I’ve been killing my darlings in the past week. And not just any darlings.
The summer of 2005 marked a turning point. My big martial-arts action-adventure epic bombed at literary agencies across the country. I had no idea what was wrong with my writing other than it wasn’t good enough. I was never less sure of my ability to sell a work of fiction in this century.
So I went on writing.
And one day, I wrote the following opening to a historical romance:
It was a truth almost universally acknowledged that Madame Durant’s cooking killed Bertie Somerset. The proponents of this conjecture intended it to be a moral lesson—Mr. Somerset, having paid for his gluttony with an early demise, would dine for the remainder of eternity where steaks were perpetually charred and soufflés everlastingly flat.
But the fortunate few who had actually been invited to Bertie Somerset’s fabled twenty-course spreads pondered that same theory with awed envy. Lucky chap, to have feasted upon Madame Durant’s delectable food for more than a decade, and then to have departed this earth with his face buried in a bowl of the silkiest, densest mousse au chocolat known to man. Lucky chap indeed.
While England’s dozen or so gastronomes reminisced fondly over tarte au citron and escargot en croute, the rest of Society, master and servant alike, regurgitated old rumors concerning the special relationship between Mr. Somerset and Mme. Durant—namely, whether she slept with him and how often, though more intrepid souls went so far as to speculate on depravities involving pastry cream and rolling pins.
I remember being astonished. That writing had a voice. Where had that come from? I’d never had a discernible voice before. And suddenly there I was, writing as if I’d always had this voice that perfectly reflected my cynical, sly take on life.
I’d finally hit my stride. Six weeks later, I would rediscover the old manuscript of SCHEMES OF LOVE in a cardboard box, flip through it, and be inspired to re-tell the story, with this brand new, slightly arch, self-assured voice of mine.
When my editor approved the proposal for DELICIOUS, I tossed most of what I’d written in 2005 to start afresh, but there was never any question that this opening would firmly remain in its place of honor. Because it instantly establishes the book as a Sherry Thomas book. Because it is fun and slightly naughty. Because I am ever so fond of it, my darling, my own, my precious.
I chucked that whole opening this past week. I tried to save it. I tried long and hard. But my darling has become like that favorite blouse from fifteen years ago. It looked wonderful then. There are so many good memories. But it doesn’t go with anything else in my closet and I just can’t wear it anymore.
Taking out the old beginning has opened up the story to go where it needed to go (I hope). It has uncorked my thinking, sharpened my editing pencil, and given me renewed zest. After all, if I can handle taking a knife to my most beloved darling, I can scare this story into shape (I hope).
Happy Thanksgiving everybody!