaining to a nearby cashier that I’ll be back for it.
Finishing my food run in record time—and now alert for even the minutest hint of menace—I hurry back to the registers.
As I pay and load the groceries into Horace’s silver and black Camaro, my thoughts are spinning in a million different directions. I’m thinking this is probably a horrible idea, a gesture of goodwill that will probably blow up in my face. I’m thinking Horace is going to start wondering where I am soon. I’m thinking I need to get out of Trenton, but I don’t know where I’m supposed to go.
I feel myself caught in the whirlpool of memories and they suck me into a dark recess in my own head, a place I’ve been trying to lock away for three months. All I want to do is drive the Camaro into a pit of quicksand, and let it suck me into blackness. But I don’t. And I won’t. Partially, because the car belongs to Horace and partially because the destruction of a ’69 Camaro SS would be abominable. Mostly, though, it’s because I know where I’ll end up when I die and I don’t see much difference between that and being alive. Hell is any place my baby brother isn’t. I drive toward my parent’s new house, trying to stop the flood of images floating in front of my eyes, but I know it’s a lost battle even before I start.
I see the three thugs sauntering forward as I enter the park with my brother. I see their faces twisted with anger and hatred. I see their fists descending over and over again as I’m powerless to stop them, trapped by the power I’d thought would be my salvation. I hear my brother’s cries for help. I see the glint of metal as they all pull out switchblades. I hear the scream as my baby brother attacks and catches a death-blow meant for me. I see my parents’ faces as they arrive at the hospital only to be told they’re too late to even say goodbye. I see my bags already packed and sitting on the front porch directly in front of the new locks installed on the door. I see his funeral from a distance and the shock of realizing that they even made coffins that small.
He’d never stood a chance. Neither of us had. Not when the one being who should have helped, the only person I’d ever counted on to help me with anything, had sat back and done nothing while my brother bled to death in my arms.
In a way, Horace felt responsible for my trouble. In a way, he was right. Saving Horace’s life four years ago had started a chain of events that had directly led to that morning in the park. I’d stepped in and stopped three gang kids from killing Horace. Horace’s testimony had put those kids in juvie and when they’d gotten out, well, they blamed me for their incarceration. It should have been obvious that Horace hadn’t actually had anything to do with the disintegration of the world as I knew it, but nothing I’ve come up with has convinced him of that. I see another not-so-rational conversation in our future when I tell him I’m leaving.
I turn onto their street and watch the houses pass until I find number 23. It has brick front and a two-car garage, something my mom had always wanted. Bigger than I expected, the house also looks like it comes with a fenced in backyard. A chill settles into my bones as pieces of random information slowly begin to form a picture I don’t want to see. She’d been sleeping a lot, even before the funeral. I remember hearing her throwing up one morning. They’d moved, but they picked a house perfect for a family just starting out. If I’m right about the timing, she should be showing by now, but the shirt she’d been wearing was so baggy, I could easily have missed it if I wasn’t looking. I slam on the brakes one house down from theirs as a cold kind of certainty washes over me: my mother is pregnant.
If I hadn’t been sure leaving was the right thing to do before, I am now. No way am I staying and risking another sibling of mine. I don’t think I could survive if anything happened to them. I don’t think my parents would survive either. Decision made, I let the car idle up to the house and shift into reverse, slowly pulling into the driveway and popping the trunk. I hope to be in and out before I run into anyone. My luck holds only until about half the groceries are sitting on the porch; then, my father arrives.
He stares at me as though I’m Big Foot before pulling into the garage and opening the door. As soon as I know he can hear me, I cut off whatever he’s about to say.
“I’m leaving as soon as I’m done with this. I ran into mom at the supermarket. I didn’t know you guys had moved. She freaked out and left her purse and her entire shopping cart, so I’m just bringing them back.”
He’s still staring at me with wide eyes, but he nods slowly which I take as a good sign. Then again, my mother had always been the dominant personality between the two of them. Dad would hide in the den before taking sides in an argument.
“Did you pay for it?”
I can see him already reaching for his wallet. I don’t want his money. “No,” I lie, if only to stop him. “She’d already paid.”
