Sunday, January 10, 2010

Death by a Thousand Cuts

Gabriella Herkert
Catnapped and Doggone

Ah, editing. Don’t get me wrong. I develop a forest for the trees blindness, especially with regard to plot issues, as quickly and myopically as Mr. Magoo. But as any writer will tell you, those pages you turn in are covered in your own blood. Each word is a child birthed on the hottest day of the year without an epidural. To cut so much as a comma, even when you know deep in your heart that some, most, maybe even all, the changes will eventually end up with a more readable book, is like asking a dog lover to watch an ASPCA commercial without a tear in her eye. It simply can’t be done without some real hurt.

For me, it’s happening right now. The agony is at hand. The writing travels have stalled at a juncture and while I continue to howl at the moon and strain toward Robert Frost’s road less travelled, I have the hard decision to make. Will I?

The true test has been my upcoming book, Horsewhipped. I don’t think I’m revealing any state secrets when I say that my protagonist’s husband, Connor, is a Navy SEAL in a contemporary mystery. Read any paper and you know that for a degree of realism, Connor’s job would require frequent and occasionally prolonged absences. Posit the question – does absence make the heart grow fonder? Can you expect real people to face different time zones, lifestyles and numerous conversations they simply can’t have for reasons both practical and patriotic without the occasional bump in the road? Is the grass greener? Isn’t it normal to wonder? Don’t we all play head games with ourselves that start “what if?” For Sara and Connor to be real, for my readers to see them as human and three-dimensional, don’t they have to ask – and answer – those same questions for themselves?

It’s not sweet. There are no mice dancing and singing while sewing a beautiful new gown for Cinderella. If you’ve read Catnapped and Doggone, you know Sara has a smart mouth and a well-developed, sometimes over-developed, sense of humor. She sees the funny side. She can even laugh at herself. People like that about her. Those people include my editor, my readers and me. But not every thing has a funny side. Life is messy and Sara’s approach isn’t much neater. The scene is an envelope pusher, no doubt about it. I’ve been asked to cut the scene where Sara’s instinctive decision carries her closest to her personal life abyss.

I’ll admit that this one difference of opinion has held me paralyzed. My editor is brilliant. She has made my books better. She has supported and encouraged me. My work, however, is my work. They are my words, my ideas. I like to think I’m open-minded and committed to the best possible book for my readers. And to my editor’s credit, she’d have a real conversation with me about what I think and feel about this particular scene and the theme underlying it. I get to say ‘no.’ She gets to say that’s a deal breaker for her. Both answers could be right, both wrong. Which I try to keep in mind as I remain in writer’s block purgatory and try to see my way to what I want to say and how I want to say it.
I don’t know if this will be the favorite scene I ever cut. The scythe is not yet unsheathed. I do know that every cut is painful and here’s hoping it works out much better than when I cut my own hair.

Thanks for reading.



Shane Gericke said...

I've not had to face that yet, Gabi--cutting a scene that means everything to me. (So far, I've only had to rewrite and/or trim in length significant scenes; not eliminate them.) It's got to be incredibly painful. Thank you for sharing this.

Gabi said...

Thanks, Shane. It is painful and sharing it with people who know what it's like to "birth" a book helps.

Michael Wiley said...

I feel the pain, Gabi. Like Shane, I haven't had to face the cutting of an essential scene . . . yet. It's hard enough to cut off the extremities without going for the heart.

Gabi said...

You'd think we'd get better at the carve the heart out thing given our easy, calculated, killing of characters. But you're right, Michael, it's painful. Maybe that will make me more sympathetic to my soon to die characters. That would be good.

Shane Gericke said...

It's probably best that we DO get upset when we have to kill our babies. If we didn't care so much, they wouldn't be worth writing.

Shane Gericke said...

Michael, you either? Hey, it could be a contest--which editor makes us kill something essential first!

Kelli Stanley said...

I haven't gone through this yet, Gabi--and my heart goes out to you, because yes, even the punctuation matters.

And still, when you've got to make a cut, when it's that or no light of day, you, the author, still need to fix the page so you can live with it. And that is tough.

Take care, and know that every CM--and every writer--is marching beside you! :)


Sophie Littlefield said...

Thinking of you Gabi while you go through this! I just had to cut a huuuuge chunk out of what i was working on but it was made easier because I saw that it really needed to be gone. Another scene was discussed but I held on fiercely and got to keep it.

Also, I think you had the best title all week - loved it! :)

Jen Forbus said...

Gabi, I hope things work out for the best for you. I can't imagine putting my name on anything I wasn't 100% happy to credit to me. And you shouldn't have to either. Crossing my fingers!