Kill Your Darlings

Hola, faithful readers!

Here’s the latest installment in the Saga of the Aspiring Author.  Or the Author who aspires to get published by the New York Big Five, at least.  Earlier I wrote you about my first rejection letter, how my editor prepped me for being turned down by agents I wish to have represent me (numerous times, she said; expect many rejections and learn to live with them).  Yesterday I got another rejection.  This time the agent was kind enough to add some perspective to the mix.  She said that, while she saw me as a strong writer, and while some of the chapters I sent her were great, others just didn’t resonate with her and served to slow down the narrative.  She felt that I didn’t grab the readers by the throat and drag them into the action early enough.

When I got the email I took my coffee out on the deck, threw some Purina dog chow down to the geese waiting in the slough below, and sat for a while in the early morning sun.  I thought about how the novel had taken shape: five years of half-true recollections and fantasies riding piggy-back on facts.  Our family dog Chub.  Oystering on Puget Sound.  My Great Aunt and the geoduck with a neck ”pert near as thick as a donkey’s dick’.  And I realized that the whole back story of Shelton and the mill and pollution killing the oysters just didn’t enhance the novel.  Great prologue material, set in italics and of some interest historically, but irrelevant to the work as a whole.

Trouble was, I loved that part of the story.  I loved it so much that I ignored (forgot, actually) my editor’s warning about pacing.  Yesterday we talked again and discussed Faulkner’s warning to authors: “In writing, your must kill your darlings.”  My darlings were parts of the manuscript that I’d fallen in love with but which ended up being distracting to my readers.  They were fine in the beginning, and I needed them like trees need branches to bear fruit.  But as the story progressed and the characters grew and took on different lives, then some of the people, locations, and plot lines had to be pruned away.

So it’s time to take them out, gently, and put them in the graveyard.  Or maybe limbo.  That’s it – a limbo file, and they can be resurrected at a later date.  If they were compelling enough to grab my attention in the first place, there may yet be a life for them down the road.

7 thoughts on “Kill Your Darlings

  1. John DesCamp July 29, 2015 at 8:59 pm Reply


    I’m glad you’re doing this. I believe you have a great book to write about the Pacific NW, Shelton, etc. But it isn’t this book. Go for it, brother!!

    John DesCamp
    1255 NW 9th #516
    Portland OR 97209


  2. Sandra Clark July 29, 2015 at 9:02 pm Reply

    Good for you for listening and taking action. It must have been difficult as this is such a labour of love!


  3. maryrosenblum July 29, 2015 at 9:16 pm Reply

    I’m Mike’s editor and first, I want to applaud him for hearing what he needed to hear and acting on it. It is hard to write for readers and not to fall in love with your ‘baby’ as a writer. I will tell you, after nearly 25 years earning my living as a writer, teacher, and editor, that the dividing line between the pro who goes on to have a career and the writer who is forever in the twilight of wannabe is that writer’s willingness to write the story that works for readers, not the story that works for the writer. I have clients who cannot bear to even bruise their darlings, and their books don’t sell well. They never will, until they stop loving their words too much.

    Kudos, Mike, for growing up! Bravo to you! I wish I had more like you!


  4. Patricia Wheeler July 29, 2015 at 9:43 pm Reply

    Well done, Michael. You are a good writer – lovely use of the language, easy and interesting to read. And pruning is difficult. My Uncle Tommy (SJ 🙂 ) wrote a book called Prune with Love. Seems to me that is what you are doing. I liked what you wrote about Shelton etc. Good idea to keep it around…you may actually have begun two novels.


  5. Jeanne July 30, 2015 at 2:01 pm Reply

    Mike, I actually had tears in my eyes as I read your post. Guess it was because Puget Sound and Chub are my darlings too and so I will be sad to see them go into limbo for awhile. Your ability is clear. Keep us posted about the process.


  6. Paul Rosen July 30, 2015 at 8:21 pm Reply


    I am sure your book will be picked up…Take action…Life is a numbers game, more editors better chances..


  7. Stephen Weigert August 1, 2015 at 10:27 pm Reply

    Mike’e visceral and unmasked story of long-hidden scenarios and secrets within a family in the 1960’s Deep South will certainly take readers into exciting, uncharted territory. With a unique book like this, a reader’s mind will be enchantingly altered by what’s been read. It needs to be published!


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