Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Kill Your darlings, Pass Me the Axe

In a way it’s the Vegan gluten free lasagna over there I respect. It doesn’t sound good. It has broccoli in it for god’s sakes. It takes audacity, balls of brass, to make lasagna with broccoli. I wouldn't have the guts to pull it off. The woman who made it, a young woman named Jennifer who plays her own songs at the church service on a guitar and has a terrific voice, probably hopes people will like her Vegan lasagna as much as her songs, and because the idea of Vegan lasagna with goddamn motherless broccoli is so weird and defiantly healthy I grab it right away. I just have to know what it's like. Actually it’s really, really good. After my first round I stand up to get some more but it’s already served out. Damn, these indies, you never know. They surprise you.

Later on, I’m setting up shop in the Starbucks, watching the girls go by in their summer clothes. I’ve had a good day today at church. It was an anniversary with a lasagna party afterwards and I was desperately worried my lasagna wouldn’t get eaten. I’m a needy guy. I was asked by name to make lasagna because I have a reputation for making outstanding lasagna. I take pride in it. We who create things want people to like our stuff while we put on a pose of self deprecating modesty.

"Oh was it? Ah ha hah, nothing really. Something I just threw together this morning out of leftovers. And cat food. You know, a little hot sauce fixes everything."

The girls going past me in the short shorts and flip flops would never admit it, but they like to be seen by guys. There is a dynamic there, of seer and seen, maker and eater, writer and reader. Ever other day when I sit down to pay my dues at the keyboard and feel my confidence drain out of me, I tell myself I don’t give a shit, I write for myself, I don’t care if anybody reads it or if anybody buys it. Art should be pure and so on, but really folks.

Read me. My inner neediness whimpers each and every time, the same neediness that checks the buffet table at the church potluck to see if the lasagna is being appreciated.

I always say that you don’t choose the genre, the genre chooses you. If I could choose a genre for myself it would be teenage vampire thrillers, novels with brooding sexy guys with names like Wraath, and Wrage and Phuck and sell zillions and have them made into major movies that kids would line up for.

I write effing short stories.

Being a short story writer isn’t something you’d rationally choose anymore than you’d rationally choose to be gay or transsexual or making Vegan goddamn broccoli lasagna. It’s more like a neural aberration you learn to live with. We write what the story fairy gives us. Mine gives me short stories instead of novels. Erotica short stories, which is even tougher. If you’re a novelist you get six figure advances and royalties and book tours. If you’re a short storiest you get contributor copies most of the time. The only thing sorrier than being a short story writer is being a poet. Even William Effing Shakespeare got the blues too:

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
(Sonnet 29)

Shakespeare didn’t make a dime off his sonnets by the way.

The only thing rougher than a poet is a poetry editor. And for a short story editor things aren’t much easier. The art and curse of the short story and the poem are very closely related. Like handicapped children, you have to love them for their own sake and because they’re yours and need to be loved. They won’t make you rich.

How many short story editors are there in the world? Probably not that many although short fiction is lately going through a renaissance with the advent of ebook anthologies like the Coming Together series. Asking a short story writer about his first editor is a kind of painfully defensive topic like asking him about all his adoring fans lined up out there in reader land. The fact is I’ve really only had one. That’s our own Lisabet Sarai.

I first came across Lisabet on Erotica Readers and Writers Association which is where most of us bloggers here at OGG hailed from at one time or another. It’s our creative scene. I knew Lisabet’s name long before I ever showed up there around 2005 or so. It was the first time in my life I had ever been in the presence of other writers or even a serious discussion among writers. It was the same feeling I had the first day I showed up at my newly adopted church, that feeling of having serendipitously landed feet first in exactly the right puddle. I listened more than I wrote at the time, which is what I still do. I marveled at the independence of thought. With that came a haunting sense of lost karma, that somehow in the tone and voices of the people there I had stumbled on a lost trajectory, a hint of the life that maybe I should have had if other things hadn’t intervened. And then there was Lisabet.

Lisabet was on the writers list. ERWA is a house of many rooms and many forms of conversation. There’s a room where stories are fielded for comment, a room where people stand around and bullshit, and then there’s the writer’s room where writers talk about the fine points of craft and business. Lisabet was the most glamorous girl on the dance floor and I went against my nature by walking up to her when normally I would have hung back. It makes a huge difference when you have something to talk about. I’m working on a story. Can I show it to you?

Around 1998 when I broke away from the religious life I had known for over twenty years, I went through such a wrenching spiritual struggle that I experienced being haunted by a ghost. This trauma obsessed me and I wanted to find a way to write about it. I was fan of Japanese cinema and classical ghost stories so I took a traditional Japanese ghost story and wrote an erotic version of it called “The Color of the Moon”. I rewrote it over and over and over for years, until I didn’t know how to change it any further. I asked Lisabet if she would take a look at it and fully expected her to blow me off. I was thrilled and frightened when she cheerfully agreed. This was a full length novella, not an easy thing to wade through.

In her eyes, it wasn’t that bad. It had possibilities. The sex scene, my first, was clumsily handled in every way and she worked long and hard with me to straighten out the action and the language. Cut out some unnecessary characters.

There is a phrase among editors – “Kill your darlings.” It doesn’t mean give your characters a bad time, though that’s important too, what it means is cut out all the slick phrases and flap doodle that call out to the reader “Look how good I’m writing!”

A good writer, especially in the craft of short stories, should be able to disappear, to present the tale without drawing attention to him/her self. This is even trickier when writing in first person. Editors do way more than just pick up grammatical nits or help you arrange your stories in order. A good editor will make you a better writer.

One of the things a good editor, I’m thinking of Lisabet here, does for you is hand you the ax to murder your darlings with. There is a relationship here requiring firmness of spine from the editor and a clear vision from the writer. The writer has to know what he wants to say. The editor can help him find the right way to say it. But before any of that happens the writer has to have something to say. Nobody can help you there.

C. Sanchez-Garcia


  1. Geez, Garce,

    I didn't realize I was your first editor.

    I can assure you in all truthfulness, though, that I never suggested you murder anyone!

  2. Garce, I love your analogies. I wasn't sure how you were going to tie in broccoli lasagna with the writing process, but I knew you would find a way. And you always find interesting graphics.


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