Maturing Your Darlings

I’m deep into final edits on Storm Watch.  schooner

Yes! The third book in the Unfinished Business series is scheduled for release on June 28. Right in time for beach season and my annual Novel Fun in the Summer Sun Tour.

Slaps cheeks. Now, back to the reality of being a writer. I believe that maturing as a writer made the completion of this series more difficult rather than easier, even though I know the world very well. And the characters are like family. In some cases, they are my family as the entire series is dedicated to the memory of my father, who died on June 18, 2011. Again, I digress, which gets back to those darlings again. The ones that commandeer you when writing and take you off on a tangent when the writer becomes the character instead of letting the character be herself.

I’m piggybacking onto the fantastic blog that Char Chaffin posted right here on the SMP Author’s Blog last week. Her expert editing advice outlines the hard learned lessons on how to take a finished manuscript and get it publication ready. I now rely on “my inner Laurie, ” the alter-ego I developed after working with developmental editor Laurie Sanders, without whom the Unfinished Business series would not have been published.

As a new fiction author, I wrote like a scientist and researcher (my day job), each page full of detail and research facts that were then checked by my crit partners. Since I was dabbling in historical content in Breakwater Beach (Book 1), there were plenty of errors of commission and omission. Like peerage titles. OMG. Paraphrasing Maggie Smith as the Dowager in Downtown Abbey, none of it makes any sense. And Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753, which impacted my plot line. That took an six week online class with the Beau Monde Academe and the input of several dedicated readers to sort out. And I wasn’t going to let any of it go to waste.

Over the last thirteen years, I’ve learned a lot from writers like Mary O’Gara, who tapped into my Feminine Journey to perfect that part of my characterization. And Mary Buckham, with her emphasis on plot, scene and sequel, and pacing. Margie Lawson’s Deep Editing system mirrors a lot of what Char suggests, including reading the entire manuscript out loud (multiple times) and color coded paper mark up to identify gaps in emotion, conflict, and white space, as well as the dreaded green monster-too much exposition. I owe a special note mention of the late Eugie Foster, the first editor to bridge the gap between my fiction and nonfiction writing as the editor at Tangent online and The Fix, for which I wrote several acclaimed reviews. Eugie edited with a gentle hand, always admonishing me to “focus on the fiction.”

All the fiction editors who I have worked with have been supportive as they helped me polish manuscripts and struggled to “kill my darlings.” (Unlike those for my peer reviewed, research articles where I felt like I was being drawn and quartered). Cutting and pasting sometimes entire chapters of a manuscript into another document (as I did when editing The Widow’s Walk) preserves the illusion that they’re  not really gone, just in another dimension. And if you don’t need to change anything on either side of the cut, it didn’t need to be there in the first place.

Conscious competence develops over  time. Storm Watch took more than my customary “year of a novel” to write. Close to two years, much of derailed by health and family issues, but the last six months was like climbing out of a bog of saggy middle–albeit lovely prose that positioned me as the character re living my own youthful days. The finished first draft was 113,000 words–a ridiculous number that I got down to 93,000 on my own after the second revision (using Char’s methods).

My long time crit partner,  ever-loyal Andrew Richardson (who writes exquisite female characters and always reminds me how blokes really think) diplomatically suggested where it “might be time for the plot to move on” and that I should look at the pacing overall. This was also echoed by Mike Clarke, a member of critters.org who signed on as a dedicated reader because the characters and the setting spoke to him. I took to the cursor and cut a good bit of two chapters that needed to be replaced with more conflict and immediacy, which filled a fundamental plot hole I’d left open.

It will be up to my editor Deborah Gilbert to have the final say on whether the anything else has to go, but I take comfort in knowing that I haven’t killed my darlings. I simply allowed them to mature.

From Storm Watch:

Before:

Trapped in their own slivers of time, Elisabeth and Jared’s ghosts never seemed to communicate with each other and wallowed in their solitary miseries.