We stand there facing each other for a minute, hundreds of things left unsaid floating between us. I know I won’t be the one to break the silence, but when my dad opens his mouth I’m somewhat disappointed when all he says is, “I’ll start bringing that bunch inside, then.”
Dad passes by to go up to the porch and I find myself looking down at the crown of his head. No one could ever understand how two tiny people like my parents—both under five foot seven—had produced a son who finally topped out at six foot five. They were both petite, I was built like a linebacker. Only in coloring did I fit in—I have the same blond hair and hazel eyes as my mother. Well, at least I had her eyes before…
We work in silence for a while as I carry bags to the porch and he brings them inside the house. Neither of us comment on the arrangement that keeps me from stepping foot inside their home; I know he’s protecting his wife and her child. When at last I’ve unloaded the last bag, I close the trunk and turned to leave.
“Hudson? You have somewhere you’re staying, right? Not like… Not like last time?”
Last time. I’m vaguely surprised he’s bringing that up, the last time they kicked me out of their house. I’d been twelve and they passed me off to Social Services. I’d run away and lived on the streets for two and a half years. In a strange way, I suppose it’s touching that he worries about me at least that much. Just not enough to let me come home.
“Yeah. I’m staying with someone for now.”
“Good. Good.” He walks forward, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a stack of folded bills. He holds it out to me, but I shake my head and step away.
“I told you. She paid.”
“I already talked to her. I know she didn’t pay.” He holds the money out again and I know he won’t let up until I take it. As timid as the man usually is, he has a hidden stubborn streak that rivals even mine. “I would try to talk her around, you know, try to convince her to see reason if not for…”
“The baby,” I finish for him. “Yeah. I know.” I take the money, feeling as I do that he’s offering as much as he can and taking it will make him feel better. A quick glance shows me it’s twice what I paid for the groceries. “Congratulations.”
He nods, but I can’t tell how he really feels about it. I would have mixed emotions too, if I were in his shoes. “Thank you.” He looks up at me, really looks at me, and shudders before he looks away. “Hudson, I don’t know what happened to you, but I hope you’re going to be okay.”
“I’ll be fine. I know how to take care of myself.”
He flinches and I’m horrified to see a tear run down his cheek.
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know you didn’t. But it’s true. And it’s because of us you had to learn.” He looks at me for a split second and holds up a finger. “Don’t leave just yet.”
Waiting while he rushes back into the house, I tuck the money into my wallet and lean back against the trunk of the car. This is a dangerous place for me to linger. I don’t want to be here, but my dad has never asked me for much, so I wait. A minute later, he reappears with a manila folder and what looks like a framed photo.
“I saved these from your mom’s rampage after that night at the hospital. I thought she might tear them up or burn them, but you need to have these.”
I take the folder and look inside. It’s my birth certificate, my social security card, my passport, my legal identity. Possible to replace, but expensive and time consuming.
“And this.” He hands me the frame and my throat instantly locks. It’s a picture of me and J.R. from the park last year. He’s on my shoulders, his tiny arms wrapped under my chin like a hatband to keep from falling off, and he’s laughing. He was always laughing. And he could always make me laugh.
“Thank you,” I whisper. He couldn’t have given me a better present.
“I hope you find someplace better than this, Hudson. I hope you find what you need.” He says it, but he still can’t look at me in the eye. He doesn’t understand what my eyes mean and it frightens him. I frighten him. He wipes his eyes and sighs.
Somehow, without me saying a thing, he already knows I’m leaving town. I step back, adding physical distance to the figurative miles that already lie between us. Even if he asked, I already know there’s no going back. Not now, not ever. This is probably the last day I’ll see either of them ever again and all I feel is relief. Relief that I won’t have to worry about hurting them anymore. Relief that my last action on their behalf is a gesture of goodwill, that I’m closing the door on a slightly more positive note. I take a deep breath and offer him the only other thing I have.
“If you think she’ll listen, tell Mom I didn’t mean to scare her. I never wanted to hurt her.”
“I know you didn’t, son.” He pauses and takes a hesitant step forward as though he’s going to reach out for me, but he seems to change his mind. He rocks back on his heels and crosses his arms over his chest, his eyes focused on the house across the street. “I think you mother knows that too. Or she will once she’s able to step back from it all.”
And then that’s it. Neither of us has anything else to say. I get into the Camaro and leave it all behind. For good this time.
