Day 32 – Why It’s Important to Write Like No One Cares

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Monday – September 29, 2014

Wait... am I writing the blog you're reading right now?? But how--how is that even POSSIBLE??????
Wait… am I writing the blog you’re reading right now??

Today is the one month anniversary of my unemployment, and none of you got me a gift. I’m hurt, but I’ll try not to take it personally.

One month into this and I don’t have a job. Today, anyway, I’m surprisingly okay with that. I still have great faith the right thing will come along. A day like today helps me keep that faith.

I woke up late to discover Erin had already taken the kids to school. That was a gift. I average about 4-5 hours of sleep each night and I do okay with that, but when I get to sleep in it’s like a life-altering experience. I was well-rested for our morning walk and then I was able to settle in for a long morning of writing while Erin and Violet went to a meeting. Also a gift.

Heard back from the company up North about my interview. Apparently, I didn’t botch it bad enough that they ran away screaming. I will be doing a second interview, though not for another two weeks. Their hiring process is a little involved, but that’s good. We’ll both know if I’m the right fit or not by the end of it and if there’s one thing I don’t want it’s getting into a situation that isn’t right for me. That will just make everyone miserable, including my eventual employer. Money is important, but personal happiness and fulfillment is far more crucial and those things don’t cost a thing.

* * *

Okay, that was the update. The rest of this blog is going to be a bit of a rant about writing. Feel free to get off the train now and I’ll see you again at the station tomorrow.

* * *

Got chewed out on Facebook (goodnaturedly) for not posting a blog today. Occasionally, for a variety of reasons, there are blogs I write in this unemployment series that I choose not to make public. Some people are not okay with this, and that is fantastic.

If I’m going to ever be any kind of writer or author (obviously a goal), I need people to want to see what I’m coming up with. That may seem obvious, but I’m often amazed at how many blogs I read where it feels like the writer is just talking to themselves. What I mean is, if you want to be a writer–and I’m going to define writer as someone who writes things they want others to read–then you’ve got to, in some way, write to an audience. Even when writing deeply personal things, which is what I tend to do, you have to make your written word appealing in some way, i.e. of benefit to the reader. Either to entertain or to inform or both.

Basically, you have to write as though no one cares. And then make sure they do.

I’m not going to pretend I’m always successful at this. But I do try, and that’s the point. If you’re not trying to write for the benefit of others and are writing simply so you can get something off your chest or in the hopes that people will find you accidentally brilliant* and stroke your ego, then you’re doing it wrong. Why are you even hitting ‘Publish’ on your posts? You’re putting your thoughts to the wind, and the wind doesn’t care. The wind will treat your writing badly (as it perhaps deserves), tossing it to the gutters.

*And let’s face it, every amateur at anything hopes they can be accidentally brilliant. They hope that they’re an untapped talent that will be amazing at whatever it is they’ve chosen to do straight off, without putting in any of the time and learning necessary. Basically, we all want to know kung fu.

The issue of writing what is relevant to the reader is one I wrestle with constantly as a memoir writer. An interesting story is only half the challenge. The second half is how to present that story in such a way that it reaches people where they are. It has to be meaningful to them in some way, even if it’s deeply personal to me. This goes to theme and zeitgeist and a bunch of other things that I don’t want to get into in a blog that’s supposed to be about unemployment, but suffice it to say that there’s a real challenge to try to write something (memoir) in such a way that people will pay for what they can get a million times over on the internet for free (personal blogs).

My hope is that what I can do in a book length project is far more accomplished and thematically complex and interesting and entertaining and satisfying than what I can do in a blog. This blog traffics in the disposable, as do all blogs with posts ever getting archived and pushed down the list. A book should be a cherished thing, I think, and greater than the sum of its never separated parts. That can only happen when you’re thinking outside of yourself even as you may obsess over yourself (in memoir) or the story (memoir and everything else–don’t get so deep into your story you forget to bother with whether anyone else can understand it).

To bring it all back around again: instead of a blog, today I posted a short excerpt from my new book, Worlds Apart. I’ve been working on this book for a few years now and I’m so close to the end I can smell the ink on the pages. Posting this excerpt isn’t the case of a writer sharing what he intends to do (never share too early), this is something I’ve mostly already done and I want to share a piece of it with you. I think it’s a pretty good piece.

