Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Littlefield: Unrepentant Killing Machine

by Sophie

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.


Jen Forbus said...

I LOVE this part! Oh, o.k., you could have copied any part of the book, even the title page and I would have said that...but it still would have been true!

Stella is so unique that she doesn't need to be doing any exotic killing...although, the wrench-killing is pretty exotic. But the point is, she doesn't need a fancy m.o. to make her special.

But the truth of it all is, I want to be friends with Stella, damn it! I want her to move in across the street from me. I want to go walking at the park with her and shoot the breeze. Maybe she and I can even finish my blasted quilt that's been partially done for oh, 5 years!

Stella is perfect!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

You scare me, Sophie, an interesting quality in a friend. :)

Sounds like Stella is plenty creative without actually offing anyone. Hope she doesn't try to learn some guy with a weak heart...

Pop Culture Nerd said...

I can just see you gleefully typing those original scenes of Stella maimin' and killin' and then going right back to baking mac 'n cheese and buying puppies.

Did you save those outtakes and will we get to read them someday, perhaps here or on your 90 other blogs? Or maybe resurrected in your horror novels?

I suppose I could expand that question to all criminal minds here. What's your favorite scene that your editor asked you to cut?

Jen Forbus said...

That's an awesome question PCN! I cited a scene in Alafair Burke's DEAD CONNECTION when I reviewed it and she told me she had to fight to keep it in the book, that her editor wanted it out. In that case, it was a situation where her editor was definitely wrong. But, I'm interested to know what people have had to let go of.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Jen, thanks for the sweet comments. I love that you would be friends with Stella :) She would totally help you with your quilt. or, for that matter, so would i...

Sophie Littlefield said...

rebecca, i could tell that you were terrified when we were slumping in that starbucks last week. it was probably the way i stirred my herbal tea and blasted you with gossip at a blistering pace...

Sophie Littlefield said...

Ooooh PCN that is a great question and I am going to go put it on the calendar right now. Except....I can't remember. I've written so many darn words in the last couple of years - cut so many - and lost track of them too - I think they've started assembling down at Peace Lutheran's community hall and are organizing themselves into a chick lit with inspirational elements...

Kelli Stanley said...

Soph, I love the way you think!! :)

Pain and lasting memories of it are pretty effective deterrents .. but also good to know that if one of these guys goes scofflaw, there's a whole bunch of "Director's Cut" Stella out there that makes Billy Jack look like a wuss. ;)

You and Stella rock!!