What's the most exotic way you've ever killed off a character?
Hah, funny you should ask that!
When I wrote A BAD DAY FOR SORRY, I had a grand time killing off domestic abusers. My character, Stella Hardesty, had a no-exceptions policy - a guy got one warning and if he offended again, he was done. Over and out. Dead.
I was creative with my methods, too. I had Stella beating, electrocuting, stomping, whipping, slicing - everything I could think of to render a live jerk a dead one.
Then I had a little talk with my editor. Her message, in brief, was ix-nay on the arnage-cay. Stella could not, she said, go around killing all those folks. Self defense was one thing, once in a very great while, and only when her own life is in peril. But apparently her personal moral code was not quite finely developed enough: she would be more compelling and even, dare my editor say it, sympathetic if she gave the rest of the bad guys a second chance. And a third. Whatever was necessary for them to emerge chastened but alive.
This got me to grumbling for a while, until I realized that my editor was, ahem, right. Not only would my audience prefer a less bloodthirsty heroine but, as it turned out, I did too. On the day I wrote Stella's impassioned speech where she explains to her sidekick why she stops short of killing, I found that Stella's beliefs echoed my own - that, in brief, asskicking's well in the realm of us mortals but ultimate justice remains the domain of the Big Guy.
Still, I was kind of sorry to see all my creative mayhem curtailed. Could I, I asked in an email to my editor, still get creative when it came to, uh, rehabilitation? Was there a limit on the devices and methods Stella could use? Was I to be relegated, for instance, to a simple rubber-hose beating when there's an entire universe of instruments of pain out there?
Happily, she and I came to an accommodation and I went merrily back to revisions, humming a cheerful tune. Stella still gets to bring a world of hurt - it's just a world with limits. Limits which, happily, I have learned to work within.
Here's a little taste of what Stella gets up to in A BAD DAY FOR SORRY:
“Well, a couple years ago, a man – a preacher, if you can believe it – came back for my returning customer special. He was smart enough not to bother his ex-wife, she and I made sure of that. But get this, he wasn’t smart enough to stay away from the lady who played the organ at the noon service. Moved her right in with him and everything. Now I’m not saying she was any kind of smart to hook up with him, but still, stupid ain’t a crime...That preacher’s in about six pieces buried under that tire pile.”
There was a fair amount of truth to the story – all of it, in fact, right up to the tire pile.
Stella didn’t kill the man, though. Her killing days were done. Killing Ollie had cost her plenty, but she was still pretty sure that when Judgement Day arrived and she was called for her audience with the Big Guy, He would understand.
Stella had only one death on her hands, and she meant to keep it that way.
Still, there were other ways to skin even the most stubborn tomcat. When the preacher took up his old ways on a new lady, Stella merely switched tactics.
Whenever a garden-variety restraint-and-reckoning first visit didn’t do the trick, Stella got creative. In this case, the preacher’s hypocrisy reminded her of a story she read in English Class at Prosper High School, and she slowly and carefully burned a scarlet ‘A’ on his chest with her electric prod.
If she remembered her High School English properly, poor Hester Prynne lettered in Adultery. The preacher, Stella figured, earned his for Assholeism. But at least now he was a retired Asshole. Taking his shirt off was probably all a lady needed to see before she took off running.