Did I do it? Do you read that and think, “Yeah, that’s interesting to me” or “I can identify. I want to see how it turns out?” If so, then I’ve done my job with you in the teaser. If not, then maybe it wasn’t your thing or I’m still finding my way towards the thing that will make my story special to anyone who isn’t me. Time will tell.

Thanks for indulging me.

How My Writing Reached the Top of a New York Skyscraper and Then Fell Back Down Again

…or What the Heck Happened with That Book I Wrote

BrocksWritingSpace
My writing space: Dining Room Table. Tunes. Notebook. Laptop. Flowers.

I’ve been avoiding writing this post for a long time. When I started writing my book, Raised By a Dead Man (which everyone seems to agree is a terrible title and yet no one has ever come up with anything better), my plan was to a) become a writer and b) start big. Just to be clear: starting big is writing a 95,000 word book when the longest thing you’ve written previously was a 2,000 word report on North Dakota. In the sixth grade.

I’m be facetious. I had also done some blogging. (Okay, now I’m really being facetious.)

You ever feel like you can do something–I mean really, actually do it–even though you’ve never even attempted it before? Me neither, except for this one time when I spent every night after 10pm for two years writing this book. I knew I was a writer. I just knew it.

And I knew I had a great story to tell. A boy’s coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of his father getting gunned down in not one, but two armed robberies. The second time, the father dies and the boy–now serving as a missionary–has to come to grips with not only himself but the legacy his father has left behind. Somehow, this all ends on a happy, positive not. It’s a feel-good tragedy. Y’know, like those sorts of things always are.

The best part was that it was all true. It was my story. A memoir.

I sent the book out to friends and family and people I didn’t know so well for their feedback. This was valuable because the book wasn’t quite ready yet. Thankfully, I have good people I can lean on who are both enthusiastic and honest.  The book got better and finally, in April 2011, I started submitting it to literary agents.

(I had some initial ideas about self-publishing but after doing my research I quickly determined that was not for me. My reasons are a whole ‘nother blog post, but even my subsequent failure hasn’t turned that into a viable option.)

My thought was, why not shoot for the stars? You never know, right? And if all I hit is the moon, that’s okay, too, because there’s no points for not trying. “Whatever happens, happens,” I said.

Here’s what’s wrong with this: nobody likes putting everything on the line and then admitting defeat, especially when they’ve been foolish enough to say, “Eh, whatever happens, happens.” Human beings invented the word “whatever” against the advice of God when we really, really felt like we needed one word to cover up all the feelings we insist aren’t there.

God said, “Look, I invented language and I didn’t include ‘whatever’ for a reason. It’s a transparent, nothing of a word. People are gonna see right through it to your real intentions.”

“But maybe not!” we said. “Maybe it will be the one word that allows us to barrel through difficult things in all confidence that we’re fooling everybody!”

God said, “Sometimes I wonder why I bother.” Then, He invented the Ten Commandments because anything more nuanced would have gone right over our heads.

I knew–I knew before I even started writing–that I’d be devastated if the book didn’t reach the top of the bestseller lists. I also knew expecting a book from a first-time author with little writing experience to reach that highest of heights was unreasonable. But I didn’t care. In fact, I still kind of don’t think that was the wrong attitude to have. You can’t maintain a passion for something over the course of several years without absolute belief in its viability.

So, my book went out to agents. This is a punishing process. It requires submitting a one page letter of both introduction and summation and a small sample from the book. Then, you wait to hear back. Could take two minutes or several months. If the agent likes what they see, they ask for more, sometimes (if you’re lucky) the whole book. A few agents did ask for more. A lot more just rejected the book outright. Then, in August 2011 one agent liked it so much she read it all in a week.

That agent, Bonnie Solow, is my now my literary agent. She thought the book should be seen by the top editors in New York–people who had worked on bestselling and Pulitzer Prize winning memoirs–and she had the connections to get it there.

Now, in case it’s not clear, this–that I got that far–is a BIG FREAKIN’ DEAL. I fully appreciate that many authors will try to get an agent for years without success. And getting an agent is really the only way to get your writing in front of the right eyes. That’s what a good agent does. That’s what Bonnie did for me.

I’ll spare you the details of the months of additional drafts and and the development of the 30-page proposal designed to convince the editors and publishing houses to buy the book, and skip right to the end: despite a lot of enthusiasm (and, sure, some real lack of enthusiasm), Raised By a Dead Man failed to find a home. It will not be coming to a bookstore or online retailer near you.

