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!


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


Twilight Times Books by Kindle bestselling author Aaron Lazar:

DOUBLE FORTE' (new release 2012)
MAZURKA (2009)



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

Friday, July 22, 2011

Two Mystery Authors Meet - Join us!

Hi, folks! 
I missed my Sunday post last week since I was enroute to a grueling two-week business trip to Germany. I've been here dozens of times and love it, although I'm horribly homesick for my family, animals, and gardens right now. What can I say? I'm a homebody. I've also struggled with Internet access all week long, but tonight I'm sitting in my hotel dining room (it's supposed to be a lobby, but it has dining room furniture!) getting access to a spotty Internet connection by actually plugging in a cable to the wall! Imagine that. No wi fi hot spots for miles! Or should I say kilometers? ;o) 

Anyway, I thought you might enjoy this very creative interview that Douglas Quinn and I shared - we had a blast. Doug has many great mysteries of his own, and soon I'll be doing some reviews of his work. Meanwhile, stay cool and if you love to write, write like the wind!

Auf Wiedersehen,

Mystery Author Douglas Quinn Interviews
Mystery Author Aaron Paul Lazar

For some time, I had wanted to interview mystery author Aaron Paul Lazar. Since I was in New York City doing some research for a book, I figured that was the closest I was going to get to his place of residence anytime soon. I got up at an ungodly hour, jumped in the rental car, then took I-90 west, then I390 south to Geneseo and the Genesee Valley area of western upstate New York to do the interview. I arrived at Aaron’s just in time for lunch. Aaron and I hit it off right away. He stands at about five feet ten and is a pretty young looking grandfather. Except for a sprinkling of silver in his wavy dark brown hair, you’d never know he’s fifty-eight.

After a lunch of sautéed chicken, smothered with cappelini and fresh pea pods and basil from his garden, we settled in the high-ceilinged great room amidst a hodgepodge of antiques and old family paintings by Emma Fletcher, his wife’s great-great-great aunt. With birds chirping through open windows and the shrieks of four grandchildren running around outside as background, I decided to begin the interview with a question about something our readers might like to know.

Doug: So, Aaron, as you know, I just finished reading and writing a review for your latest Gus LeGarde mystery, FireSong. In the author information you stated that the impetus for your writing came from a series of deaths of friends and family members, especially of your father. My question is, why mystery? Since your novels have a literary quality to them, why not novels about family life drama or human relationships?

Aaron: Ah, good question, Doug. And thanks for the nice review, by the way [Note: the review is posted here on Gather–check it out]. Okay, to your question. Why mystery? I guess it’s because that’s pretty much all I read. To be honest, it’s all I’ve ever read. Well, except for a brief foray with science fiction when I was in college. And mysteries are what both of my parents always read. I grew up on Rex Stout and John D. MacDonald books, all the English writers like Christie and PD James, with a sprinkling of Dick Francis and Clive Cussler in there, as well. It just seemed a natural transition to write mystery. I never considered much else, except sometimes I let my mind go wild and imagine writing a romance.

I think the literary aspects of my books–the inner thoughts, the philosophical elements, the more poetic descriptions of nature, the illustrations of how to deal with loss while not losing your mind–all come from inside me. I can’t help it, and it’s a natural part of my writing. I have considered writing a "pure" literary novel, but to tell you the truth, it scares me. I’m afraid all these erudite academia types will pour over my words and say they are just a bunch of crap, not "real" literary material. Ha! Shows you how frail the old author ego can be, doesn’t it?

Doug: As I sit here looking at your antique woodwork, bookcases and French doors, I have a question about the house. In FireSong, you talk about an undiscovered hidden room in Gus LeGarde’s house that was used as a safe house for what was known as the Underground Railway, where runaway slaves from the south were provided safe haven on their way north. Was this based on your own house, or a house in your own family? If not, what made you decide to bring that part of history into the story’s plot?

Aaron: Ah, yes. The hidden room. Well, this particular house was built in 1811, and has many crooked lines and interesting facets. We’ve been here for 26 years now and have looked up the original owner, Dr. Hunt, and his wife. Their graves are just a few miles up the road, and prove a fascinating story in their own right. 

