When I finally felt as though I had a reasonable draft of The Dream Peddler, the one I began sending out to agents, it came in at right around seventy-nine thousand words. This was a nice length for a debut literary book, as in, appropriate to the genre and not so long as to be scary. I had cut many things, because I tend to go on and on with descriptive passages and throw in way too much imagery, and then I spend a lot of my editing time trimming a few words here and there, this phrase, this whole paragraph. In fact, some people who have read the book would prefer I had kept on trimming (wink).
As far as entire scenes or parts of scenes, there are three I can remember cutting, which seems like a low number for someone who never plots anything and just writes ideas as they come. A lot of what I see around me in the natural world makes its way into my books, which I think I described a little already—how I had seen the field of violets that Evie contemplates, and I had been fooled by a dead leaf caught in an invisible spider web, just as she is. At one point while I was writing, I went into a local garden here and looked at the flowers. It was May, and there were banks and banks of tulips everywhere, holding the sunlight in their cups. I started writing a scene where Rose, my protagonist’s mother, is outside tending her own tulip beds when an artist passes, wanting to paint them, having a conversation with her. Sometimes random bits like that end up being important—for all I knew, this artist was going to come back into the book later on and play some indispensable role. But he never did, and the scene was just a little flashback adding nothing, so I cut it.
Another flashback, also about Rose, didn’t make it. In one scene, Evie and George have stopped in at her parents’ for dinner and I there was a long flashback through Evie’s point of view to a time when she’d been embarrassed by her mother’s behavior in front of a dinner guest. It was there to give the reader a more solid idea of why Rose seemed so strange to people outside the family, but it just went on and on, and it distracted too much from the present-day action of the scene. I decided it wasn’t strictly necessary and found a few other ways to bring out Rose’s eccentricity.
The most interesting cut I made was one that changed Evie’s course of action. She is invited to have afternoon tea at Irma Jones’s house but, while she leaves George a note indicating as much, she never actually goes. Instead, she visits Vi’s house in order to speak with the dream peddler who keeps eluding her. In my original draft, Evie does go to the Jones house and spends the afternoon there. It was a touching scene—there are many children underfoot, which highlights Evie’s loss but also holds the spark of a healing process for her. Despite this, she still chooses to seek out the dream peddler immediately afterward. In the end, I felt the scene’s sweetness was pretty bland and, again, slowing things down. It was more powerful if she simply didn’t show up. This is not a speedy book by any stretch of the imagination, so anywhere I could see my way to cutting dead weight, I didn’t hesitate.
By the time my book got to the pros, no one was asking me to cut anything—quite the opposite, in fact. My agent wanted an additional scene to increase the tension in one of the relationships, and then my editor—well, she seemed to really want more of almost everything. Many characters needed a little more time on the page to feel fully fleshed out and to give their story a sense of completeness. By the time the manuscript was truly finished, it had expanded from seventy-nine- to more like ninety-three thousand words. So much for cutting!