It’s been a full year now since we stopped shopping the book. I’ve talked in person about its failure freely with whoever asks, but I’ve never really written anything down. The written word is where I can be the most honest and sometimes you just want to lie to yourself a little longer.

Yeah, I was devastated. In a most spectacular, soul-crushing way. I poured everything I had into that book. It reached the top of the New York skyscrapers (I actually have no idea where the New York publishing offices are located, but “high up” seems like a safe bet) and was put on display in the right offices. Then it got ejected.

Rejected. Out the window. Ground floor, coming up fast.

Let me tell you, there’s no arrogance like the confidence of the undiscovered and nothing so bitter as the defeat of the uncovered found wanting. Creativity turned into a chore. Music stopped sounding good. I thought about writing about vampires in love on a boat. “Vampire Love Boat.” Tell me that’s not a bestseller.

All of this was temporary. See, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m an idiot. Instead of playing video games every night and just being happy with my amazing wife and our girls and a job that puts a roof over our heads and friends that are super cool and you wish you had, I kept writing. I didn’t even take a break, really. I wrote on the good days and I wrote on the bad days. I just wrote. Because, by now, I know that’s what I love to do.

Like I said, idiot.

My new project was (and still is) a second memoir (idiot!). It’s a not-a-sequel that starts about a year and a half after the first one and relates the Mormon Romeo/Protestant Juliet journey my wife and I and our future in-laws took to the altar. Bad dates, secret romance, religious conflict and abysmal attempts at flirting abound.

My agent is actually pretty excited about it. Whatever happens (there’s that word again), I know that the 52,000 words I’ve written so far is the best stuff I’ve ever done.

With any luck, the second time’s the charm. If not, I have no doubt I’ll go for the hat trick of failure and write something else. And then something else. And then something elser. If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that I suck at failure.

Post Script:

So, what of Raised By a Dead Man? After all, it’s still listed in my bio. I still hope it will see the light. An author can create demand for his work by simply becoming an in demand author. I’ll no doubt do some more drafts one day and, who knows, that might just be what the book needs.

But, y’know, it still kind of bums me out that no one outside of a very small circle has ever read it. Here, then, is the first few pages of Raised By a Dead Man just because. I hope you enjoy it at least a little more than New York did.

RAISED BY A DEAD MAN

by Brock Heasley

Ready

After the funeral, my family and I were ushered down the long, silent hallway and out through the back of the church to avoid the news cameras out front. For a while we stood silently at the edge of the parking lot, huddled close together. Looking down. Mom, in her black skirt and bright red top, dried her tears and smiled faintly. She looked almost relieved. This day had been coming for a long time.

I wrapped one arm tightly around her and the other around my two youngest brothers, who stuck close to me. My other younger brother, Logan, stood as an island unto himself, shivering slightly with arms draped in as much stillness at his sides as he could manage. It was one of those oddly cold, bright days where if you weren’t standing directly in the path of the white and warming sun, you’d freeze. A few cousins, Mom’s parents, Dad’s brother Jim, and Dad’s parents soon joined us. We talked about how nice the service was and not much else.

Grandma, a longtime smoker, could barely breathe and leaned on Grandpa for support. There was a bitterness to her mourning that choked out sentiment, leaving nothing but the sharp anger she displayed all over her face. She muttered the same refrain she’d been repeating over and over again since Saturday night: “Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children.” No one disagreed with her.

The hearse pulled up and we moved to the nearby trees along the sidewalk surrounding the church to allow room for the casket to be rolled out. We watched as the box and the body were loaded in carefully by the hired hands from the funeral home. They were so solemn and so precise in the way they went about it. They didn’t know Dad; for them, it was a performance—routine and impersonal. Were they thinking about the game later that night? Hatching dinner plans? Digesting breakfast? I hadn’t been able to eat that morning. I was too nervous about my speaking assignment.

The door to the hearse clicked as it locked. The signal given, we all piled into cars to start the long journey out to the cemetery way beyond the edge of town. The cameras followed us, but only until we were out of sight. Mom, in the front seat, wiped her tears. She turned around to tell me how much the talk I gave during the funeral meant to her and how impressed she and everyone else was with it. Embarrassed and flattered, I thanked my dedicated, proud and delusional mother. (Though the many compliments I received proved her to not be entirely alone in her insanity.) She dismissed my modesty as false and said the talk reminded her of a moment she’d had with Dad just a week earlier.