But the house where I am positive there IS a hidden room was the 1799 colonial where I grew up. This was a rickety old place where, in the winter, wind whistled through the windows and the floorboards were always freezing, where bats took up residence in the attic and sometimes popped down the chimneys to "visit" us, and where there were always several "somethings" needing repair. We had six fireplaces (don’t get the wrong idea; back then houses were inexpensive and we lived a frugal life), and behind the largest hearth and matching Dutch ovens, there was clearly an "unaccounted for" space. There were even three-patterned bumps on one dining room panel (like hinge patterns) that I was sure led to a space behind the hearth. My father and mother used to talk about the Underground Railroad, the different color bricks n the chimney, etc. that indicated a safe house for slaves. And I imagined–oh, how I imagined–that our house was part of it all.

One day, I finally convinced my folks to let me drill into the back of the closet in the dining room to see if we could see anything back there. Alas, it was dark, and we never proceeded to the next step where (in FireSong) Gus and Camille drilled a second hole for a flashlight. The house has been sold several times since my parents left it, but I still think about that secret room .... I’m sure it’s there!

After an early afternoon repast of strawberry shortcake with real whipped cream (thanks to Aaron’s mother-in-law for the fresh made shortcake and to the grandkids for picking his strawberries), Aaron took me on a tour of his vast gardens. The property is mostly surrounded by trees, including sugar maple, copper beech, pine and Catawba. There is an American Yellowwood tree that is so fragrant it perfumes the whole yard. He has tons of perennial gardens with peonies, iris, and poppies all in bloom. In addition to his flower gardens, his vegetable garden is quite impressive, with every kind of vegetable known to man, including 90 tomato plants–lucky neighbors! We sat next to the garden under a cherry tree. When we settled into metal green chairs around a table of the same make and decor, the family dogs, Balto, a half King Charles Cavalier Spaniel/half Poodle, and Amber, a half King Charles Cavalier Spaniel/half Bichon, with muddy paws and faces from digging holes in the lawn, joined us by lying at our feet under the table. I got back to the interview.

Doug: In FireSong, the fifth of the Gus LeGarde novels, we find Gus remarried to a woman named Camille. Since this was the first LeGarde novel I’ve read, can you give our readers an overview of the development of this character over the first four books?

Aaron: You bet. Gus is near and dear to my heart, since he’s loosely based on my father and–to be honest–on me.

You can get a glimpse of the "young" Gus in Tremolo: cry of the loon, which was written fourth and published in 2007 as a prequel to Double Forté. In this book, Gus is eleven, and readers are able to see some of the people and events that shape him into the man he has become in the start of Double Forté.
When Double Forté opens, Gus is mourning the loss of his first wife, Elsbeth. Daughter of a holocaust survivor and twin to brother Siegfried, she was a fiery, passionate woman who gave up her concert pianist career to marry her childhood sweetheart, Gus, and raise their daughter, Frederica. Now gone four years, Gus spends his time lavishing affection on his dog, Max, and his family, including a grandson he adores. But he’s aching and lonely inside and, although he tries hard, he’s really struggling.

Gus’s secretary, Maddy, is an inveterate matchmaker, and when her daughter Camille moves back to town, she tries to set them up. Much to Gus’s astonishment, this complex woman with a mysterious history steals his heart. Unfortunately, it takes quite some time for her to learn to trust, but after rejecting him numerous times, eventually she capitulates and, by the end of the book, she agrees to marry him.

In Upstaged, book two in the LeGarde series, Gus and Camille are engaged and together deal with a psychotic saboteur who lurks backstage in the high school musical production of Spirit Me Away that, many years earlier, Gus wrote at the Boston Conservatory of Music. Gus is drawn back in time to memories which occur in Portamento (a book not yet published, which will be another prequel to Double Forté) where Gus married Elsbeth and learns he’s going to be a father. He has to grow up fast.
Gus and Camille get married between Upstaged and Mazurka [book four], where a planned European honeymoon is undermined by a chance run-in on the streets of Paris with neo-Nazis.

Finally, safely back in East Goodland, New York, in their beloved Genesee Valley, FireSong takes them on yet another wild ride with links to Colombian drug lords, the Underground Railroad and, as you well know, much more.

Dale, Aaron’s wife, brought us iced Mohitos (for those not in the know, traditional Cuban highballs). The Mohitos were made with fresh-picked mint. Aaron says he grows five varieties, and that the apple mint goes best with the Mohitos. We watched the grandchildren in the pool, enjoyed the afternoon breeze, and talked.

Doug: I have yet to read your Sam Moore mysteries. Was there any event or anyone in particular that brought that character and series into your writing scheme?

