by Camille

Killing Your Darlings

(First posted on Thinking Through Our Fingers – February 2017)

Killing Your Darlings

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Cal. Hector. Aimee. Jessica. They had to go.

“Kill your darlings.” I’ve heard this phrase bantered about in writers’ circles.

While I had a vague idea of what it meant, it wasn’t until the developmental edits of my second novel, BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS, that I full understood what William Faulkner intended when he coined the phrase.

Sometimes it means taking out the purple prose. The overuse of flowery language. Instead of “She took a hot bath,” one might over-describe: “She sank into the scorching waters, tempered only by the frigid reception she’d received from her husband when she returned home, but the cloud-like bubbles that overflowed like foam angels soothed her feelings as she sank cocooned into the enamel-clad iron claw foot tub that was her respite.”

In my case, it meant the actual killing off of four characters. Not that they die in the book – it’s that they never made it past the edits.

  • Cal – the crooner who helps our protagonist get something she needs.
  • Hector – the abusive ex-boyfriend who adds conflict to the story.
  • Aimee – the superficial roommate who serves as contrast to the serious main character.
  • Jessica – a small character who drives an old lady around on her errands.

My developmental editor suggested that they were superfluous to the story.

As writers, we put so much into our manuscripts and our characters, so the suggestion of elimination is, at first, horrifying. You want me to do WHAT to them?

But I let the suggestion percolate. And one by one, I saw her wisdom.

If Cal was mostly a device to solve a situation, was there someone else – a character who already existed – in the protagonist’s circle who could serve the same purpose? Yes – there was! And the re-write of that character’s role suddenly became emotional and poignant.

Was it necessary to name a character such as Jessica for such a minor role, elevating her to someone of greater importance than she was? No – it wasn’t! And in taking her out, I found that one of my main characters could fulfill the same role and oh my gosh – a new story twist emerged now that she inhabited that space.

Since Aimee was merely a reference, could she be eliminated, forcing me to make my main character stronger on her own merits rather than as a contrast?  Yes! Snip, snip, there goes Aimee.

And Hector. He was a tough one. I was convinced that he needed to be there for tension. And taking him out meant some pretty serious editing because he was present in a lot of scenes. But in trusting my editor, I began to see that by taking out his drama, I was able to enhance the drama between two other characters, and even create a parallel theme to the other storyline that was happening.

In rereading my final copy, I could only sit back and say “wow” at the before and after. Because of the nudges from my developmental editor to make these very difficult decisions, the story became much tighter, much more profound, much more focused. I honestly can’t imagine adding any of them back in.

I learned this lesson the hard way, but it has informed my writing ever since. I’m currently at work on book #3 and it is so much more streamlined from the start. Gone are the unneeded characters. I question the importance of each one. As if they have to justify their own existence.

Trial and error. Those can be the best teachers. And in this case, that teacher was my editor.

So thank you, Cal, Hector, Aimee, and Jessica. You will at least be immortalized through this blog post, serving a purpose entirely different than what you were created for. And I’ll remember you always as I kill future darlings. Or maybe never write them in the first place.

Tell Me a Story – Letter in the Rain

Tell Me a Story is my way to let you have a turn to be the author!  This is the second installment, and I love what the winners wrote.

 

I found this letter on a rainy street.  It begged the questions:  Who was it from?  Who was it for?  What did it say?

 

Jessica Bernstein and Brigid Cooley submitted my favorite answers.  I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did!

 

Follow my Facebook page to watch for future contests.

