By Jan Weeks
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch said that over a hundred years ago and writers have followed his advice (or not) ever since. I, for one, being of kind heart and semi-sound mind, hesitated to do something so cruel. Occasionally I’d shoot a few of my darling words in the butt with a BB gun and watch them scamper to safety but my heart ached for them. I wanted to call them back and nurture and cuddle and soothe them into believing they really were worthwhile. I wanted to build their self-esteem, just like I did for my fifth grade students.
The first wholesale massacre was planned one day while driving down a Colorado back road, thinking of nothing in particular. I’d been working on Season of Evil, Season of Dreams, my first suspense novel, for years. The protagonist was Lorna Hollingsworth, a retired school teacher who discovers a child’s skull in a meadow in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Ben Logan, police chief of the small town and Lorna’s former student, uses the teacher as a foil for his thoughts and surmises as he investigates.
The story began with Lorna taking her dog for a walk early on a September morning. A bloody sun rose through lavender mist. Sentinel pines lined the trail. Sweat sheened her skin as she labored up the steep path. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Years and miles after writing that scene, I realized it had nothing to do with the story. Once home, I booted up the ’puter, highlighted the 3500-word first chapter, and pressed delete. Oh, the tears! Oh, the sorrow! Oh, the pain as my darlings disappeared into oblivion, never to return, unless I wanted to hire a techie to save them. I hardened my heart and started the story where it truly began, with the discovery of the skulls. (Yes, more than one.)
More years passed. Rejections flew like autumn leaves in a gale, adding frustration to insult. Why the heck couldn’t editors see what a great story I’d written? Surely they couldn’t all be rejects from the Arthur Murray School of Great Writing…or something like that. Each rejection caused me to stalk the manuscript, BB gun upgraded to a .22 rifle, in hand. Now my darlings seemed to know when they were in for the high jump and some scurried away with barely a nudge from the barrel.
Then the second mass murder sneaked into my mind as I washed dishes. I had the wrong protagonist. It wasn’t Lorna’s story, it was Ben’s. I sank into a chair, poured another cup of tea, and wept, not for my darlings, but for me. I had been writing this damned book for twenty years! Enough, already! I didn’t want to condemn the whole thing to oblivion. I didn’t want to start over!
The fit of self-pitying hysteria passed, as all fits must, and I buckled down. As I rewrote I realized that the book was becoming better. Now, readers could live in Ben’s mind and investigate along with him. They didn’t have to wade through pages of talking heads as Ben explained everything that he’d discovered to Lorna. Switching POVs between Ben, Lorna, and the antagonist further moved the story along. Some of the babies I’d plunged into purgatory crept back into the manuscript, a few at a time, this time in their proper places. The bloody sunrise and sentinel pines never did find their way back, thank God.
After 25 years and 59 revisions, Season of Evil found a publishing home and arrived in hardback in the spring, a time of renewal and life.
Now I believe in wreaking murder and mayhem on my dears. I also believe in reincarnation, as long as those little darlings know their places.
Jan Weeks is an editor and award-winning writer with three published adult novels (Silverton Summer; The Secret of Spring Hollow; Season of Evil, Season of Dreams) and a middle-grade novel (The Centerville Code) available as an e-book, as is The Secret of Spring Hollow. Her articles, short stories, poetry and essays have appeared in local, regional, national and international markets, such as Outdoor Life, Guideposts, Natural Health, California Lawyer, Grit, and Midwest Fly Fishing.
She belongs to The Authors’ Guild and the Western Colorado Writers’ Forum, and has facilitated the Colorado West Writers’ Workshop. She teaches workshops in creative writing, writing for magazines, and basic grammar for writers.
Visit Jan's website for rates, links to books, and more information.
Jan is also giving away a print copy of her novel, Season of Evil, Season of Dreams, to one U.S. or Canada reader who leaves a comment on today's post. The mystery involves a small-town cop who must stop a serial killer before more children vanish. Comments through Tuesday, March 11th will be included in a random drawing.