Aaron: It’s funny, but I never intended to start a new series. The whole thing came about one day when, after rototilling, I found a green marble in my garden. It was a cat’s eye, a beautiful shade of jade green. I held it in my hands and wondered about the little child who, years ago, had lost it. Then, as authors often do, I kept fantasizing about a boy who, fifty years ago, had lost the marble. What if he had disappeared? What if there had been a killer alive back then, who was also still alive? What if he were my neighbor? And what if I could squeeze the marble in my hand and go back in time to witness the events that led to the boy’s disappearance?

It was also at that time that my wife kept bugging me to write a story from the "killer’s point of view." She loves books that get into the crazed killer’s psyche. I really didn’t intend for this series to be born but, because I discovered the marble and my wife was relentless in her suggestions, it happened. Now, three books later, the Moore characters are as real to me as the LeGarde clan.

Doug: How do the characters Gus LeGarde and Sam Moore differ (or not) in their personal lives and/or in their approach to solving mysteries?

Aaron: Actually, neither of my guys (Sam or Gus) are officially "mystery" solvers. They are just good guys to whom things happen. They have sterling souls and decent moral compasses, so when people go missing or things are wrong in the community, they can’t help but get involved.

Gus tends to rely a bit more on his connections with Lieutenant Joe Russell and town historian Oscar Stone for ideas and information. Sam just plods though life trying to figure it all out, caring for his dear disabled wife and being a good grandfather to Evan and Timmy. Because he was a family doctor, he has quite a few connections in town. Gus is a pianist and music professor who loves to cook. Sam’s an awful cook but a helluva gardener. Both guys are amalgams of me, in a way. I’m actually very jealous of Sam’s retirement and ability to be in the garden all day long.
As Aaron talked, one of his grandsons came up to a nearby potting table, picked up a tomato set and asked his granddad if he could plant it. The answer, of course, was "go to it." Watching him made me think of my own grandson, Quinn, who loves to work with me in my own pathetic garden. The happenstance reminded me of a thought I had while reading FireSong.

Doug: When I was reading FireSong, the thought hit me that you could take one of the mysterious events, age down the characters and create a plot line for a children’s book. Have you thought about creating a children’s chapter book series, middle grade series or even a young adult (teen) series, as I have done with my The Adventures of Quinn Higgins: Boy Detective Series based on, say, one of your grandchildren?

Aaron: Very cool that your grandson is named Quinn. Matter of fact, before I met you, I named one of my leads in my newest (third) mystery series, Tall Pines Mysteries, Quinn Hollister. He’s half British, half Seneca Indian, and runs an antique store on Honeoye Lake (one of the nearby Finger Lakes) with his wife, Marcella. That’s an interview for another day, but it’s coming out this fall with two books already in the queue.

But now to get to your question. Tremolo: cry of the loon, has frequently been referred to as Young Adult Fiction, but my original intention was just to write a nostalgic mystery based on my childhood in Maine. It probably is suitable for age 11 and up, but some of my most enthusiastic fans of the book were actually my age and into their nineties. We all like remembering back to the good old days, don’t we?

I’ve also written a sequel to Tremolo called Don’t Let the Wind Catch You (March 2012), when Gus is 12. He runs into some very challenging mysteries based on his deceased grandfather and fascinating and somewhat paranormal links to the Ambuscade, a historical setting where, in the late 18th century, Sullivan’s army fought a bloody battle with the local Indians.

Sometimes, I think about writing for a younger audience, and it is quite tempting. What I’ll have to do to get my bearings is to read your Quinn Higgins stories to get a handle on what’s normal for that age. I’m sure I’d love these books as much as I anticipate devouring your Webb Sawyer mysteries.

We talked for a long time about writing and family and life and all the things that made the subject matter of our writing similar and all the things that made them very different. We talked about characters and story development and how a simple everyday incident or news report could spark an idea that just wouldn’t go away and had to be exploited by Aaron’s Gus LeGarde and Sam Moore or my Webb Sawyer or Jennifer Ellis, or even Quinn Higgins.

Doug: Aaron, is there anything else you’d like to discuss or let the readers know before I head to Rochester to turn in the rental car and catch a flight back to Norfolk, Virginia?