 

Anton Higgenbottom had just retrieved the mail from his mailbox. He opened the letter from his girlfriend just as the storm began to brew. In the sudden, heavy downpour, he savored the scent of Cynthia’s perfume on the stationery and the familiar loop of her handwriting. He hoped her letter would bring good news and an acceptance of his recent proposal of marriage. Unfortunately, before he could take her letter out of the envelope, he was struck by lightning. He died there, out on the street, near his mailbox. Neighbors found him and called the police. When the authorities arrived to remove his lifeless body, they failed to notice his girlfriend’s letter lying in the street. Anton would never know that Cynthia had professed her undying love and was planning to come back to him and accept his marriage proposal. Cynthia would never know why she never heard from him again. (Jessica Bernstein)

He professed his love in a letter, and the words seemed heavier than they should have been. Or at least, that’s how they seemed to me.
Maybe I could love him. Maybe I could open up to him one day in the same way he had in his letter. Maybe…well, maybe a lot of things.
My mother always said I was a wild one. She said it would take a lot to clip my wings. I never believed her…until now.
Love is supposed to be liberating, isn’t it? It isn’t supposed to make you feel like you’ve been backed into a corner. Love shouldn’t…it shouldn’t make me wring my hands together and start to feel like I couldn’t breathe. I like the way the winds of change feel against my skin. But this was more than wind.
So, I flew. My mother was right.  (Brigid Cooley)

Tell Me a Story – Shoe in the Street

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A few days ago, I was walking around the oldest part of New York City.  You can see that from the cobblestones.  In the middle of an empty street, there sat this lone, colorful shoe.

Writer that I am, I thought, “How did it get there?”  And all sorts of ideas started coming to me.

But that’s only half-fun.  It dawned on me that it would be full-fun to share the adventure of imagining the story of the shoe.  So, I shared the picture on my Facebook page and started it with, “Tell me a story.”  I set the word count at 150-ish.

I didn’t know if anyone would answer, so I threw in some minor prizes.

Several brave souls stepped up, and we all thoroughly enjoyed reading each other’s entries.  I truly mean it when I say that I had difficulty choosing my two winners.  Sometimes people just say that, but I really enjoyed all of the creativity.

The two winner have graciously allowed me to share their stories here with you.  Follow my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/camilledimaio.author/ because I am going to run this contest whenever an item sends questions racing through my brain again.

First place:  Laura Brubaker-Wittman.  I liked Laura’s story because she jumped right into the middle of dialog and really made me feel the angst.

“I’m sorry. I can’t.”
He thought maybe she was crying as she said it, but it was raining and like everything else about her, maybe this wasn’t real either.
But I searched this entire city for you. He thought it, but the words stuck in his throat. He looked down. His tears were real but he’d be damned if he’d let her see.
She walked away then. Not quickly. Not with remorse. But as if she had thrown a piece of trash away, then went about her day. And that is how he felt. Thrown away.
He stood there, in the rain, for what may have been seconds, hours, it felt the same in the night, in the despair, in this never ending downpour.
After another shaky breath, he saw his feet. He had been looking down the entire time, but only now really saw them. One of his shoes was missing. How had he not noticed? As he chased after her all over this god forsaken city, he had lost a shoe.
The shoes he had bought to impress her rich, fancy friends. The cheap, fake shoes, that he had polished and hidden under long pants. The shoes he had saved every penny for, for weeks. Every tip, during those long nights at the dingy bar he had first met her at, all went to those damn shoes.
And they hadn’t been enough. Not enough to impress those friends, not enough to make her happy, and certainly not enough to survive a soaking wet night in New York City.
The one shoe that remained was nothing but a reminder of his failure. He took it off, pulled it apart, fuming and screaming, and finally, throwing it down to the ground in defeat.
And then he walked away. Barefoot, into a dark and lonely night.
Second place goes to Barbara Khan.  I loved her because she personified the shoe and the whole thing made me smile.
Sneaker arrived in NYC for the Singles conference. He met up with Mitten, Sock, and Slipper after the Meet-up. They couldn’t find anyone that they felt they could match up with. They headed to Battery Park where they had their portraits drawn, before heading to a nearby Singles bar. Sock had a few too many Japanese Slipoer drinks and got thrown in solitary at the local precinct. Mitten ended up having dinner with her cousin Glove, and Slipper was tired and headed back to her single room at the hotel. Sneaker met a good looking galosh, but she ended up giving him the boot.
Do you have a story to share about the shoe?  Comment here, and keep watching for future contests!

A Surprising Resource for Writers

by Camille Di Maio

One of the most common questions I get from readers is how I did research for my historical fiction novel.  My answer surprises them, and as I have never heard another writer mention it, I wanted to share.

