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Monday
Dec212009

cold-blooded murder

 

I claimed to have finished THE WISH, the other week.  As I have now received my edits, I realise this was a lie. You have a good editor if her notes make you want to cry. I think it’s the dread of confronting 12 pages of your mistakes. Or maybe it’s just the dread of all that work. There’s also the fact that in publishing, what you submit is breezily called a ‘first draft’. First draft! I spent a year and a half crafting this thing! I didn’t just bang it out in a couple of weekends!

That said, the editing process is turning out to be, in a warped way, enjoyable. Deleting great swathes of your own work is nastily cathartic – like cutting your own hair.  And after so long bouncing the story around the inside of your own head, it is a relief to get another opinion on your work (even if it is ‘chapter 14 is very slow – I suggest you look at this again.’) The editor gives you permission to do what you half know you should do but can’t quite accomplish without a push.

I’ve been prompted into cutting quite a bit of my research – which is always a good thing, because you notice when it’s all turgid and crammed in there - the poor characters barely have room to breathe for all the facts pinning them to the edges of the book. I always resist starting my research as I fear bothering people – be they friends or strangers – but they usually turn out to be so friendly and obliging that once I start questioning them I can’t stop.

Part of THE WISH’s storyline involves a crime, and I spoke to some exceptional members of Las Vegas Police Department – and LAPD – who helped me to understand what kind of a person one of my heroes might be (Harry Castillo, his name is; a homicide detective). One interviewee cut short our chat as she was about to ‘knock on the door of a house full of felons’! Nerd as I am, I was speechless with admiration. I can barely face down my 7 year old in a row over homework.

So after that, I got carried away and watched about forty episodes of The First 48 – which follows the efforts of various homicide departments around the US in solving murders. Then I read Homicide – A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon. Then it was hard not to show off about what I’d learned (for example, that in 2009 Las Vegas was up 64 per cent in homicides since Jan 1 - but down 24.9 per cent in ‘assaults with guns’ – and while that second figure sounds optimistic it is only because, as my female officer drily remarked, ‘we’ve killed ‘em!’).

The chapter where we first meet Harry, he has been IOJ (injured on duty) and is depressed, which meant that I could have him gloomily thinking about ALL THE STUFF I’D LEARNED. Well, after reading my editor’s notes, I chopped that particular chapter in half. Even that extremely interesting and witty observation about assaults with guns: gone!

‘Kill your darlings’ said my husband, making me want to strangle him. Every writer knows that gnarly old phrase and hates hearing it applied to their precious words. But, annoyingly, it turned out that my darlings were better off dead. The chapter is now light and skips along, free of its dragging burden. I feel regret that readers will never know the full extent of my dazzling expertise regarding police procedure but, well... I suspect they won’t.



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