Aaron: I’m so pleased that you came all the way up here to visit. Maybe you can come back in the winter and we’ll take a cross-country ski trip across the Genesee Valley. You’d love the winter views–absolutely gorgeous. I do hope I can return the favor and come see you in northeast North Carolina sometime soon, especially after reading your book, so I can ask you plenty of questions about them. But before you go, let’s take one final tour around the grounds so you can pick something for your family. How about some nice Thai basil? That’ll fit in your suitcase ....
After thanking Aaron for his and his family for their hospitality and saying our goodbyes, I wondered if I might talk Aaron into contributing to a future anthology, like the one currently in the works titled Four of a Kind, with myself as editor and contributor, and three other mystery and suspense authors. I’ll keep that in mind after the first mystery author anthology is released in the fall of 2012.
And, by the way, I used the Thai basil in a tiger shrimp wok stir fry and it was oh so delicious or, as I call it, delicioso.

If you would like to read Douglas Quinn's book review here on Gather of FireSong by Aaron Paul 

Lazar, go to:

Monday, July 11, 2011

Two Ways to Delight Your Readers with Words by Mignon Fogarty, the Grammar Girl

© Mignon Fogarty, Inc. 2011 all rights reserved

Words are your tools; words are your craft. Good storytellers can inspire readers with simple words--or even misused words--but good storytellers who get the words right will not only keep readers turning the page, but also delight their readers who love language.

These are some of the bugaboos that can jump out at a reader who cares about proper word choice:

“Hilarious” Versus “Hysterical”

Your damsel in distress who can’t be calmed after an attack is hysterical; the scene in which your murderer is foiled by a juggler, a baby, and a box of marbles is hilarious.

Although “hysterical” is commonly misused to mean “super funny,” it actually means “excited”--the upset kind of excited, not the happy kind of excited. “Hysterical” and “hysteria” come from the same Greek root, which means “womb.” Womb? Yes, it comes from the outdated notion that only women are emotionally excitable.  Harrumph!

“Historic” Versus “Historical”

The Gutenberg Bible is a historic book, and your novel about 18th century England is a historical book. Important events or items related to history are historic; anything related to the past is historical. You can remember the difference by thinking that the “al” at the end of “historical” stands for “all in the past.”

“Infamous” Versus “Notorious”

Jack the Ripper was infamous; your detective could be notorious for her ability to sniff out imposters on Internet forums.

“Infamous” is always bad. It’s “famous” with a negative prefix. “Notorious” is most often used in a negative way, but technically, a character can be notorious for something good or bad, so it’s important to spell it out. If you write that your character is notorious for his cupcakes, a reader may not know whether the cupcakes are delicious or deadly.

“Purposely” Versus “Purposefully”

Your victim could purposely drop her purse to stall for time, and your murderer could purposefully point a gun at her and tell her to leave the purse on the ground. Something done purposely is done intentionally, on purpose. Something done purposefully is done in a way that is determined or resolute. You can remember the different by thinking that “purposefully” means “full of purpose.”

A second way to delight your readers with words is to play to a word’s origin. “Gregarious” can be used in many ways, but because it comes from a Latin word that means “part of the flock,” you can give logophiles a thrill by using “gregarious” in a sentence with the idea of birds or animals. “Jargon” originally described the chattering of birds (again with the birds!), and “nepotism” comes from the 15th century Italian word for “nephew” because popes often gave their nephews coveted positions. A bit of etymology browsing can go a long way in helping you find just the right word for your sentence or just the right double meaning to surround your words. 


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Review for THE DAVID EMBRACE by Warren Adler, review by Aaron Lazar

I love Warren Adler's books - I've read and totally enjoyed some of the "Fiona" series, recently read and delighted in FLANAGANS DOLLS, and have four books waiting in the wings to read.

This book - while engrossing and beautifully written in many sections - was quite different from the other books I've read. There were sections of inner dialog that might possibly have benefited by being punctuated with some action or live dialog, which we all know Mr. Adler does with great proficiency and class, but aside from this mild criticism, the book is well worth the read.

That said, there were plenty of masterful elements in THE DAVID EMBRACE. The panoramic lush scenery was totally captivating; the sense of place - superb.

You can read a super plot synopsis on Amazon, but here's a quick look:

Product Description

In this fast-paced erotic thriller, John Champion, a professional hitman and Angela Ford, the wife of the man who orders the hit, engage in a passionate, overpowering and memorable love affair. Played out against the exotic locales of Florence, the Riviera, the French Alps and Manhattan, the two lovers endure impossible odds as their relationship deepens and matures. Figuring importantly in the story is Michelangelo's David, a majestic artistic masterpiece that stands in all its naked glory in the Galleria dell' Accademia in Florence and the epiphany experienced by Angela in its presence. In viewing this magnificent masterpiece Angela discovers the core of her female identity, one of the few illustrations of this phenomenon ever found in a novel which deals with the deeper implications of sexuality and how it can shed light on the eternal mystery of love and attraction between men and women.

