At the beginning of their processes, memoirists have a tendency to think everything they put on the page is critical. It’s only natural, after all: we write from memories, and often those we start with are the strongest, the most powerful, and it takes a while to understand that what life moments are most key for our psyche aren’t necessarily key to the particular story which we are telling.
The other thing that happens when writers finish full-length books is that we realize books contain far fewer ideas than we had originally anticipated. Apparently, books have their limitations just like anything else (unless you are Leo Tolstoy and can get away with a 1,000 page book).
If the 24 or 25-year old Lynn read the final published Caged Eyes, she’d be shocked at what was omitted. I realized early on I had a length problem, and I continuously worked to trim. Still, when I sent the final version to my publisher, it was 127,000 words. Our contract was for no longer than 80K! (That was later extended to 90K, thankfully)
I’m glad my book is exactly the length it is. Caged Eyes is already considered a “hard read” and adding pages could make it more so. Plus, the cost for readers is lower this way. Added bonus: professors are beginning to use it in their college classes, which wouldn’t be an option if it was the original length. My editor – Gayatri Patnaik – did a fantastic job deleting scenes, sentences, and words, and I’ll always be thankful for her hard, hard work. (à case in point, she’d have cut at least five words from that sentence.)
Anyway, oh yeah, this week we’re sharing cut scenes. The one below is one I thought was critical and would never in a trillion years be cut. It was a pivotal moment for me. But alas! It was indeed cut. It’s from the first chapter, when the narrator first arrives at the Air Force Academy and remembers the first time she had been there. This particular passage started out as two pages, and slowly, draft by draft, was trimmed to what is below:
I had been born in Colorado, and had fallen in love with the Air Force Academy as a four-year-old. My family lived in Colorado Springs, twenty minutes from the base, and when relatives visited we’d inevitably take them there to watch the cadets’ Noon Meal Formation. Perched on the Chapel Wall, I looked out at the blocks of cadets marching together in perfect unison below me towards the dining hall for their daily noon formation. Their long, blue legs moved as one. Each foot hit the ground at the perfect moment, creating one collective click of shoes against the marble and stone Terrazzo. The individual faces of the cadets blended together in the sea of blue. I was enamored with their precision and the sense that each of the 4,000 cadets was a part of something greater than themselves. Even as a little girl, I longed to be like them.