Writing Process: No More “Charlie’s Angels”

I am back to killing my babies. Today I had to delete a pet scene from Anori which recalled my father’s secret passion for Charlie’s Angels:

“My father’s other guilty pleasure, Tommy, along with the crackers and vodka, was Charlie’s Angels.” She turned around and smiled brightly at the others. “He would never admit it, but he loved the titillation, a knife against their throats, lovely breasts on the verge of exposure.”

“Can’t say I was ever against those girls,” Fitz admitted.

“He would fall asleep before the show was over and then wake up and snap, ‘Who put on this poppycock? What is this nonsense?’ He’d switch the channel before the crime was solved.” Lai looked back and forth between them, her eyes small and dark. “I never found out who did what.”

“Or more importantly who this Charlie fella really was,” Fitz added.

“Exactly.”

“Christ, it was that guy from Dallas, the oil guy. Everyone knows that.”

“John Forsythe,” Dee sighed.

“But that ain’t the point, is it now?” Fitz added.

“What’s the point then? The girls running about in their underwear, Farrah Fawcett and her big hair?”

“Dare to dream,” Lai replied. “Molestation will be your return.”

Scene Expunged: Writing Process

It’s hard easy to delete a scene that works. It can take a long time to accept. That’s why it’s called “killing the babies.” I liked this scene because it gave background to who Dee was before the novel and underscored her sense of isolation. I edited and rewrote it several times before finally realizing – and then accepting – that it just wasn’t needed.

She went back to her old club. It was an automatic thing. She gave the address to the cab driver and half expected the place to be closed. It wasn’t. She climbed three floors up, above the DJs and the stage to where the air ducts cast crucifix-like shadows against the ceiling and the giant holograms of naked dancers, and looked down at the scattered audience in the pink and green lights, the flow of heads and arms reflected in the plexiglass floor and walls, the girls, gorgeously brown, grazing their arms and breasts against the men who, clutching their drinks, leaned back and followed them up the stairs.

 “Elle.” A hand came from behind, brilliant blue nails clutching her wrist. “What the fuck?”

Dee couldn’t remember the woman’s name, just that they had worked together, been naked, had orgasmed in tandem.

“I haven’t seen you in fucking years.” Her skin sparkled with rainbow translucence, like an abalone shell, her lips dark red, her green eyes highlighted by painted glowing lines.

“Here I am.”

“I heard you were with Nico, right? Didn’t you go out to Iceland or something?”

“Greenland.”

“I saw what happened. Holy shit. I mean what the fuck, right?”

“I’ve been out there for more than a year.” Dee said the words for no reason; she just wanted to leave. “I’m this kickass biologist now.”

“I did a shoot in Turks and Caicos. You been there? That sand is so fucking…”

“You look like some perfect angel.” A bull of a man arrived, a tattoo of the buildings on his bicep, and she wanted nothing else. She needed his hardness, his arms and tendons, his need, his pelvis rotating like a machine.

Editing the Gangly Bits: Writing Process

I had a scene with some real problems. The background information was heavily front-loaded, and it was repetitious and awkward and gangly and sputtering and bad.

And so I hacked it up, rendered it down, patched it to another equally sputtering bad thing, did some cauterizing and cutting again and thought I was on the way to something new.

Silhouetted rocks on Oregon coast

But it had become a bald thing, nothing in it, the description and progression and dialogue trimmed to nothing, the conclusion non-existent. And so I started to write it all over again.

Only Half a Scene: Writing Process

I wanted a scene that demonstrated the military might of The Anori Project as Dee and the others collected animal specimens from around the world. And so I had a squad of soldiers save the scientists in Libya:

There were lights on the horizon, vehicles, and then a sudden pressure in her head, like she had descended thousands of feet, and then it reverberated out and was in the ground, dust rising up. She felt her knees buckle as she slumped against the wall. The militiamen moved quickly past her and inside the house.

Lt. Graham heaved Dee up by the bicep and pressed his boot onto Jamal’s neck.

“What is this?” Dee demanded.

“Fence has been breached,” Graham told Dee. “This one has a crew out there looking for something more.”

Jamal tilted his head, searching the street past the SUVs. “Where is this fence?”

“Magnets.” Graham opened the door of the middle SUV and pushed Dee and Robi in. “Payload secured.”

Regrettably it comes across as trite and requires far more exposition to work which interferes with the pacing of everything else. So it’s been left on the cutting room floor.

Writing Process: Too Much Talking

The writing process can be hard, especially in what is left behind. I had to remove another scene from Anori. The dialogue was strong but it didn’t move the story. And so…expunged.

The set-up: Dee has just arrived in Greenland (where the space ships are being launched) and has dinner with Val, one of the pilots, who confesses a dark moment from her past.

“Yeah, this, I don’t know, trapped in a prison from cradle to…what?” Dee laughed. “What do you die in?”

“Death bed, I guess.”

“Grave! Cradle to grave. Trapped in this existence.”

“Try not to think about it and then move on.”

“Better than thinking about being raped.”

Dee waited.

“It was someone I had known for years. The whole thing, I mean, the whole thing was such a nightmare. We were friends. He was laid back, a decent guy. And then, I don’t know, he just turned into this asshole Mr. Hyde.”

“He was drunk?”