Aunt Emma, Angela Ford's aunt, was one of the most delightful, passionate, and endearing characters I've ever grown to love, reminiscent of the "fountain lady" in UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN (I can't remember her name, but if you've seen the movie, you know who I mean!). Emma is full of life, unafraid to love, open to the world of pleasure, and the one who motivates Angela Ford to spread her wings and embrace love.

But most powerful of all were the erotic scenes painted with a tender yet fiery brush by this master. Mr. Adler has the ability to bring one into the carnal centers of each character - male or female - and truly engulf the reader with their passion. Yet he does so with class and artistry - no crass or vulgar descriptions are found in this writing.

The character arcs of John Champion and Angela Ford grabbed me by the heartstrings and had me cheering all the way. The metamorphoses of both John and Angela were equally compelling, believable, and uplifting.

In addition, Mr. Adler brought to life Michelangelo's famous "David," a marble man who figuratively invades the mind and soul of Angela Ford in a cosmic and complete fashion, embodied by the humanity of John Champion and oddly enough linked to a long ago memory of her father.

THE DAVID EMBRACE is an interesting amalgam, and a fascinating read.


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries, Moore Mysteries, and Tall Pines Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at and watch for his upcoming Twilight Times Books releases, TERROR COMES KNOCKING (2011), FOR KEEPS (2012), FOR THE BIRDS(2011), ESSENTIALLY YOURS (2012), DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (2012), and the author’s preferred edition of DOUBLE FORTÉ (2012).

Monday, July 4, 2011

How to Ease Your Heartfelt Heartless Cutting by Noelle Sterne

Hello fellow writers, and Happy Independence Day!
Today I've invited good friend Noelle Sterne to stop by with a writing advice piece. Noelle and I originally met years ago at the Absolute Write website, where we both published articles about writing. Since then, we've stayed in touch. Noelle's articles appear in some of the most prestigious writing magazines. Please see her full bio below and help me welcome her to Murderby4 today.

Remember, if you love to write, write like the wind!

- Aaron Lazar
© 2011 Noelle Sterne
 How to Ease Your Heartfelt Heartless Cutting 
by Noelle Sterne

            Sometimes we hate what we write and easily trash it. Other times, we can’t bear to relinquish it. Even though we may modestly deprecate our writing aloud to others, most of us are secretly captivated by most of what we write. But for effective and salable work, we must trade overattachment for prudent detachment and learn to survey our work with less parental pride and more outsider objectivity.
            To do so takes discipline and practice. What parent can bear to throw out any of the baby’s prized creations, from the first preschool scribbles to fifth-grade Valentine poems to college short stories? Yet that’s what we must do with our work—weed, pare, and discard. 
            Heartless? Maybe, but essential if you want your work to radiate polish and professionalism. Novelist D. M. Thomas says, “The process of writing demands, above all, a degree of calmness, of distance. The audience may weep, but the singer must not.”[i]  
            This “distance” is one of the hardest skills for a writer to acquire. Not that we aren’t supposed to admire, like, be satisfied with, proud of, or happy about what we write. But there’s a real difference between such feelings and excessive love of our words.
            Many writers recognize and advise against this self-enchantment. Over two hundred years ago, the eighteenth-century literary critic and author Samuel Johnson admonished, “Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”[ii] In recent times, in a Writer’s Market, Gloria Burke counsels, “Be ruthless if a sentence doesn’t seem to fit. No matter how creative your words may sound, don’t clutch them to your bosom. If they don’t belong, get rid of them.”[iii]
Therapists and writers Jean and Veryl Rosenbaum in The Writer’s Survival Guide clarify the psychological side: “Some authors love their creations too much, and they can’t believe anyone could fail to appreciate the beauty of their style. This is narcissistic, thinking everything you do is perfect just because it’s yours.”[iv]
William Faulkner (heartlessly) gets right to the point: “Kill your darlings.”[v]
            The message is undeniable:

                                                If you love it, cut it.
            Maybe your first reaction is to groan. And probably your second is a series of questions: “How do I detect too much love? How do I know what to cut? How do I develop that critical eye?” Well, I’ve discovered three major warning signs of a hopeless—and self-defeating—infatuation with your own words. These signs are gleaned from my own embarrassed experience and those of other red-faced writers:

