THE BEECHWOOD FLUTE had taken me two years to write, and I thought it was good. I took it to Calumet Editions editor Ian Leask for a read.

The opening is weak, he told me.

I thought I had masterfully crammed my main themes into my opening. My protagonist Kiran hesitated between becoming a musician and becoming a soldier. He argued with himself internally even as I showed the world he lived in and wove in backstory about his lost father and brother.

Too static, Ian said. Make the conflict external, active. Besides, he added, your book is about Kiran’s identification with his father. Make him defend his father.

Begrudgingly, I started for the fifteenth time to rework my first chapter. I threw Kiran into in mock swordfight with his nemesis Ryan, the blacksmith’s son, who taunts him by insulting his father. Kiran gets crushed, but writing the scene opened a way for me to show other aspects of his conflict. Ryan threatens to break Kiran’s flute where it leans against a tree, and Kiran jumps to rescue it.  He doesn’t dither; he doesn’t think to himself; he shows what he values by acting.

A bell rings. As the two rivals rush back to the village to prepare for the barge bringing examiners from the capital, Kiran encounters the herb-woman Nora. Village children have knocked her down, and

Old Woman and Boy in a Forest, by Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, around 1848

reluctantly Kiran stops to help her rise and to carry her burden. All at once I found myself portraying a classic fairy tale figure: the old woman who makes demands on the hero’s kindness and then prophesies for him. Nora says,

“I know why you’re discontented, Kiran. Instead of the sword you yearn for, you carry a flute. Instead of a spear, you carry water for slaves. I’ll tell you something that’s painful to learn. We don’t always choose our burdens; sometimes they choose us. In war or in peace—”

Nora’s daughter Myra interrupts. Then the herb-woman resumes.

[She] reached to probe the bruise on Kiran’s wrist where he had struck aside Ryan’s sword. “What I mean to say,” she told him, “is you need not worry. The day will come, and you will be a warrior, Kiran.”

Kiran will be a warrior? What does Nora mean? In what way? “The day will come . . .”  Now I, as writer, have made a promise to my readers. The story is launched.

Thank you, Ian.

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