Val shook her head violently like she was trying to not be drunk. “Everybody drank. I had too much. But not pass-out drunk, nothing like that. Just hanging out, relaxed. And then he was on me. He had me pinned, with my arm behind my back.” She half acted it out. “He was going to break my arm. I could feel it. He pushed me backward and tore my dress. He fucked me like that on the floor. I kept trying to move my arm but I couldn’t. he pushed down on that side of me like he had practiced it or something. It lasted two minutes, if that.”

Dee gripped her chopsticks tightly.

“He actually called me with this bullshit confession later, fucking crying on the phone. I don’t know why I listened. He wanted to stay friends. He kept saying that.” Val ground a chopstick into the wasabi. “I left my dress under the table in the living room floor. I came home and threw it there. I didn’t touch it. It sat balled up there for weeks. I couldn’t look at it. I would veer to the other side of the room when I walked through, all of that.”

“You don’t talk to people about any of this?” Dee asked.

“Why bother?”

Dark Matter of the Writing Process

The thing about writing is that it draws from nebulous things that live in my head – memories, feelings, images and the words that put those together. But the real thing is they’re not actually things, but unthings, abstract nothing things swirled into a cloud of something, a story as it were, not building blocks but protons and ions, effervescence and frequencies, half like dark matter, a presence that can only be detected by its influence on other things.

My current project, Anori, has the following scene: Dee is driven by her ex-husband Tommy from Newfoundland back to NYC. The scene used to feature Dee’s Uncle Ralph; however the book needed less of Uncle Ralph and more of Tommy. The scene also requires a switch in scene, from California to Maine. The thematic elements will remain (distance from someone once loved) as well as key images, but the voice and setting need a 180 degree shift. And so the scene becomes a mangled corpse that has to be picked.

I could kill it all, wipe the slate clean, but I don’t want to do that. The dark matter of the old scene has an unthing I want to preserve. And scorched earth is stupid. Other things were hacked out. There is no more Dodgers game, no more sexy forest ranger, and no more porno shoot in the Hollywood Hills. (sigh)

I now have Dee and Tommy, still in love, but incompatible, stopping and starting in their conversation, exposing their history and feelings, afraid of saying anything to hurt the other but keen to let the other know what they still mean. There is much to mine from my own life here, long drives with things unsaid, guilt and pain and regret. This is the magic of the process, knowing the characters and direction and now searching out where it is they say what needs to be said.

Editing: Killing the Sexy Bits

You have to be in the right mindset to edit. A cruel focus is needed. No matter how great the scene, image or dialogue, if it’s not completely on point, it must go. They call it “killing the babies”, and I suppose it is something like that, even if that’s as self-centered as all hell.

Dee’s sexuality is key to her character, but it is a subtle thing in Anori, unlike My Bad Side, because it is more speculative fiction than psychological, and as much as sex might sell, her tryst with the Oregon Park Ranger is done, only to appear here.

The waves rolled up on the beach in a long rattling rush. She thought she could see someone in the distance and waited and then walked back along the path to the ranger’s cabin. There was a light. She went around the side and tried to look through the little window and then ducked through the underbrush, getting stuck for a minute and stood there stupidly like she had to go to the bathroom, and came around the corner.

The room was empty, just a brown fabric couch and a television left on. She waited. A truck came down the road and pulled up to the house. And then he was there, the Oregon Parks Ranger, his shirt undone. “You look lost. Can I get you a drink? I’ve got beer.

There was a bedroom at the end of the hall, strewn and cluttered, piles of books leaning against the walls, heaps of clothing in the middle. The bed had an old lacquered headboard and long faded wood down the sides. She took off his shirt and then his pants. She had a desperate burning inside, along her stomach and thighs and into her groin.

She wanted him to go faster but he pushed her hands back. He was naked, his penis at her breasts and held her shoulders. She looked up at his face and chest and the wooden beams and white ceiling above. She was rigid, arching her back, grabbing his legs. He moved in a long cycling motion, pushing up high, going too fast and then slow. She wanted that back and grabbed at him. He pressed down onto her stomach and held her neck. She pushed into him faster.

“Holy fuck.” It was more of a wheezing, not words, and she started laughing as she crawled over the books, and he pulled her back and there was only a tightness, her skin blood-rich, trying to make it more, keep it like that, harder, everything stretching out, her head tilting back, peering into the chasm, ready to fall, and then nothing.

Editing Mantra: Don’t Muddle with Drivel!

The story has to be simple. That’s all there is to it. Kill all extraneous characters. Kill all unnecessary settings. Kill all musings. All of them. Kill them all, Kurtz! Get to the point. What is the bloody message? Stick to that and only that. Don’t muddle with drivel! Nobody cares. That’s the only mantra of the edit. And so Uncle Ralph is gone. He does not exist anymore in this book. The Dakota Roadhouse has been trashed too.

The trip down the west coast has been dumped. No visit to the Devil’s Churn. No game at Dodger Stadium and no climactic scene at the porn house up in the Hollywood Hills, as good as I might have dreamed it was.

Onward to Greenland.

Killing Babies: The Hell of Editing

The thing that I love about this scene from Anori is the senseless of it. Dee takes Apollo out for a walk in Lower Manhattan three days after a hurricane has ground the city to a halt and is stopped by a lone police officer for not having her exotic animal license; she is arrested and Apollo impounded.

The problem with the scene is that not only does it not help develop Dee, but it doesn’t move the story forward. And at page 10, that is a major issue. And so her release from custody, another baby of mine, is dumped too.

It is almost painful to have to kill a scene. Actually it is painful. It’s a damn shame. I mean, to have made something that works so well, and then to kill it? What a complete waste. That’s how it seems. And the book is the thing.