1.    Your body tells you.
2.    Your mind protests.
3.    Your emotions blind you.
These three responses apply to any kind of writing, from letters to lists to poems to tomes, and they’ll help you recognize your own enthralled fixations.
1.    Your body tells you.
            As you look at a word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph in one of your pieces, almost unconsciously you stop. Something doesn’t feel right. In Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books for Publication, Bertha Amoss and Eric Suben call this the instinct that “sets off a bell” in your head.[vi] Other writers suffer more dramatic visceral reactions: a sense of malaise, a sinking feeling in the stomach, a moment of dizziness, a sudden sweat, a throbbing pulse, an inexplicable pang of hunger.
            If these symptoms aren’t enough to alert you, take this little test.
                        * Do you already feel depressed, mourning the loss of this passage?
                        * When you contemplate cutting this part, do you cry, scream, and
               pound your desk instead of the keyboard?
                        * Do you have an irresistible urge to run for the corn chips?
            Listen to your body. It’s telling you, first, that the passage needs work, and second, that you’re too invested in it. Swallow hard, soothe your forehead with a cool wet cloth, and face it. It’s time to cut.

2. Your mind protests.
            Even toying with the idea of cutting that passage, your mind loudly objects. It defends, reasons, and rationalizes. To ourselves or anyone who will listen, we usually verbalize our outrage in one or more of several ways:
                        1. “The piece needs this passage! It’s explanatory, descriptive, lyrical,
                              eloquent, graphic, flowing, stirring, exciting, powerful . . . .”
                        2. “It proves my genius!” 
                        3. “When my old English teacher reads this, she’ll eat her red pencil!”
And finally,

                        4. “Look at all the drafts I’ve labored through, all the e-thesaurus pages I’ve scrolled through, all the coffee and brownies I’ve consumed!”
5. “Look at how @#*$%^ hard I’ve worked!”  