Google Maps.

Did you raise your eyebrows?  Good.  You’re not the first.

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My debut novel is set in Liverpool and London, two places I had never been to when I set out to write The Memory of Us.  How was a girl to roam the streets and soak up the culture without a pricey ticket overseas?

In my day job, I am a real estate agent, so I often use Google Maps to preview neighborhoods for buyers and to plan my routes.  It occurred to me that it would be a great resource for my middle-of-the-night, or whenever-my-kids-are-asleep job.  Writing.

The first time I typed in L-i-v-e-r-p-o-o-l U-K into the search menu, I didn’t know what I’d find.  But it opened up the story in ways I couldn’t have imagined.  To the north of Liverpool is the Mersey River.  With the help of the little orange man that you can drag onto the streets, I “walked” along the banks of the river, discovering Albert Docks.  I needed the father of my main character to be a prominent businessman, so this discovery led to more research into Albert Docks and its role during the earlier part of the twentieth century and wartime.  A shipping business became the perfect field for Mr. Westcott, making him the influential person he needed to be.

Next, I wanted the family to live on an estate facing a park.  I was pleased to discover that Liverpool was home to many parks – different from the cold industrial town I’d envisioned.  I glanced over all of the green spaces on Google Maps and found one that had two small lakes.  Again, the little orange man and I took a stroll through the park and I determined that it was the perfect setting for the Westcott home.  I did further research into the little lakes at Newsham Park and discovered that in the last century, children would make toy boats and sail them on the water.

It was another snippet that I brought into the book.  My character, Julianne, looks wistfully at the children as they play with their homemade boats, wishing that her parents would let her do the same.  It enhanced the societal division that I wanted to create.

There were so many parts of my book that Google Maps helped me discover.  When I needed a honeymoon spot, my characters took a drive out to Wales and visited ancient ruins on the sometimes-island sometimes-peninsula of Llanddwyn.  When I needed an orphanage to become the recipient of charity money, I found one in Liverpool through the map search.  When I needed a church for Julianne to visit in the Kensington area of London, Google Maps helped me find the perfect one.

I cross-checked all of my findings with additional research, of course, but finding them in the first place was a simple process of traveling with my keyboard.

How did people write before the internet?

My subsequent books have benefited from this fantastic tool as well.  Before the Rain Falls takes place in a fictitious border town in Texas.  But the story takes the characters to Harlingen, where I discovered palm-tree lined streets, and to Port Isabel, where I added the detail of a store specializing in shrimp as the characters drive to an appointment.

My WIP is set in New York City, and while I do get to travel there frequently, I don’t have to pay taxi fare to take a walk with my little orange friend down 33rd street, scrolling up to see the architectural details of buildings.

The devil is in the details, they say, but so is the authenticity of a story.

Earlier this year, I had a chance to visit Liverpool for the first time.  It was like saying hello to an old friend.  The red brick façade of Albert Docks came as no surprise.  The lakes of Newsham Park were just as lovely as I’d known they would be.  The Lime Street Train Station, the bench by an old cemetery, the many places my characters visited, felt like places I’d always known.  It was surreal – an almost out-of-body experience – to see, touch, smell the city.  But very familiar at the same time.

And I have Google Maps to thank for that.

Confessions of an RWA newbie

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For three days, I’ve been wearing a badge that says “First Timer”. I’m at the Romance Writers of America convention in San Diego along with two thousand other people, and just about as many palm trees. The badge has been amazing, though. It came with my registration packet, and has been a better conversation starter than anything else I can remember. So many people have gone out of their way to ask me how I’m enjoying the event, etc.

Now, if you know me, you would probably not guess that I am really shy. I know how to push past that – I know how to find common ground with someone and start a conversation. I know how to sell. I am outwardly passionate about many things, and appear more confident than I feel. But, it’s really difficult for me to do so, even if I make it look easy. By nature, I’m a wallflower. Just ask anyone who went to grade school or middle school with me. Wait, don’t do that. They probably won’t remember me. Or if they do, it might be as that girl who spent all her time in the library.

