Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bringing Back the Dead, by Aaron Paul Lazar




We writers don't often get to resurrect our dead. 

For years I’ve regretted murdering one particularly sweet character early in my LeGarde Mystery series, specifically in the second book, Upstaged, where a psychopath lurks backstage in the high school musical. The victim: Ethel Fox, who loves dogs, is a high school janitor, and volunteers to help with the drama club’s productions. Ethel also happens to have Down Syndrome. Looking back now, I realize I probably cast her as a victim to rile up my readers with righteous anger, and to make the villain scream “evil”.

Now, five years later, I want a do-over.

My cardinal rules include no killing of main characters—after all, these folks carry the series through its ten books. I’ll never kill Gus or Camille, or Siegfried, even if you might worry that they’re dead in some books[1] (wink). But the featured characters, who change from book to book, are always fair game.

When my publisher, Lida Quillen at Twilight Times Books, expressed interest in re-releasing my first two books[2] along with the rest of the series as the “author’s preferred editions,” I was overjoyed. Now I could repair some of those newbie-writer awkward phrases, get rid of the excess adverbs and adjectives, and tidy up the prose. Besides, after writing fifteen books (I have three mystery series now), my skills have improved. It’s only natural to look back at one’s first books and grimace. So, after securing rights from the first publisher, I signed the new contracts and started the rewrites.

I didn’t change much in Double Forté, except to tidy up the prose, add a bit more spice to a few scenes, and delete a bunch of excess words.

But when I started to polish Upstaged, I remembered an embarrassing and awkward experience I had last year, and was consumed with the idea of tweaking the plot.

While working at a facility for physically and intellectually challenged adults who love music, art, writing, and theater, my daughter Melanie invited me in to help during their summer festival. I arrived feeling quite virtuous, since I took a vacation day to volunteer, but instead of “helping” the folks there, I spent the day being humbled, time after time. The individuals radiated joy, and were delirious with excitement because they were about to put on a musical show for their visitors. Family and friends crowded the facility, and although I saw evidence of serious physical and intellectual “disabilities,” I was convinced these lovely people did not in any sense of the word feel disabled on that day.

They danced and sang in the hallways, held hands and giggled, painted gorgeous pictures from wheelchairs (some of which were displayed in local art shows), and delighted in the costumes in which they’d been dressed for the celebration.

While I snapped pictures for their scrapbooks, I fell in love with the people and teachers, was suitably humbled, and realized that after eight hours of fun, I had received much more than I’d given. A few days later, I donated Upstaged to one of the higher functioning members of the writing class, knowing that she loved musicals.

So, a year passed, and the writing teacher asked me if I’d come in and give a talk to her students who loved books and writing. Thrilled, I arranged the date. We had a blast, and talked for almost two hours. They asked great questions, and I delighted in their company. It was after the class while I was donating more books that I suddenly remembered I’d killed off a character with Down Syndrome in Upstaged.

What had I been thinking? Why did I donate the very book where I let the villain kill a character who represents so many people at this arts center? Was I insane? To be honest, it had been so long since I’d written the book, I really hadn’t remembered about Ethel, but when I did, I kicked myself. Repeatedly.

It was this experience that made me bring Ethel back to life. Not only did I prevent her murder in a way that didn’t goof up the original plot, but I gave her a cuter name. What kind of a name is Ethel for a sweet, helpful, loving lady? Her new name is Cindi. I think it fits her. Don’t you?

The Lord keeps me humble. It’s a good thing. There’s nothing worse than a big-headed fool. But frankly, he doesn’t have to work very hard at it. I give him lots of help.

Remember to take pleasure in the little things, and if you love to write - write like the wind!

Aaron


[1] Mazurka, (2009 Twilight Times Books)
[2] Double Forté (2005), Upstaged (2006)

***
 

Twilight Times Books by Kindle bestselling author Aaron Lazar:

LEGARDE MYSTERIES
DOUBLE FORTE' (new release 2012)
UPSTAGED (2005)
TREMOLO: CRY OF THE LOON (2007)
MAZURKA (2009)
FIRESONG (COMING SOON! JULY 2011)
DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (APRIL 2012) 

MOORE MYSTERIES
HEALEY'S CAVE (2010)
TERROR COMES KNOCKING (JAN 2012)
FOR KEEPS (FEB 2012)

TALL PINES MYSTERIES
FOR THE BIRDS (COMING SOON! OCTOBER 2011)
ESSENTIALLY YOURS (COMING SOON! MARCH 2012)

Awards:
WINNER 2011 Eric Hoffer BEST Book, COMMERCIAL FICTION * GRAND PRIZE FINALIST Eric Hoffer Book Award 2011 * Preditors & Editors Readers Choice Award – 2nd place 2011* Winner of Carolyn Howard Johnsons’ 9th Annual Noble (Not Nobel!) Prize for Literature 2011 *  Finalist Allbooks Editors Choice Awards 2011 * Preditors&Editors Top 10 Finalist  *   Yolanda Renee's Top Ten Books 2008   *  MYSHELF Top Ten Reads 2008  * Writers' Digest Top 101 Website Award 2009 & 2010

4 comments:

Horror with Heart said...

I want Aaron to write my obituary and make me alive again. I'll even take a better name.

What a treat to be able to have a do-over.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Ha, Keith, you've got a deal! Hope all is well in your life. When's the next book coming out?

Vergil said...

Aaron, I was deeply moved by this account. It's a poignant reminder that as writers we have to be extremely careful in foreseeing possible negative consequences of what we write. And it's not always easy to foresee. Ultimately, we all have to assume responsibility for what we do; and part of that responsibility is maintaining our sensitivity and taking due precautions.

You're fortunate to have the opportunity of re-thinking and re-writing some of your earlier works. I should think there would be some pain in this (i.e., "oh my gosh, did I actually send THAT out into the world?") Maturity acquired since the first publication, as well as growth in technical skills, should produce sounder, more effective expression. There are dangers, however, in excessive self-consciousness and allowing too much refinement to creep into the re-writing; sometimes the original versions might have more power and effectiveness than late-blooming hindsight might provide. When Henry James went over his published writings for the New York edition of his "complete" works, he sometimes diluted his original force with added verbiage; when W. H. Auden revised poems written when he was a young man from the vantage point of an older man who had "refound religion" the revisions (in my opinion) are frequently quite inferior.

Thanks for a thought-provoking posting.

Bob Sutherland

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Bob, I meant to reply to this last week, but with my daughter getting married at the same time, life was crazy and hectic.

However, now that things have settled, thank you very much for your insightful comment. You're right - I've been warned not to "edit out" too much of the original feeling of my original books. I'm trying hard to do that - I hope they have more punch and are smoother, not too diluted!

Thanks again for your comment!

Aaron