            However logical and reasonable you think these defenses are, they aren’t. The first reaction is unfounded rationalization and shows the extremes of your runaway ardor. The second is childish, a cousin of the Rosenbaums’ observation about our lurking narcissism. This response is also every novice writer’s favorite fantasy—you’ll be acclaimed, applauded, and rewarded by the world without having to pay your dues.
            The third exclamation is ineffective petulant revenge. Your old English teacher may or may not remember you but you can bet doesn’t believe you or your writing were treated unfairly. And if that teacher ever did read your piece with this passage in it, I guarantee the red pencil would fire up like an autopen.
            The fourth and fifth retaliations are the self-righteous victim’s. If you really want to be rational, admit that no reader—parent, partner, friend, editor—cares how much time, effort, calories, time, and sweat you’ve put in. All they care about is how the final product grabs them, what it shows them, and how much it makes them want to keep reading. Besides, as you may have already learned, to sacrifice product to process by using your monumental work as justification simply isn’t what writing is about.
3. Your emotions blind you.
            This condition is a little more subtle than the others but points as surely to the need to cut. When, in your ill-fated romance, you’re captivated by the offending words, you may love the passage for the wrong reasons. Somewhere deep inside you know this but still balk and will go to astonishing lengths to hold onto your love:
                        * Have you already started an angry letter to the top writing magazine                                        denouncing the rigidity of writing rules? 
                        * Would you gladly rewrite your entire piece to preserve this passage?
                        * Would you throw out everything but the passage and start something                                        completely new around it?
If you’re wildly nodding in the affirmative to any of these questions, you’re in trouble.
            You’ve been swept up in an idolizing haze, blinded to your loved one’s flaws. Precisely because you’ve worked so hard, you can’t admit that this passage is awkward, wordy, overwritten, repetitive, obvious, forced, self-conscious, cute, contradictory to the prevailing tone, or just not necessary. If love really blinds you, you may refuse to see that the adored words don’t even say what you mean.
            I speak from sad experience. Recently, as I snuck up on the planned final version of an essay, I glanced at the opening sentence. Having reworked it countless times over many weeks, I was particularly enamored by its witty originality and sparkling
alliteration. Only now, as I stared in shock, did it dawn that this all-important sentence said the exact opposite of what I wanted to convey!
            First I cursed. Next I raged. Then I rationalized. Finally, I sighed, scrapped my final-emailing plans, and with anguished heart bid the sentence a teary and inevitable adieu. For the next two hours I rewrote the entire first paragraph.
            My heart mending, I became better able to distinguish these body-mind-emotions touchstones for breaking with the too-loved passage. As you reach greater comfort with them, you too will become a courageous, if still sorrowful, cutter. Here are some suggestions to help you ease the pain of parting, comfort your soul, and get you through the night.
            1. Save the passage. Put it in a file labeled “Lost Loves,” “Deleted Darlings,” “Cut But Not Forgotten,” or something equally bittersweet.
            2. Tell yourself—repeatedly—how much better your piece is without the passage. 
            3. Compliment yourself—extravagantly—for being such a tough and incisive editor. Think how proud your mother would be, and your old English teacher. 
            4. Walk out and leave the piece alone, at least for a day. You’re not abandoning it but resting your brain and letting your subconscious simmer without interference. Gloria Burke advises, “Put the piece away for a few days, then take it out and psyche yourself up by saying, ‘I’m going to look at this with fresh eyes.’”[vii] It’s eternally mysterious how and why this works. But to leave what we’re immersed in and go do something entirely different gives us the distance and objectivity we need to become heartless cutters.
            5. If the hole left by cutting still seems unfillable, or you can’t nudge out a decent transition, just start writing. You’ll be able to use whatever emerges in this or another piece. To get going, I sometimes retype the previous sentence or paragraph. Then let your mind tell you what comes next. Believe these two wise lines, which, in addition to a favorite psalm, I use to calm and reassure my writing self. The lines are by the American poet Richard Wilbur:
                        Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind.
                        Something will come to you.[viii]     
Even if you’re convinced that what comes out is bilge, keep writing. Soon you’ll cut this too and the right words will surface.
            6. To reduce future traumas of passionate obsession, read good literature. Notice the conciseness and freshness.
            7. As you read less than the best literature, write down the clichés and other candidates for cutting. This list should help you spot them in your own current work and avoid them in later drafts.
            8. With your new sensitivity, you can now read your manuscripts with a more critical eye. Amoss and Suben recommend combing them for overused adjectives, stock phrases, “wordy, boring explanations,” and adverbs that don’t convey anything new.[ix]  
            9. Praise yourself—highly—for having finally developed that precious and elusive faculty all writers covet, editorial distance.
         10. If you’re still mourning your lost love, keep in mind that someday, somewhere, in some enchanted work time, that rejected passage may reappear. As you revise another piece, it may float into your head, and you’ll rapturously find that, with only the slightest adjustment, your old love will turn out to be exactly what you needed. Think of the reunion!
So take heart. Practice distancing yourself from your work and you’ll develop that needed mix of editorial ruthlessness and intuitive creativity. You’ll critique, delete, and revise with fewer pangs of emotional separation and debilitating tantrums. Listen to your inner heartfelt messages. You’ll become your own best editor and employ heartless but not unbearable cutting to produce work that’s more polished and professional and therefore more often accepted.

            [i]D. M. Thomas, “On Literary Celebrity,” New York Times Magazine, June 13, 1982, p. 29.
[ii]Samuel Johnson, in Quotationary, ed. Leonard Roy Frank (New York: Random House, 2001), p. 956.
            [iii]Gloria Burke, “The Four R’s of Freelancing: Refocus, Rework, Rewrite, and Recycle,” 2003 Writer’s Market, ed. Kathryn Struckel Brogan (Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2002), p. 33.
            [iv]Jean Rosenbaum and Veryl Rosenbaum, The Writer’s Survival Guide (Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1982), p. 65.  
[v]William Faulker, quoted in The Web’s Most Humongous Collection of Writing Quotes,
            [vi] Bertha Amoss and Eric Suben, Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books for Publication: Two Perspectives (Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 1995), p. 96.
            [vii]Burke, “The Four R’s of Freelancing,” p. 33.
            [viii]Richard Wilbur, “Walking to Sleep,” in Walking to Sleep, New Poems and Translations (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1969), p. 1, lines 3-4. 
            [ix] Amoss and Suben, p. 47.

Bio: Noelle Sterne is a nonfiction and fiction writer, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, with over 250 pieces in print and online venues. Her Ph.D. is Columbia University, and Noelle has conducted an academic coaching and editing practice for over 28 years. In her new book, Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, Summer 2011), she uses examples from her practice and other aspects of life in applying practical spirituality to help readers let go of regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle’s website at