Revision and I have a love hate relationship.
I love the parts where I get to deepen characters, add details, and smooth words. I hate it when I have to cut.
Sometimes the cutting is not so very bad – a piece of gratuitous writing, a bit of unnecessary drivel, even a deadbeat scene that is slowing down the action. But sometimes cutting feels more like severing a limb.
BETWEEN was cut so deeply, so many times, that very little of the original draft remains. And a lot of what was cut was actually pretty good stuff. That is the hardest thing about revision – parting with what you love because the shape of the book will flow better without it. In demonstration of this sad fact, I’m sharing a scene from an early draft. The character introduced in this scene – Reginald Brisbo – had to be rooted out of the novel. I loved him and it hurt. So it gives me great pleasure to let him make a brief appearance in public, as a demonstration of my revision process.
Brisbo, in a scuffed black leather jacket and faded jeans, leaned against the maple at the edge of the parking lot, leisurely smoking a cigarette. When Vivian got out of her car he dropped the butt and ground it out under his heel, sauntering over to meet her.
Without a word, he took off her hat, cupped her face in his hands, and kissed her. His lips were warm and urgent. The unaccustomed taste of tobacco was foreign and dangerous and she found herself melting into him: arms and body and lips and tongue, completely oblivious of the world around her. When he pushed her ever so gently away and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, she needed his hands for a moment to steady her while she reassembled her consciousness into something that could make her body move and obey orders.
“Let me take you for a ride.”
She thought about Jared, about last night’s fight and the marbles waiting in her apartment. Marvin and the Penguins. Her job. Ralph dead on his favorite bench beneath the big tree. She nodded. “I wondered when you’d ever ask.”
He put his arm around her, not to steer or possess but as though he couldn’t bear to leave her flesh untouched while they traversed the few steps to the motorcycle.
He handed her his helmet, and she hesitated, the weight of it dangling from her hand, looking out into the darkening evening. A cold breeze found its way through her thin coat, and she shivered.
Full speed, straight into a cliff. Quiet road, at night… Brisbo, twisted and broken, blood trickling out of ears and mouth.
Hands on her shoulders brought her back. “Are you okay?” Brisbo asked. “You’re white as a KKK sheet. Tell me you’re not scared of the bike.”
She drew a deep breath, banishing the picture, and stuck her tongue out at him. “It’s not the bike I’m scared of.”
He kissed her again. “Nothing is safe, darlin’. You want a ride, or not? If not, I have other ideas.”
“I’m sure the motorcycle is safer. Where’s your helmet?”
“You wear it. I don’t need one.”
There was no point arguing. She wedged the helmet onto her head, fumbling with the unfamiliar buckle under her chin. Brisbo rumbled the machine into life, and when he nodded to her, she swung up behind him.
Sheer, raw power. It flowed into her blood, changed the rhythm of her heart. She clung to Brisbo as he swung away from the curb and into the street. He turned his head and yelled above the roar of the engine. “Relax. Just move with the bike.”
Consciously she began to relax her muscles, clenched with cold and fear, to open herself to the experience, to go with the flow. He drove up pine hill, away from the traffic and the stoplights, opening the throttle, leaning around the curves, and somewhere along the way Vivian’s mind let go and her senses took over. Always aware that death was just one mistake away, that there were no seatbelts, no protecting airbags or metal or even glass, wide open to the elements. Nothing but the wind in her face, the noise and vibration of the bike, the invitation of the open road.