From the Cutting Room Floor…
It’s safe to say that I’ve written THOUSANDS of words that felt pretty darn good at the time but didn’t see the light of day in published work. I’m not referring to draft stages, or even early revisions. I’m talking about entire chapters (even manuscripts for entire books!) that felt very right at the time, but led the characters away from their true journeys.
Among writers that is sometimes referred to as “killing your darlings”. In my case I think of it as self-indulgent writing. They’re examples of my own curiosity or interests pulling stories off-track, sometimes a lot and other times just a bit. Occasionally, I can recognize it happening and pull back on my own. More often, though, it takes my editor or my “writing sisters” to nudge me into that awareness. Sometimes those nudges involve a bit of debate, but once I see that a scene or chapter undermines the overall story, out it goes.
In one very early project I wanted to include a particular fact, because I found it to be very touching and significant. It would only have added a sentence or two, and I thought there would be many readers who’d find it as intriguing as I did. When I asked another writer about whether or not to include it, he answered with the question I ask myself now, often:
DOES IT MAKE THE STORY STRONGER?
When I speak to students and other writers about this process, I remind them that this question should become a guiding light in their projects, too. But that doesn’t mean that your “darlings” need to die. Instead, they just might pop up in some other project in the future, or, on a page like this!
This tab is where many of those eliminated “chunks” of writing will land– ones that needed to hit the cutting room floor, but had elements that felt worth saving. In each case, I’ll provide a short background to the piece, post a few lines, and then provide a file you can download to read more.
Mari’s Hope covers a longer span of time than the other books of the trilogy– from January, 1943 through summer of 1945. Creating Mari’s life through those years meant writing many more scenes than could realistically make it into the book. This is one that felt very real to me, but just missed making it in.
See what you think:
An encounter with GOATMAN:
Mari ducked into the dense woods just ahead of the downpour. She was wet, but not drenched.
When she set out on her rounds that morning clouds cast patches of sullen gray shadows across the vibrant blue fjord. When she was about three years old Mari asked Bjorn why the water kept changing colors. He said the fjord had no color of its own, it reflected the sky. He took her hand and together they walked into the shallows. Even at half-a-meter deep she could count the jewels in the crown on a one-kroner coin resting on the bottom of the clear, clean waters. But when she lifted her eyes to the surface she viewed an unmistakable expanse of blue. Exactly the blue of the fair skies above.
Ever since then she could predict pending weather changes as easily by the water’s surface as she could from watching the sky. Even so, the sudden intense downpour caught her by surprise. She sheltered under the arching boughs of an ancient pine, balancing her oilskin pack above her head until the worst was over.
She had only one more stop, at the elders’ home further up the trail. Doctor Olsen was right when he said his caseload was more manageable in warm weather, but some ailments required attention in every season. If she could get there in the next half hour she just might finish in time to visit with Odin on her way home.
When the cloudburst eased she bent over her bike to strap her pack on the carrier. A nearby voice froze her in place.
“Stupid, stupid rain! What a mess!”
She recognized the gruff tone of that voice. It was Goatman. Was his patrol in the area? She leaned her bike against the tree trunk and peeked through the drooping branches. Piney-rainwater cascaded down her face, but she didn’t make a sound.
You can download the full scene here: An Encounter with Goatman
HUSKE DU: DO You Remember?
This is from one of many early efforts at a Norway resistance story– before Mari found me! All of the surprising stories I heard while visiting in Norway were told by friends who had been young adults through the occupation years. The research I found later about the war years featured adults. So when I first decided to write a fictional version of the stories, my characters were all young adults. The characters’ names are different and the point of view and voices are quite different from those in Odin’s Promise and the other trilogy titles. Still, there are hints of the spirit I was trying to capture. See what you think of it:
Clank, clank, clank… cough. Nils heard Knut’s signal and instantly disconnected the radio. In the dim, cramped space of the tiny attic, he worked as swiftly and silently as possible to arrange everything exactly as it should be to avoid suspicion. The radio and its antenna wires were lowered into the space below the floorboards. He arranged sheets of yellowed newspaper over the top, fitting edges carefully among layers of newspaper used as insulation between the joists.
To read more of this early attempt, click and download: Clank.excerpt.Husker du
Occupation Christmas, 1940
In these early versions the characters included two brothers and a younger sister. An older sister worked in Bergen to support her family because her husband was a sea captain who had escaped to England with his ship and crew to join the Allied fight against Hitler. Their young daughter, Anika, (about Mari’s age) lived with her uncles and aunt in Ytre Area. This passage reveals what their first Jul under occupation was like when Anika’s mother was able to return home for a few hours.
It wasn’t until several years later that I discovered the requirement that German soldiers were hosted for a holiday meal. It’s often true that “not getting it right” allows time to learn more and write an even better story. Even so, I enjoyed writing this and rereading it these many years later. I hope you will, too.
Families across Norway celebrated a meager and melancholy holiday that year. Sonja’s and Nils’ families were even more limited than most, since every morsel of special food was in reserve for the coming wedding. Nevertheless the early dusk of Christmas Eve found Nils and his family dressed in their holiday best, though bunader remained in the closets.
They were seated around a table that bore at least some resemblance to celebrations of the past. Evergreen boughs and candles topped the heirloom tablecloth, silver paper stars hung in the windows, and a small tree stood in the corner, covered with carved and painted ornaments, embroidered snowflakes, and chains of dried berries.
You can read the rest of this scene by clicking here: First Jul.Huske Du
Mari’s Trip to Oslo:
In and early version of a sequel to Odin’s Promise, I imagined Mari going to Oslo to stay with her sister Lise. Eventually it became clear that making shorter trips to Bergen provided more opportunities for character development and plot strengthening. Even so, there were many aspects of that Oslo visit that I really enjoyed writing. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it, too.
Discovering Oslo’s Secrets
It took very few days for Mari to settle into a routine that was both soothing and unsettling. Whether Lise worked day, evening, or night shifts, the sisters adjusted their sleep schedule and arrived at the hospital early enough for Mari to organize her school work in that isolated little office. Before reporting to her duties Lise spent time explaining various medications and combinations that could mimic contagious diseases, even things as simple as measles. She provided a formulary manual for Mari to study, but reminded her that school assignments were the priority. Mari came to feel almost at home during her long days, uninterrupted or distracted from focusing on studying for eight to ten hours. It reminded her of the time before the invasion, when she was content to read alone for hours on end.
To read more about Mari’s time in Oslo, click and download: MH.Oslo trip
In the coming months I’ll continue to add passages from various points in my writing. When I do, I’ll share the news on the blog page. You might want to subscribe for email feed so you won’t miss it when something new goes up. (>>> sign up in the right margin!) And consider subscribing for my newsletter, too.
I’d love some feedback on that you think of these!