They were sitting on the couch in the living room, talking. It was one of those conversations that meandered from the inane to the consequential, a web of familiar concerns particular to all longstanding couples. Dad, who was not sick, spoke, as he often did, of his impending death and how much he looked forward to the afterlife. It would be wonderful. Glorious. So much to learn and to see.

Mom hit her limit. After years of Dad’s supposedly fatal fatalism, she’d had enough and finally asked him the one question she had wanted to ask for years, but had never before dared:

“Bill, do you want to die?”

Dad fell silent. He took a moment to consider his words carefully. Mom could see by the look on his face that he was desperately trying to craft the correct answer to her very direct question. He didn’t want to hurt her. Finally, he gave his measured response.

“If it weren’t for you… and the boys… yes, I’m ready to go now.”

Thanks for reading. Seriously, thanks. That’s all anybody who writes wants anyway.

6 Memoir Pet Peeves

This is my pet. His name is not Peeves.

Confession: before writing my own story I’d only read one memoir in my entire life: Star Trek Movie Memories by William Shatner. I read it back during high school. Which should tell you all you need to know about my high school years.

Since then, I’ve read a lot more memoir. And I’ve also been irritated by a lot of memoir. I think there are some hard and fast rules to making your story one that can be enjoyed by others, so when I see those rules (that, admittedly, exist only in my head) broken it’s a huge pet peeve for me. Here’s six of them:

(Note: I don’t think it’s kosher to slag on my fellow memoir writers so I’m not going identify the books I’m talking about. However, if you pull me aside privately and ply me with a Shamrock Shake, I am fully capable of presenting names and titles.)

1. Reflective First Person

This is how memoir writers torch narrative momentum. Instead of letting me experience the story as they experienced it, some insist on explaining the future impact of the scene they’ve just described. One recent book I read ended two chapters with a last paragraph that started with “And thus began…” First of all: “thus?” Second of all, it’s great that you can look back and see how portentous the seemingly innocuous events of your life were in retrospect, but now you’ve robbed me of the same discovery.

In other words, don’t friggin’ spoil your own book.

2. Acknowledging Memory Loss

Look, it’s a memoir. Root word: memory. We know memory is faulty. We know it’s not perfect. We know you’re only doing your best to present your life in an interesting way as far as you can remember it while at the same time avoiding untruths. You don’t, at any point, need to say “I can’t remember exactly…” Giving five possible dates for when a thing occurred does not help me one bit. Because I don’t care. I take it for granted that you’re not a reporter because, um, it says memoir on the cover.

3. Acknowledging Memory

Look, it’s a memoir. Root word: memory. Every single sentence could be preceded by the words “I remember…” So why oh why would you ever start any sentence that way? It’s entirely redundant.

4. Too Many Paragraph Breaks

People wouldn’t write memoirs if they didn’t think they had an amazing story worth telling, but some writers think that every moment of drama must be punctuated by hitting the return key multiple times on every page to really drive home how amazing, insightful, deep, world shattering, and paradigm shifting the events really are.

It’s emphasis turning into overemphasis.

And then mutated into bloated, self-important noise on the page.

For real.

I’m not kidding, you guys.

5. Betrayal of Community

There’s being funny and thoughtful about where you’ve come from, and then there’s being mean. Many memoirs focus on a transformative moment in the author’s life when they realize the world they’ve grown up in must be left behind. So, we’re reading a story from the perspective of someone who feels the world we’re reading about is, to one degree or another, bad or undesirable.

The temptation, particularly if the author is especially snarky or witty, is to make fun or take cheap shots. The danger of that is making what should be an insider perspective sound very much like an outside perspective. I don’t want my ignorant perceptions of a curious community catered to for the sake of comedy or cool. I want insight.

6. Good Story, Poorly Told

This really should be number one, but it encapsulates all the others so I put it last. I love a good story and a lot of memoir writers (especially celebrities) get a book deal because the story they have to tell is just that good. But if the story is not written well then the author is just turding up a shine.

The other side of this is a poor, boring story well told. A good writer can make gold out of anything, but those are few and far between. The best memoir writer is the one who has a good story and can tell it very, very well. Those are rare, but they’re worth wading through all the rest to find them.

Guess where my aspirations lie?

Do you read memoir? Have any pet peeves that I missed? Love to hear ’em. 

