Friday, January 8, 2010

Oh, Deer ...

By Shane Gericke

My editor said Ick.

I said Hey.

She said No.

I said Way.

You decide:

The deer smelled the giants across the water.

He started to bolt.


Sniffed again.

They smelled familiar, these giants. But not unpleasant. Not like the other giant, the one with the yellow hair. The one with the thunder-stick.

The one who'd tried to kill him.

He flicked his ears, wondering why he wasn’t fleeing, because a giant was a giant.

Remembering ...

A full sun's movement after the yellow-haired giant fired his thunder-stick into his flesh, he was punctured by another object: a thunder-stick that had no thunder. It was a slender stick with wings, and it jammed deep into his fur. It put him to sleep before he could run four steps.
When he awoke later, he was inside a cave. It was bright, the cave, with a blinding white sun that did not move. The cave was unlike any he’d ever known, with a flat top and bottom and sides, none the color of a rock or tree or clouds or sky--

Another giant walked into the room.

The deer shook its antlers, ready to fight the two-legged predator. But the antlers did not move. They were caught in the strap-web that kept the rest of his body immobile.

The giant spoke. The deer didn’t understand, as he didn’t speak their language. But the tone was gentle. Soft. Not the harshness of the blond giant's cry fter firing his thunder-stick and watching the deer fall bleeding to the forest floor. This giant had kind eyes, and rubbed the deer’s fur with warm hands, talking quietly.

The deer fell asleep, as if hit again by the winged stick.

[Note from Shane: this deer was shot at sunrise by a man who liked killing things. Later, the deer was darted--the winged stick--by firefighters in order to rescue him. Now he's undergoing treatment at an animal hospital; that's the bright cave with the sun that didn't move. This passage makes much more sense in context, of course.]

The deer woke again, this time outside, though inside an enclosure the giants called a fence. He could see sky and sun and trees. He could smell rain and lichen and rabbits. Surprisingly, he could walk without pain or stiffness. He was able to lick the many holes from the blond giant's thunder-stick, and find them filled with a round lumpy substance that tasted like his own skin.

“Your wounds have healed over,” the giant told him, though the deer didn’t know what it meant. That the pain was gone, and these giants had been good to him, was enough.

The deer fell asleep.

He woke again, in the forest, near the river where the sleeping-stick first hit him.

By himself.

Free of giants.

He got to his feet, shook himself tail to nose. Felt strong. Alive. Seeing and hearing, tasting and smelling, even better than before.

He was home.

In a way he didn’t understand, though, he somewhat missed the giants. Not the one with the yellow hair. He missed the ones who'd petted him and helped him and treated him as their own clan ...

That was it, he realized with a start. Those healing giants had the same scent as the giants he now watched across the water. They were kin, somehow, to the ones in the warm cave with the unmoving sun.

With them he knew he was safe and free ...

This is from TORN APART, the book that comes out in July. Parts of the story are set in Wisconsin during deer hunting season. I wanted to tell the story of hunting from the deer's POV, in order to parallel the serial killer's human hunt going on simultaneously. I thought it was brilliant. Sadly, the boss thought otherwise. Too magical for a hard thriller, she said.

When I started writing books, I would have resented the advice--pride of authorship, etc. etc. But we've worked together through three books now, and we greatly respect each other's ideas. So we had a nice give and take. Finally, I suggested I trim each deer POV scene by half to three quarters. Show enough to provide the flavor of an animal POV, but don't go on too long about it. She liked the idea, said go for it.

I did, and it worked splendidly. The scenes are a lot more smooth now (and less precious and over-worded) without losing the intent of these passages: the point of view of the victim of a shooting.

That, ultimately, it what good editing is about: getting you to think about how your story appears to the world at large, not just to the world between your ears. The discussion was necessary, the solution worked, and the book was better for it.

And how did this chapter finally read when I was finished?

Sorry, you'll have to buy the book to find out.

Oh deer.


I'm upgrading my website, to make it brighter and sharper and more full of stuff you'll like. But I'm torn between two photos of me for the new home page. One is me serious; the other is me friendly. Since I can't decide, I'd like you to weigh in. Just click on my website,, and vote for which pose you like best: friendly Shane or serious Shane. Whichever one gets the most votes will be the new home page image. And yes, you can vote as many times as you like. I live in the shadow of Mayor Daley's Chicago, where there's a longstanding tradition of the graveyards turning out to vote on Election Day. That's, and please hurry--my designers are working overtime to get the project finished, and need me to decide ASAP.