MY INTERVIEW WITH ERICA
1. The scene with Hudson has so much explanation in it, why was it cut?
A lot of this scene contained details that became irrelevant in later drafts of the story. Hudson’s parents become simply a part of his past instead of a sub-plot element. What was more important was seeing first-hand what happened to Hudson’s little brother J.R., an event that this version of the book only alludes to for the first fourth of the story. The rest of the explanation—his incredibly rocky relationship with his parents, mainly—is implied and explained in other ways in the published version.
What’s interesting to discover when you begin really digging in to the editing process is that just because you needed to write something doesn’t mean it needs to be there. Or just because something is important to a character’s backstory and psychology doesn’t mean that it needs to be a full scene in the book. It may hurt to lose certain scenes you’ve fallen in love with, but in the end it makes the book cleaner and more concise to cut the extraneous information.
Also, just to make this clear, it’s no longer canon that Hudson’s mother is pregnant. She’s not pregnant in the final version of the book. In case you were wondering. ☺
2. How did you make your editing/revising decisions? Was it with the help of your editor or beta reader?
It depends on what project I’m working on, whether the book is under contract or not, and who’s expecting it. In early stages of any book (before it goes to my agent and/or editor) I have several readers who will look at things for me to make sure I’m not going completely off the rails. My sister Haley is always one of my early readers and so are my friends Lani Woodland and Tristina Wright who will spot-check works in progress for me or help me hash out plot/character/world building issues. Mostly, though, the majority of the heavy editing for the Dream War series has and will be done by the team at Spencer Hill. Once Patricia Riley and Danielle Ellison bought the series, they assumed a certain level of responsibility for it and so now they’re stuck with me. 😉 They know more about the world and the characters and the overarching plot of this quartet than almost anyone but me and so they’re the ones who help me determine what’s necessary and what needs to go. For my other projects (the ones that haven’t sold yet) my beta readers help in the beginning and then it ends up in the hands of my agent Danielle Chiotti and she’s the one who fine tines and polishes the book with me before it goes out on submission.
3. Do you work with a critique partner? In what capacity?
Writing first drafts is hard (for me, really hard), but 99% of writing is revising. And, almost more importantly, the willingness to revise.
I have certain people who are amazing at helping me with different things. Lani will sit online with me and talk plot possibilities for hours. Marni Bates is a fantastic editorial voice and she has been instrumental in those times when I get stuck during edits. Tristina crosses in and out of all of these and is someone I go to when I need to be talked off the ledge. My sister is a fantastic cheerleader and also a great way for me to gauge a reader’s reaction to something since she’s not a writer herself but she is a voracious reader of YA. The wide array of voices helps me pinpoint problems because if more than one of these readers’ comments on the same thing than I know for sure that it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
4. Is Mariella still part of the story or was her character cut completely?
Oh goodness, yes! She’s definitely still there. Her side of the story is essential to the book and she gets to tell her own version of events in chapters that alternate with Hudson’s. While this chapter in particular doesn’t exist anymore, I literally wouldn’t have a book without Mariella. Cutting her was never ever an option that crossed the table. The concept started with her and she remained through every single version of events. She’s not the type to let herself disappear. 😉
Thank you for your time, Erica. I can’t wait to read Sing Sweet Nightingale!!!! I also hope you will be at BEA again in 2015:)
The Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Sing-Sweet-Nightingale-Erica-Cameron/9781937053963
After a lifelong obsession with books, Erica Cameron spent her college years getting credit for reading and learning how to make stories of her own. Erica graduated with a double major in psychology and creative writing from Florida State University and began pursuing a career as an author.
Erica is many things but most notably the following: writer, reader, editor, dance fan, choreographer, singer, lover of musical theater, movie obsessed, sucker for romance, ex-Florida resident, and quasi-recluse. She loves the beach but hates the heat, has equal passion for the art of Salvador Dali and Venetian Carnival masks, has a penchant for unique jewelry and sun/moon décor pieces, and a desire to travel the entire world on a cruise ship. Or a private yacht. You know, whatever works.
Her debut novel, Sing Sweet Nightingale, released March 2014 and it was the first volume of The Dream War Saga, a four-book young adult series.
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November 3 – A Backwards Story
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