How I Learned to Write By Watching Mad Men

Mad Men is the best show on television. You can try arguing with this, but I have verifiable proof.

For those of you that don’t know, Mad Men is a(n excellent) show that takes place in the New York world of advertising during the 1960’s. It’s the 1960’s from the perspective of the suits–the people who resisted the great changes and cultural and moral upheavals the 60’s brought us. It’s a show about drinking, illicit sex, smoking, deception, abuse and smoking (yes, I wrote that twice).

And I’m Mormon. And I love it. What further proof do you need?

I was reading Matt Stoller Zeitz’s fantastic essay What Makes Mad Men Great? yesterday, and I was reflecting on how much the show has given me. Since Twitter is such a great place for thought vomit, I just put it out there: I learn A LOT about writing and plotting just by watching Mad Men.

Confession: I think I’ve learned more about writing from DVD commentaries and watching layered, unconventional shows and movies like Mad Men than I ever have from reading books. (I can’t imagine many writers will share this sentiment, but there it is. It’s probably why I write about movies and TV shows so much in this blog.)

Here’s the thing, you don’t get to just say something like that and leave it there. @smash_is_nerdy challenged me on Twitter and asked how I could have taken any writing and plotting lessons from a show like Mad Men. She didn’t see it.

The following is an edited and expanded version of my reply to her:

Mad Men is about character behavior. It excels in presenting its characters as inscrutable but still understandable. The show goes out of its way to provide legitimate possible explanations for behavior without defining motivations one way or the other. It allows us to imagine and let our perspective inform our judgments and conclusions about the lives of the characters without telling us we’re wrong.  

Scenes are often juxtaposed with other scenes to create meaning and leaps are made in time from episode to episode to imply journey and resolution without actually showing either thing. Like any effective use of juxtaposition, what is learned goes beyond the text and, in this way, Mad Men always knows what you’re thinking. Audience participation is not only encouraged, it’s an essential component of the storytelling. To watch Mad Men passively is to see a completely different show than the one intended.

Any given episode will defy one or more of the show’s conventions and then reinforce that convention stridently, lending great weight to the shock of unfamiliar images or tones. The show is shifting sand, never quite the same from the week-to-week, no matter how familiar it may appear at first glance.

I could keep going. I’ll spare you instead and just give a brief example of how I’ve used one of the lessons in my own writing:

For me (and for many of my early readers), the highlight of my memoir is a chapter in the middle of the book that is, essentially, a very long, metaphysical, spiritual, and uncomfortable conversation between my Dad and me. It ends on what can only be described as a down note. The tension builds and builds for the entire chapter as the character revelations pile on top of each other, and then there’s no release. No catharsis. Mad Men has done whole episodes like this. Two people, in a room. Talking.

For the next chapter, I chose to go with a humorous story that seemingly has nothing to do with the earth-shaking conversation of the previous chapter. It’s a wild tonal shift that makes little sense until the very last line when its place in the narrative is finally revealed. Mad Men does this all time. The one-two punch of those chapters juxtaposed against each other is something early readers have told me they’re quite keen on.

I like trying new things and seeing what I can grab from one medium to adapt into another. Have you ever received inspiration or stolen ideas from an unconventional source? I’d love to hear about it.

Mad Men Season 5 starts on March 25th on AMC. If you have Netflix, you can stream the first four seasons right now. Just don’t start smoking or I’ll feel bad.

The McDonald’s Song

Most times, when I drive by a McDonald’s, I think of hookers.

Let me explain. My father was big on car games. One of his favorites was to predict when the traffic lights would change from red to green. It was a magic trick. He’d say “1… 2… 3… lights change!” and then they would. Every time, without fail. Whenever I or my brothers would try it, nine times out of ten we’d get it wrong. It helped that Dad was playing against 8-year-olds. We didn’t understand until years later that he was just watching the traffic lights of the cross traffic to make his “predictions.”

Another game was spotting McDonald’s restaurants. Now, I’ve seen the documentary Super Size Me and I don’t really like to eat there, but there was a time when seeing a McDonald’s was exciting. The trick was to be the first to see it, however far away it was. If you did and you sang the song, you won.

McDonald’s… McDonald’s…

Duh da da duh duh duh

Duh da da duh duh duh

This, of course, was a game we could play multiple times during even the shortest of car rides. So America’s struggle with obesity does have its perks.