What I love about the “First Timer” badge is that it exposes my vulnerability, my disadvantage, right there around my neck. And it prompts people to respond with kindness. Likewise, it allows me to identify other first timers and reach out to them.

It dawned on me that it would be such a nice thing if we could wear ribbons around our necks that gave people immediate insight in to our struggle of the moment. Perhaps:

1. I am shy.
2. I am in pain.
3. I just had my heart broken.
4. I am anxious.
5. I am new in town.
6. I am a caregiver.
7. I am sad.
8. I feel unloved.
9. I am struggling to pay my bills.
10. I can’t find a job.

Etc., etc.

If we saw someone’s vulnerability right away, it might be a great ice breaker. We could find some way with which to identify. Some way to welcome. But few of us do that. We look the other way in an elevator. We focus on our phone. We assume that they have it all together and wouldn’t want to talk to us. We make a judgment (good or bad) on the outside packaging. But, we don’t talk. We don’t approach.

Maybe we should assume instead that the person would appreciate a hello. And see where that goes.

So, as I wear my “First Timer” badge, this introvert is basking in gratitude for everyone who is reaching out. Next year, I won’t be a first timer. But, I’ll be on the lookout for those who are. And I’ll ask what I can do to make them feel welcome.

‪#‎rwa16‬

(Note: Those examples don’t necessarily apply to me, in case you were worried!)  😉

(And, second note: Lest that’s confusing for those whom I met at RWA last year, I was not actually an attendee. It was sold out. I was in town seeing my sister at the same time, and met my agent and my editor while they were in New York as well. This is my first actual attendance here.)

Chatting with the Chicks of Chick Lit

In honor of Chick Lit May, here is a little fun and humor with Julianne Westcott, the protagonist of my novel, THE MEMORY OF US.  Enjoy!

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Ha ha ha ha welcome, welcome everyone to Chatting With the Chicks of Chick Lit. I’m your host, Chuck Lottateeth, and I am so thrilled to be able to introduce you to some of the most fascinating characters in literature today. I’m talking about the leading ladies of Chick Lit—those enchanting, romantic, darling, sexy, sweet, funny, headstrong—and, let’s face it, sometimes downright frustrating—modern women who headline this fabulously fun genre. I’m sure you’re going to love getting the skinny on these “novel” heroines, and who knows? You might just find your new BFF on the pages of one of these books!

Without further ado, please put your hands together and show some love for today’s guests, Julianne Westcott.  Julianne lived in England during WWII, where she fell in love with a Catholic seminarian against her wealthy parents’ protestations.  Hmm, that can’t go well, can it?  But, we won’t bog her down with serious questions.  Let’s just get to know a little bit more about her.

Chuck:  If you were a shoe, what kind of shoe would you be?

Julianne:  I would be a low-rise pump.  When I’m with my parents, I’m expected to attend many society functions, and heels would be appropriate.  But, when I’m with Kyle, I just want to take walks in the park with him, and flats would work better.  So, I feel as if I’m a low-rise pump – fitting for either situation.

Chuck:  What are three items you would absolutely need to have with you if you were shipwrecked on a desert island?

Julianne:  I’d take a basket full of ingredients to make cinnamon rolls.  Kyle loves when I make those.  And, I put a little lemon in to my frosting just for a bit of a kick.  I would take a book of collected works by Agatha Christie.  I’ve spent many stormy nights at our family estate reading her stories.  I haven’t been able to solve one yet!  And, I’d take a cosmetics bag – I imagine that you can start to look pretty rough after being on a desert island.  And I’d want to look pretty and have my teeth brushed when Kyle would see me again after getting rescued.

Chuck:  If you had only $15 to spend, what would be the perfect date?  $50?  $5,000?

Julianne:  Well, I live in England, so we’d be working with pounds, not dollars.  I’m not sure of the exchange rate, but they’re probably not far off.  So, with 15, Kyle and I would take a walk around Newsham Park and buy some biscuits from a vendor.  Then, we would sit by the pond and watch the children sail their homemade boats.  With 50, Kyle would take me to dinner on the Wallasey waterfront, where we’d eat some tawts popty and dance to some crooners.  With 5000, we’d head in to London for a week.  I grew up with a lot of money, but left all that to be with him.  I’d like to treat him to some of my old lifestyles – lunch at the Savoy, shopping at Harrod’s, etc.

