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Looking Back on Other Drafts of Counteract: Deleted Opening Scene

Since Counteract’s release, I’ve been giving a lot of talks at middle schools and high schools, and I’m often asked how Counteract changed through its various drafts.

Today, I’m going to share the next-to-last version of the opening chapter, which gives a little more insight to Careen’s background. I revised the final draft and cut the scene before I sent a query to my publisher, so it’s never been included in the book’s development.

I was able to incorporate much of the information I cut from the first chapter into later scenes. Though the passage I cut slowed down the action at the beginning of the story, I genuinely liked it, was sorry to remove it, and hope I’ll be able to modify it and include it in a future volume in The Resistance Series:

Careen Catecher found a short-lived haven inside The Bubble, which was how she thought of Quadrant OP-439. She’d spent her first semester of college cushioned within, and almost forgot the sharp edges of her home quadrant, MA-334, where frequent terrorist attacks made life unpredictable and no one cared about anything as unnecessary as a university education. But here, inside The Bubble, a smart girl could go after what she wanted. Careen wanted someone else’s life.

She’d arrived on campus with everything she owned stuffed into a single bag, and studied the other girls carefully before she bought clothes and accessories that would identify her as an equal to her acquisitive peers. Then she worked hard at her studies and made no attempt to truly fit in.

Her classmates, the children of high-ranking government officials, took for granted the comforts of life inside The Bubble. They partied and skipped class. They didn’t jump at unexpected noises. They lived as though the dangers in the outside world couldn’t reach them. Until the day their Bubble popped.

Friday, October 27, 2034
Quadrant OP-439
9:04 A.M.

“Terrorists have never attacked this quadrant…” The professor waved a few late arrivals into the lecture hall as he spoke. “…yet the threat of such an attack can influence the way we live. Today, we’ll examine how propaganda plays on our fears. Our first example is a film from the Cold War era.”

Careen rummaged in her bag for a pen. As she glanced up, pushing her long brown bangs out of her eyes, a backpack swooshed into view and brushed against her new All-N-One BrewMug. She made a desperate grab and caught the mug just as it tipped over the edge of the desk. The owner of the backpack smiled as he sat down two seats away. “Nice save.” He reached over and pushed at the mug playfully, threatening to tip it over on purpose.

She flashed a quick, kind-of-exasperated smile in response and pointedly moved the mug to the other side of her desk, then turned her attention to the professor. Advertising and Propaganda in the 20th Century was her favorite class, and she didn’t want any distractions.

“In the 1950s, millions of American schoolchildren watched the government-produced film Duck and Cover. Was this film an effective way to teach children how to survive an atomic bomb blast? Or was it a political tool designed to perpetuate fear of our former enemy, the Soviet Union? Take a look and we’ll discuss.”

Several students giggled at the black and white cartoon, which featured a turtle in an air-raid helmet. Then the narrator spoke. “We all know the atomic bomb is dangerous, and as it may be used against us, we must get ready for it, just as we are ready for many other dangers that are around us all the time…”Duck and Cover movie poster

Someone in the row behind Careen muttered sarcastically, “Ooh, I’m so scared…”

Careen shivered and pulled her jacket around her shoulders.

On the screen, a classroom full of elementary school children listened, eagerly attentive, as their teacher warned about the impending threat of a nuclear strike.

“First, you have to know what happens when an atomic bomb explodes. When it comes—and we hope it never comes, but we must get ready—it looks something like this…”

Careen jumped at the bright flash on the screen. She shut her eyes, but it was too late to stop the panic, and she began to tremble as memories of a much more recent bomb blast replayed in her head.

“…duck and cover underneath a table or desk…”

Laughter erupted around her. “You can’t hide from a nuke under a desk.”

“Seriously, is this going to be on the midterm?”

“If my dad hadn’t pushed me behind a table that day, I’d be dead, too.” Careen spoke without thinking. Everyone turned to stare, and she shrank into herself a little.

The professor paused the video and looked up at her. “Ms. Catecher? You survived a bombing?”

“Not a nuclear one, but…yeah. They bombed the plaza in front of my parents’ café when I was nine.” Careen dragged her fingers through her bangs and glanced around. Great. I just went straight from anonymous to oddity. “You said the threat of an attack changes how we live, and that’s probably true, but it’s nothing compared to how you react when you’ve lived through one. I…I don’t think I can explain so any of you would get it. I’ll just…never feel safe again.” She crossed her arms on her chest.

The professor cleared his throat and clicked the remote to resume the video.

“The man helping Tony is a Civil Defense Worker. His job is to help us when there is danger of the atomic bomb. We must obey the Civil Defense Worker…”

Duck and Cover faded off the viewing screen, replaced by the seal of the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense, the current government’s anti-terrorism agency. The OCSD seal dissolved, and a news anchor from the PeopleCam network read from a prepared statement. “The Office of Civilian Safety and Defense confirmed moments ago that a chemical weapons attack against the United States is imminent. Terrorists have released an inactive chemical cocktail into the atmosphere where it can remain, inert, for an indefinite period, until it is detonated. This attack was designed to cause widespread casualties.”
Careen glanced around the room. Her classmates were st
aring open-mouthed at the viewing screen.

“The OCSD has developed an antidote, CaSD, the Counteractive System of Defense, which is free of charge to everyone currently residing in this country. Report immediately to the designated distribution center in your quadrant to receive your first week’s allotment. Subsequent doses will be distributed via the US Postal Service for as long as the threat persists.”

The camera zoomed in so close that beads of sweat were visible on the anchorman’s forehead. “The OCSD believes the terrorists will mount repeated attacks, so it is essential for everyone to take the recommended daily dosage. Compliance is a small price to pay for your safety.”
The viewing screen went blank. Sirens began to wail in the quad. Careen reached for her bag and jacket, but everyone else remained frozen until a girl in the front row raised her hand.

“Was that…part of class?”

The professor wrung his hands. “What are you waiting for? GO!”

The students rose as one and stampeded toward the exit,and Careen’s All¬-N-One mug crashed to the floor. The professor stood aside and frantically waved his hands, directing them as they fled.

How does this opening scene compare to the final, published version of Counteract?


  1. It’s well written, as the book is. I know what you mean when you said you hated to cut it out, as it does set the scene well and give you more info on Carreen’s background. However; I was always taught to start the book in the middle of the action to grab the reader’s attention. COUNTERACT did just that. As I read this portion, I thought a good way to utilize it would to fill it out a little more and publish it as a prequel, volume 0.5 as it were, like some other series (Jack Reacher, etc). That’s a great way to keep your “darlings” in circulation without having to rearrange the book itself.

  2. Tracy Lawson says:

    Great idea! I’ll do that. I know much more about Careen, Tommy, and Wes’ back stories than I included in the book–a prequel would be fun!

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