Murder Your Children

That got your attention, right? Before you get too upset, you need to know that it’s just a phrase writers use. Actually, the original phrase, by William Faulkner, is “In writing, you must murder your darlings.” But I like my version better. Our “children” are the scenes and characters we create, and the words and sentences we write. The “murder” part of the phrase has to do with cutting things out of the story: words, sentences, characters, and entire scenes. Now, the problem is that writers usually love their children, sometimes with an umbilical cord attachment since they are our creations. And it’s often hard to let go.

These so-called “murders” are usually initiated by our editor or our critique group, people who are of the firm opinion that these children don’t add anything of value to the story. And they’re usually right. So, just like deleted bits of a movie that end up on the cutting-room floor, our beloved children bite the dust. I couldn’t help myself . . . I just had to sneak a pair of clichés into that sentence.

Here’s a scene from Just by Chance that I absolutely loved. I think it’s filled with tension and drama, and I can see it acted out in vivid color in my mind. But my editor made me kill that kiddie because it didn’t add anything essential to the story. Warning: the language in this scene is very raw, but very real. Mob guys do talk like this.

The setting sun reflected off the windows of Ristorante Sorrentino as Girardi pushed through the mahogany doors and entered the reception area.

“Buono sera, señor. One for dinner?” asked the maître’d.

Girardi shook his head. “Where’s the bar?”

“Right this way.” The man pointed him to the back of the restaurant.

Gallo was seated at the end of the empty bar facing the entrance. His ever-present bodyguards sat at a table behind him. Gallo nodded as Girardi approached.

“Have a seat,” Gallo said.

Girardi slipped into a barstool next to Gallo.

“Been a long time, Dino,” Gallo said. “I’d ask what you’re doin’ down in these parts, but I think I already know.”

Girardi just nodded.

“Shame what happened to Vinny,” Gallo said.

Girardi looked at him. “Yeah, it was.”

“Have a drink.” Gallo signaled the bartender.

Girardi ordered a San Pellegrino with ice and lime, and tried to get a read on Gallo’s body language.

“So,” Gallo said, “you know who did Vinny?”

“We know.”

“Is it taken care of?”

“Not yet,” Girardi said. “But soon.”

“Mind if I ask who?”

Girardi gave Gallo a cold stare, but said nothing.

Gallo sipped his drink and looked at Girardi. He was tense. “That’s what this visit is about?”

Girardi slowly shook his head.

“Somethin’ else?”

“Yeah,” Girardi said. “Something else. You and Vinny.”

“Me and Vinny what?” Gallo responded.

“He gave you something.”

“Whaddya talkin’ about?” Gallo tried to sound innocent. “He gave me what?”

Girardi drank his mineral water.

“C’mon, Dino,” Gallo said. “Everyone knows what I do. And everyone knows Frank doesn’t want any part of that.”

“Look,” Girardi said, “I don’t have time for any bullshit. Vinny gave you at least five large last week.”

Gallo turned a little pale. He drained his scotch and signaled for another. He sipped, trying to buy time.

Girardi pushed Gallo’s drink out of reach with the back of his hand. “Vinny told me,” he said.

Gallo scoffed. “Frank all of a sudden gets with the times? I thought he was old school.”

“Frank doesn’t know,” Girardi said. “Yet.” He emptied the bottle of mineral water into his glass. “He’s going to want it back . . . with interest.”

“Some balls.”

“Look, I’m just going to say this once,” Girardi said, looking coldly at Gallo. “Whatever deal you and Vinny had was between you two. And you know how this business works. Vinny kicks up to me, I kick up to Frank. Same as you do down here, right?”

Gallo nodded.

“So, I need to get the five large back, plus two. The rest I don’t give a fuck about.” Girardi didn’t know the details, but he figured he was leaving more money on the table than what was agreed to in Vinny’s deal. A peace offering of sorts.

“You’re fuckin’ crazy.”

“I think it’s best for everyone if Frank doesn’t find out about this. I’m sure nobody wants him to bring a beef down here,” Girardi said. “Why don’t you make this go away, Fats, and do the right thing.”

Gallo worked his drink.

“I’m going back to New York tomorrow afternoon.” Girardi got up to leave. He patted Gallo on the back. “I’ll expect to hear from you.”

Yeah, I really loved that scene, but my editor was right. It didn’t really add anything to the story, so it had to go. It was deleted, but a writer’s scene can often be revived and reused in another novel. Most writers don’t permanently throw their babies away; they keep them filed away on their computer and hope for a possible rebirth in a future novel. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen to this one.

Another deleted scene from Just by Chance occurs in a clothing-optional bar in Key West, Florida. And, just in case you’re wondering, this place really exists. I know, because I went there myself. I deleted this one before my editor got to see it. Anthony Spinetti and a girlfriend named Cara are the two characters.

She pointed him toward a staircase and led the way up three flights of stairs to the rooftop. At the top landing, a large sign warned that neither photographs nor sexual contact was permitted, and that cell phones would be confiscated if used to take pictures.

They pushed through the steel door and entered the large rectangular space. A long wooden tiki bar with two dozen stools sat along the far wall. About twenty people were seated at the bar, some fully clothed, some completely nude, and a few in-between. Small wooden tables and chairs were scattered around the periphery of the rooftop, and a disk jockey, naked except for a few gold chains and sunglasses, swayed to the music at the short end of the space, while ten couples of various shapes, sizes, and sexual pairings, danced. At a small booth in one corner, a topless woman was getting her body painted as her male companion looked on.

“Are you going to be able to handle this, big boy?” she teased.

“No problem. Who’d have thought there’d be a place like this, huh?”

“Only in Key West, I guess.”

They took a seat at the bar, and Spinetti did his best not to stare at the exposed body parts. A topless twenty-something bartender came toward them and smiled.

“Hi, folks, how’re you doing tonight?”

“Just fine,” Cara bubbled.

“Great. I’m Jenna.” The bartender smiled. “What can I get you?”

“Bombay Sapphire and tonic for me,” Spinetti said, making a conscious effort to look her in the eyes instead of the boobs.

“Same,” Cara said.

“Coming right up. This your first time here?”

They both nodded and smiled.

“Welcome then. Did you see the rules outside?”

They nodded again.

“Just to let you know, people here are pretty cool. Someone might ask you to dance, but it’s not a pick-up place. We are clothing optional, so whatever you’re comfortable with is up to you. We get the occasional lookie-loos, but we can pick them out real easy, and we triple the drink prices for them so they don’t last too long.”

“Thanks, Jenna,” Cara said with a smile.

“Enjoy,” Jenna said, as she went off to fill their drink order.

Cara looked at Spinetti and smiled. “So, big boy, are you gonna go native?”

I had less trouble deleting that scene than I did the earlier one. It truly didn’t add much to the story, except for a three-letter word ending in “x.” This scene too, will likely be reincarnated in another book, perhaps with a change in the characters. Oh yeah . . . if you’re interested in the name of that bar, just drop me an e-mail at [email protected] and I’ll be happy to share it with you.

Next: Sneak Peak – Just By Chance

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