Dad’s absolute most favorite game was one only he played because it wasn’t really a game. It was torture. Dad liked to pick out random, ugly women walking the street and tell my brothers that they were my girlfriend.

When you’re pre-adolescent, the worst thing in the world is girls. You know you’re gonna have to date and marry one eventually, but the thought of it makes you want to vomit and stick bugs up your nose. You hope, at the very least, that she’ll be pretty. That will at least make it somewhat tolerable.

“Look guys, there she is!” Dad would say with fantastic delight. “It’s Brock’s girlfriend! Look, it’s BROCK’S GIRLFRIEND!” And then he’d making loud kissing noises. And then he’d laugh. And so would my brothers.

I’d protest, but the more I did the worse the taunting got. Dad never chose women in other cars or attractive ones on billboards, so invariably I’d end up “attached” to bag ladies and, yes, hookers. This is how I learned who was pretty and who was not. And I became deathly afraid of liking a girl who wasn’t pretty. I didn’t want to be made fun of.

Memory confuses things and puts things together that don’t necessarily go together. When I’m driving through town and I see a prostitute walking the street, I think about about those car games. I think about traffic lights and McDonald’s. Conversely, when I see a McDonald’s, I think of hookers.

Huh. Maybe that’s why I don’t like to eat there.

The Killed Darling

There’s a maxim all good writers know, attributed to William Faulkner, that goes a little something like this: “In writing, you must kill your darlings.”

A darling is that piece of writing–a passage, a turn of phrase, a scene–the writer has fallen in love with. The thinking goes that if a writer loves  a piece of writing so much, he may be blind to the fact that the darling does not make the point the author thinks it does. The darling’s actual worth to the story is often disproportionate to the author’s love for it. Thus, it must be deleted. It must be killed.

The early drafts of my memoir, Raised By a Dead Man, included the following passage. No trace of it remains in the current draft. I’ll explain why afterwards. Enjoy.

"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"

“No, man, don’t kill ‘im. C’mon, let’s just take the money and get out of here.”

“Naw, man. He seen us. Let’s kill ‘im.”

Sometimes I’ll watch movies—bad ones, admittedly—and I’ll think to myself: No way. There’s no way that criminals are or sound that stupid. But you know what? That’s how Dad told the story and I believed him.

It was during his college days, at Fresno State. He was walking home at night and the two desperate muggers pulled him into an alleyway at the point of a gun. They moved Dad towards the darkness and the garbage and told him to hand over his wallet. Dad obliged them, having no movie camera over his shoulder and no cape under his coat. He expected a simple transaction to take place, the sum of his wallet in exchange for his life. But math hard.

“I don’t think we should kill ‘im. All we wanted was the money. We don’t want any more trouble than we got already.”

“I say we kill ‘im and no one will ever know it were us.”

“I say no.”

“I say yes.”

My father, his sense of self-preservation overwhelming his curiosity at the outcome of this intense debate, turned tail and ran for the back of the dark alley and the promise of safety. It took a moment for the muggers to realize what was happening. One of them—presumably the more homicidal of the two—raised his gun and fired. The shot rang in Dad’s ear and his heart skipped a beat. Just as he was turning the corner to make it safely out of sight, the bullet nicked the nearby building, barely missing him. He was home and wallet-free.

I wish I could say it was an atypical day for him.

And that’s how, at one time, my book began. No foolin’. You just read what was once the very first–albeit short–chapter.

There are some things that now make me cringe. And you never start a story with disembodied dialogue. It’s off-putting and confusing. But, reading it back now, there are some turns of phrase I really love and that are quite clever. And I do still love the story.

So, why did I kill it? Well, the only real point being made is that Dad faced down danger a lot. That’s not terribly deep. Sure, there’s a bit of sly meta commentary on the nature of storytelling and memory that serves as a primer for what a memoir is and does, but that’s weak sauce for the beginning of a book. No one but my writer friends would care, if they noticed it at all.

Dad did face down danger a lot, but that’s a bone cold fact, nothing more. The meat on those bones is how he faced it down (without fear) and why (with faith). That’s in the rest of the book, but not here. So I cut it. I killed my darling–the very first thing I wrote and what launched the whole book–and I let it go.

And how do I know I made the right choice? The book is better. As a whole it is better and that, at the end of the day, is all that matters.

What do you think about what Faulkner said? Are YOU a killer?