They all shared a grief stricken beginning to a marriage of convenience. The love hadn’t had time to grow, and there had been no food to nourish deep roots, no water to keep it fresh and alive.

Liz fell to her knees and pressed her face against Desconsol, the prostrate marble statue that embodied all the bereft who sought solace here. Please help Edward, Elisabeth, and Jared move on to eternal rest. Please help Mike and I get through this storm, and this new crisis. And please help Mae recover so she and Kevin can enjoy many more years together.

She sobbed, her head pressed against the sculpture and cried years and years of tears, until her body hurt and her nose was snotty and she could barely breathe. Desconsol did not respond, her perpetual hurt a painful reminder that grief could only be assuaged, not eliminated. Some went quietly, and some remained, their unfinished business too undone to allow a peaceful passage.

The tinkling fountain suddenly seemed louder.

Eddie sleepy eyes, studied her with childlike concern etched on his face. “Ma?” He put out his arms.

Edward would love to see his son. Are you finally coming for us?

At that moment, the time melded into a single strand, she and Elisabeth were a body and soul united. Elisabeth had graciously allowed Liz to mother Eddie, while she relentlessly tried to get back into the same dimension as her long lost sea captain.

He’s seen him before, Elisabeth. And he has to stay here with Mike and I. Liz unbuckled her son and held him close. “Ma and Da love you Eddie.”

“Juze?” He cocked his head.

She put him down and retrieved a cup from the diaper bag. They walked the perimeter of the now deserted garden, admiring the yellow tea roses and dusty pink blooms. The tinkling fountain filled with cherubic statuary had Eddie transfixed. The cloud lifted, and warm sunlight bathed them in delicious warmth.

It took all her effort to turn her back and walk out of the oasis, the time capsule, the refuge of this place. She got Eddie back into the stroller, despite his loud protests.

After:

Liz stood and forced her gaze to the towering buildings surrounding the urban oasis. The diversion shocked Elisabeth into silence. She fell to her knees and pressed her face against Desconsol, the prostrate marble statue that embodied all the bereft who sought solace here.

She sobbed, her head pressed against the sculpture and cried years and years of tears, until her body hurt and her nose was snotty and she could barely breathe. Desconsol did not respond, her perpetual hurt a painful reminder that grief could only be assuaged, not eliminated. Some went quietly, and some remained, their unfinished business too undone to allow a peaceful passage.

Time melded into a single strand, she and Elisabeth were a body and soul united. Still paralyzed by their collective grief, Liz couldn’t make her arms and legs move.

Edward is coming for me, and our son. This is where our lives together began, and where our marriage ended. Boston was the last place his feet touched the earth. And where I was forced to marry Jared to avoid losing everything.

The tinkling fountain suddenly seemed louder. Liz raised her head, and her limbs came back to life. Edward has seen his son before, Elisabeth. And he has to stay with Mike and I.

Elisabeth had allowed Liz to mother Eddie while she relentlessly tried to get back into the same dimension as her long lost sea captain. Now that was about to happen, and the ghost seemed to have other plans.

Eddie sleepy eyes, studied Liz with childlike concern etched on his face. “Ma?” He put out his arms.

Liz crawled to the stroller, unbuckled her son. and held him close. “Ma and Da love you, Eddie. We’re not going to let anything bad happen.” She had to get out of here, and get him out of here to someplace that Elisabeth had no memories of.

Check out my webpages for more excerpts and details about the Unfinished Business series, the cover reveal and release of Storm Watch, and my upcoming summer tour.

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thewidowswalk

Book Two

breakwaterbeach

Book One

 

 

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5 Responses to Maturing Your Darlings

  1. gailingis says:

    Terrific blog Caroleann.Thanks for sharing.

  2. marybuckham says:

    Love your words of wisdom and sharing your process, Carole Ann! It’s always great to remind ourselves that writing is not a one-shot production but a fine-tuning and honing of our talent and abilities. Congratulations too on Storm Watch coming soon!!

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