Jen Forbus said...

Removed from context, I liked the scene, but in a thriller, you're right, it probably wouldn't be appropriate.

I recently read THEREBY HANGS A TAIL - Spencer Quinn's new book. I like the perspective of the dog. But the focus is not thriller.

It can be brilliant writing but if it doesn't fit your purpose, it doesn't matter. I kind of feel that way about Tana French. I know a lot of people think she's absolutely wonderful. I thought she needed to shorten her IN THE WOODS by maybe as much as half. To me, the verboseness weighed down a smart plot, it also slowed the plot down and distracted me. But, then again who am I to won awards and sold lots of copies! You probably shouldn't listen to me, Shane! ;)

Sophie Littlefield said...

aw shane, you old softie, you let the deer live....

Shane Gericke said...

Ah, Sophie, the deer came up and licked my hand real nice, so what could I do but let him live? Though you should see what happens to the blond haired giant who shot him in the first place ... talk about your Stella-sized payback ...

Shane Gericke said...

Jen, Jen, dear Jen, you're not supposed to agree with editors! It makes them all swelly-headed and smiley. They'll even start to think they might have a, you know, legitimate point of view or something. We need to discourage that comma-nist type thinking in favor of THE AUTHOR IS ALWAYS RIGHT! ALWAYS! IN ALL CASES!

(Dang it, where'd my Scotch go. Did those guys in the white coats steal the bottle again ...)

I haven't read IN THE WOODS, but in general, virtually all novels (including mine) will profit greatly from excising additional pages. Even if the writing is brilliant and tight, it can always be brillianter and tighter-er.

My book with the deer is a good example. Right when I thought I was done, my editor asked me to remove another 50 pages from a 485-page ms. Ayyyy! I was annoyed, to say the lesat, as we'd both agreed it was Right There, but the 50 wasn't for content, as it turns out. It was for Publishing reasons relating to book size vs. bookstore shelf space, etc.

I did the work, bitching as I went, but I have to say, the exercise really made the story speed along. To get that big a chunk out of the ms., I was forced to consider every word I used, not just every scene. In other words, it was a Good Thing to have done. But shhh, don't let those pesky editors hear that, they'll giggle and make sport ...

Kelli Stanley said...

I LOVE it. Brilliant, Shane!! Reminds me of Watership Down--an absolute classic of a book, not read too much now, unfortunately. :)

I don't understand joy in killing anything ... well, except truly bad people who've harmed you or family. THAT I get. But anything else, something innocent--I just don't.

I grew up on a farm, and I'm not a vegetarian, and I understand that, in my father's words, "life feed life"--but I don't understand a mindset for whom killing something is a pleasure.

Can't wait to read the book, and I sure hope the deer lives! ;)


Shane Gericke said...

Watership Down? You flatter me, Kel!

I hunted when I was a kid, and enjoyed it. Now, I don't. Don't like the killing any more, after all I've seen of the world. I love roasts and am certainly no pacifist; there are necessary wars, lethal self-defense is a right, and I would gladly dismember someone who hurt Jerrle or another loved one.

But I figure everyone's entitled to live if they can, including those in the animal world.

The parts of hunting I really loved, and still do, are the comraderie involved; hiking through the woods and fields with your friends as dawn rises; the first steaming cup of coffee from the campfire; the tracking and hunting and shooting. I just don't want to kill stuff any more.

What I really need is a forest where I can install metal pop-ups for the animals! And someone to wash the coffee pot afterwards. Now that's MY kind of hunt :-)

I believe you will enjoy this book, Kel.

Kelli Stanley said...

I KNOW I will, darlin'. :) I do think we grow more sensitive to such things with age -- growing up on a farm, I had to kill my share of chickens, and it didn't overly bother me.

When it comes to human predators, I'm right with you. Someone messes with me or my family, and I wanna take 'em out, period. Drawing and quartering comes to mind ...

I think the whole bonding in nature experience is cool. We did a lot of camping when I was little, and 'cause I spent my teenage years in a very rural spot, it felt like camping out. :)

Pop-up serial killers/mass murderers? I'm all over it. ;)


Joshua Corin said...

I agree with Jen. The scene is really great out of context, but against the backdrop of a realistic thriller, an animal POV might be jarring to some. Not to me, though. I am waiting for Steve Berry to write one of his globe-trotting conspiracy novels from the POV of an aardvark.