One year ago today, I published my second book in my Crown of Tír na nÓg series titled Unseelie Queen. Out of curiosity, I dug through my folders and looked at the opening scene of the very first draft. It is crucial to craft a compelling first scene; it needs to draw a reader in enough for them to want to continue reading. I always pay special attention to those scenes, revising them again and again. Yet when I looked at Draft 1 of Unseelie Queen, I was still surprised how much it had changed between Draft 1 and Draft 7. If you’re curious too, continue reading!
As the waves crashed against their tiny boat, carrying it any which way, Kayla clutched a hand to her stomach. The other was tight on Fay’s arm, who was holding on to the boat.
“Don’t let go!” Fay cried over the roar of the waves.
Opposite of them, Nooa’s otherwise dark face was the color of a white wall. Even Maeve looked a bit pale. No one spoke as another gust of wind howled across the sea, tossing the boat left and right. The waves grew higher and higher, and crashed onto the boat.
Before Kayla could as much as scream, she was doused in salt water. The force of the wave shoved Kayla back, away from Fay. Flinging her arms, Kayla tried to swim, but another wave knocked into her.
She was no longer on the boat.
Kayla had no sense of which way was up and down. All she could see was water. The salt burned her eyes, but she forced them open, trying to make out any shapes and shadows. She glimpsed something dark and started swimming toward it. The waves thrust her back and forth, and she kicked with her legs. Her chest ached with the need for air. But which way was up?
Something closed around Kayla’s ankle and pulled sharply. Kayla wanted to scream, but she only produced some bubbles. Whatever had hold of her foot swam with impressive speed and there was no way for Kayla to free herself. She thought her chest might burst. Shutting her eyes, she hoped for the best.
They broke through the surface and Kayla was thrown onto packed ground. She spluttered and gasp, pressing a hand against her paining chest. Her eyes felt sore and her head heavy. She rubbed some saltwater from her eyes and her surroundings shifted into focus.
Kayla was sitting on a rocky shore, the wild sea stretching out before her. Waves tumbled underneath the dark sky, but there was no sight of a boat or any survivors.
Until Kayla lowered her gaze.
She yelped, crawling backward. “Who are you?!”
Beside her was a creature Kayla had never seen before. Her upper body was that of a human, but the lower part was the tail of a mermaid. She had the tip of it still in the water, splashing left and right. Her entire skin was covered in shimmering scales in all shades of green and blue. The same color as her long hair.
Head propped on her hands, she gazed up at Kayla with eyes consumed by darkness. “I could ask you the same, couldn’t I?” Her voice was high and sweet, but her eyes looked deadly.
Kayla coughed. “I-I am Kayla. I am from…the Seelie Court.”
The merrow girl’s mouth pulled into an O. “That is fascinating! My name is Mór and I live on this island.” Mór pulled herself out of the water and as soon as she was on land, her tail transformed into legs. She stood up, offering a hand to Kayla. “I wish to take care of you. Would you like me to?”
Kayla looked out over the sea. There was no sign of her friends or their boat. The storm had calmed, but the sea was still agitated. They could be anywhere by now.
“Oh, you should not worry about your little friends,” Mór said. “We can find them for you.”
“How—? I didn’t mention my friends.” Or did she? Kayla felt confused and irritated, and her stomach had still not forgiven her for the trip on the sea.
“No, not out loud. But I can read minds. Now, come on, no time to lose.” Mór leaned in and grabbed Kayla’s hand. Kayla let her pull her up and followed the merrow, away from the shore.
As the waves lapped against their tiny boat, carrying it further out to the sea, Kayla clutched her stomach with one hand and the railing with the other. She squeezed her eyes shut as the boat rose with the waves.
Kayla hadn’t known she could get seasick. It hadn’t once crossed her mind when she lived in the mortal world, but ever since she had come to the faerie realm, she had learned a lot about herself—things to which she had never wanted answers.
When she opened her eyes again, her stomach did a different kind of somersault at the sight of Fay, now much closer to her than before.
“Are you unwell?” Fay asked. A gust swept across the sea, tousling her blond locks. She tucked an errant strand behind her ear, which was slightly less pointed than that of other faeries. Her eyes, deep green like the forest after the rain, rested on Kayla as she repeated her previous question.
Not trusting herself to keep her breakfast down if she spoke, Kayla nodded and leaned toward Fay, who immediately wrapped her arms around Kayla.
“It’s not much further now,” Fay said.
Kayla followed her gaze to the horizon, where she could just make out the faint shape of an island—the Isle of Llyr.
But it wasn’t the distance that worried Kayla; it was the clouds gathering in the sky and the first drops of rain drizzling down on them. It was the look on Nooa’s face, now the color of a green Faery Light. Even Maeve looked pale as she plunged the paddle into the water, pushing them forward.
“I hate the sea,” Maeve grumbled.
“And I still don’t get why,” Fay said. She pressed a quick kiss to Kayla’s brow before returning to her own paddle. “You can swim faster and dive deeper than any of us. If we go overboard, you have the best chances of making it to the coast.”
“I cannot die out here!” Nooa cried. He was glued to the opposite railing, and Kayla tried to offer him an encouraging smile that turned into a grimace.
Another wind gust howled across the sea, tossing their boat left and right. Maeve stabbed her paddle into the water as though it were a sword and the sea a roiling beast. “No one’s going overboard. We’ll be fine!”
For a moment, Kayla considered the possibility that they might, in fact, die out here. If they did, Kayla would never find her birth parents or return to Chicago to be with her mortal mother and brother again. No one would save her best friend Abby from the banshee’s curse. And maybe no one could stop the Unseelie Queen from ruling this world. What would become of Tír na nÓg then?
A light tap against her throat brought her attention to her necklace. The flower locked inside its pendant was the reason they were in this mess. It was the reason they couldn’t afford to die like this.
Kayla remembered the day she received the necklace. After the faerie cat, Dahlia, revealed Kayla’s true parentage, she had given her that necklace. At first, Kayla believed it was just a pretty trinket that her birth mother had wanted her to have. It didn’t take long for Kayla to realize that this purple blossom was so much more than that. Dahlia was convinced it would be the key to saving the kingdom.
Right now, it felt more like the necklace would be their doom. As the storm grew stronger, Kayla reached for the mysterious magic slumbering within that flower, desperate to draw out some of its strength. If only she knew—
Kayla yelped as a massive wave crashed against their boat, rocking it dangerously.
“Don’t let go!” Fay called over the roar of the waves.
Kayla tightened her grip on the railing. An even bigger wave hit their boat, and the force of it shoved Kayla aside. Her fingers slipped. Flailing her arms, Kayla struggled to get a hold on someone—or something—when another wave knocked into her.
The sea swallowed her whole.
So what did you think? Did the scene improve or did you like Draft 1 more than the final version?