Kill your darlings: A writer at work.

Artwork by Teresa Milbrodt

 Just in case you’ve been wanting to dig into my deep dark drawer of forgotten drafts, this page is for you.  Of course the writing process is just that, a process involving blood, sweat, tears, and a whole lot of coffee.  Below are links to several stories and book chapters that started out one way, and ended up a whole lot different when I was done pounding on them.

The story “Combust” in my Bearded Women: Stories collection was originally much different. It wasn’t bad, but after getting feedback from one of my professors in grad school it didn’t seem like the plot was taking off. I couldn’t let go of the idea of a spontaneously combusting woman, however, so I reworked the premise into something that was much different, but still includes some passages I loved from the original draft.

“Combust” was first printed in North American Review, and I’m including a link to the earlier draft here.

 On the Train” also first appeared in North American Review, and it’s another story that started with a much different premise. On the rewrite I wanted to keep the idea that my protagonist was trapped on a train with annoying people and way too much time to think.  In the second version I think her problems are more interesting and nuanced, a step up from the original divorce story.

Here’s a link the original version, and the one that was later published in North American Review.

 Writing is always a collaborative process, whether you’re working with editors or a workshop group. When I first submitted my story “The Shell” to the literary magazine Nimrod for consideration, editor Francine Ringold wrote back with some suggestion for revision.  In particular she suggested ways to change the ending, since she thought it was lacking. They ended up accepting the piece of publication, and I think that the ending I wrote (along with her help) worked much better than the original.  “The Shell” is also printed in my Bearded Women: Stories collection. 

To read the first ending, and the second ending that appeared in the final story, click here.

 Sometimes I have a strange premise that I try to expand into a longer story, but it never quite works. That was the case for my story “Trade,” which was originally in my BFA thesis. I kept the plot and some of the original language, and rewrote it as a piece of flash fiction that will appear in my upcoming collection Larissa Takes Flight: Stories. The revised story, “Larissa Goes Into Business,” was published in Booth Journal.  You’ll notice it’s a lot tighter, and ends on a much different note than the original longer draft.  Of course, this is also a lesson to never throw away any of your writing, because you might want to come back to it years later and play with old ideas.

 To read the original draft click here.  To read “Larissa Goes Into Business” from Booth Journal, click here.  (It’s on the second page.)

 Another story printed in Booth Journal was “Larissa and Elementary Chemistry.” When I was working on edits for the Larissa Takes Flight: Stories collection, my editor Bryan Furuness suggested making some changes to strengthen the family element in the story, and the tensions between parents and children. These edits are slight, but they help to give the story a slightly different flavor, and again I really like the end result.

You can read “Larissa and Elementary Chemistry” by clicking on the Booth Journal link above, and you can read the version that will appear in my short story collection, “Larissa and Family Dynamics,” by clicking here.

 I wrote my novel American Reliquary as a novel-in-stories, hoping to rewrite some of them so I could submit them to literary magazines while I was trying to get the whole novel published. (For more information on the novel, you can click here.) When I’m doing those kinds of revisions, I find that I need to rewrite at least a third of the story so that it makes sense as a stand-alone work and includes the necessary background details.  A few of the chapters had to undergo even more drastic rewrites so they could function as stand-alones.  I’m including the openings to two chapters of American Reliquary here, as well as links to the stand-alone stories that were eventually published.

 First, here’s the chapter opening to “Meriwether Lewis’ Skull Fragments,” and a link to the story of the same name that appeared in North American Review. The POV narrator doesn’t shift, but some of the material doesn’t make sense without the rest of the novel.

 I did a much more drastic revision on “Theodore Roosevelt’s Eyebrow Hairs,” completely changing the narrator from first person singular to first person plural. Instead of the story being told from an outsider to the community, now it’s told by a group of insiders and has a much different flavor.

The story was originally published in Scholars & Rogues, so you can read it by clicking here. You can also read the opening to the novel chapter by clicking here.