Chuck:  Your best friend is asked to describe you in five words.  What would they be?

Julianne:  Without a doubt, Lucille is my best friend, and she knows me better than nearly anyone.  I think she’d say that I’m loyal, a bit indulged, compassionate, impulsive, and passionate.

Chuck:  Your nemesis is also asked to describe you in five words.  What would they be?

Julianne:  Shhh…don’t tell anyone, but my nemesis is my own mother.  She hates that I chose Kyle over all of these prominent men that she paraded in front of me.  So, she might say that I’m disloyal, irrational, unreasonable, unpractical, and impulsive.

Chuck:  If you could be the heroine in any chick flick, who would it be and why?

Julianne:  I love all of the color movies that you have today!  In fact, when I was growing up, we only had the radio.  Television is an amazing invention.  I’ve been catching up, and I love Buttercup from “The Princess Bride”.  She is torn between what she’s expected to do and what she wants to do, but in the end, she chooses Wesley over a chance at royalty and riches.  I also chose the man who was “poor and perfect”.

Thank you for joining us and being a part of Chick Lit Chat!  Find more interviews with book characters by hashtagging #ChickLitMay or #ChickLitChat.

THE MEMORY OF US is historical fiction, and I do hope that you’ll be swept up in the epic love story of Kyle and Julianne.  You can find more information about it here, and don’t miss my book trailer.  It’s gorgeous!

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Order:  http://www.amazon.com/Memory-Us-Camille-Di-Maio/dp/1503934756/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1463594914&sr=8-1&keywords=memory+of+us+camille

My website:  www.CamilleDiMaio.com

Book trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LhGrvDii9g

Twitter:  @camilledimaio

Instagram:  camilledimaio_author

Facebook:  www.Facebook.com/camilledimaio.author

Goodreads Giveaway (Ends May 31, 2016):  https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/enter_choose_address/185033-the-memory-of-us

Writing by the Numbers

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Hello, readers!

I have been sitting in front of this screen for awhile thinking about what I’d like to say for my website’s first blog post.  I’d love for it to be witty!  Engaging!  Moving!

I’ve got…nothing.

Guess what – that is the life of a writer.  Or, the majority of it.

Sure, I’d like to say that its glamorous, and that life is a daily inspiration that feeds the art and the words flow and the fingers create effortless masterpieces.

Wouldn’t that be nice???

I have always wanted to be a writer.  But, with the exception of a few bursts of creative genius, there were much longer periods of times where I’d stare at a page and have no idea what to do next.  Writing is not about the talent or the inspiration.  It is about the hard work and the dedication that go in to it.

So, here is the reality of what it took for me to write The Memory of Us:

Five gallons of Dr. Pepper to keep me awake at night so that I could keep writing.  (I totaled how many bottles I drank over the course of putting out the first draft.)

Six years of writing and revising.

Seventeen drafts – I hope the earliest ones never see the light of day!

One hundred and sixteen thousand words.  Yes, that’s the length of the book.

Four children competing for my attention.

Four writer’s conferences.  These events – two in New York, one in Dallas, and one in San Antonio – were instrumental in honing the craft and learning how to make it stronger.

Forty-two rejections.  That’s right.  Forty-two agents DIDN’T want to represent the book.  So, each time, I learned how to make it stronger and stronger until…

Two agents DID want the book.

Countless readers, supporters, and writing friends who have been cheerleaders along the way.

So, while I’d love for all of my reading and writing to be done as you see in the picture above – barefoot and waterside – the truth is that it often takes place in my tiny home office, with the distraction of a home with four children and a dog, dinner needing to be made, and eyes sagging with the need for sleep.

Whatever your dream – don’t wait for everything to be PERFECT to make it happen.  Start it NOW, blemishes and all, and build those numbers so that they add up to achieving what you want to do as well.

Happy reading!