Sunday, February 14, 2010

Writing the Tough Stuff (or: How to Kill the One You Love)

copyright 2010, aaron paul lazar

For those of you who write fiction—novels, to be precise—have you ever written a chapter where you killed the one you love?

Of course I don’t mean your actual spouse or lover. I mean the wife, husband, or sweetheart of your main character.

I have. And it tore my heart out. That’s what I mean by “writing the tough stuff.” Sam Moore is very much like me, except he’s twelve years older and retired with enough money to putter around in his gardens all day.

I hate him.

Okay, so maybe that’s a little harsh. Shall we say, I am exceedingly jealous of his lifestyle. Although Sam was a family doctor and I was an engineer, we’re still a lot alike. We both love to plunge our hands into the soft earth and grow things. Lots of things. We both love our grandkids so much it hurts. And we both have spouses with multiple sclerosis. There are plenty of differences, too. I cook, I write, and I take photos. Sam doesn’t.

In spite of the fact that he’s not real (at least not in the traditional sense. LOL),  I relate to this man and feel his pain when he’s hurting. Sure, you say, you feel ALL your characters’ pain. You have to, to get into their heads and really do it right. Right?

But I’ll bet some are closer to your heart than others.

Sam’s wife, Rachel, shares many qualities with my dear wife, Dale. They both endure MS, they both love to read, they are both chair caning artists. Some of their symptoms are the same, but that’s where they split off. Rachel loves to cook (that’s my job in our marriage), she’s in a wheelchair, and she stays pretty upbeat, considering her challenges. She’s a tribute to Dale. But she’s actually her own woman, too, and I love her deeply. (Sorry, honey!)

In the first two books of the Moore Mysteries series (debut novel coming out May 2010, Healey’s Cave; sequel One Potato, Blue Potato, 2011) Rachel sticks by Sam’s side, supports him when he’s overcome with grief and is plagued by strange paranormal events, and loves him enough to keep him sane.

In For Keeps, the third book in the series, life takes an awful turn. Rachel is murdered, and it puts Sam back in the psych ward, the same place he was thrown when his little brother disappeared without a trace fifty years earlier. Desperate to fix things, he calls on the power of the green marble, the talisman his little brother Billy controls from afar that whisks him back and forth through his past.

Unlike real life, Sam gets a “do over.” He flies back in time to desperately try to fix the problems that lead up to this gruesome act, and over and over again, he attempts to tweak the past to bring his dear Rachel back to life.

For Keeps won’t be out for a few years, but since I’m doing a little polish on it right now, I thought I’d ask you folks if you’ve ever had to write such a chapter? If so, feel free to share it in the comment section, below. Let us know how it made you feel, or paste a sample for us to read. Following is my attempt to write the “tough stuff.”

Here’s the setup. Sam has just picked up his son, Andy, from the airport. Andy finished his second tour of duty in Iraq, and this is his homecoming. Sam ignored the insistence of the green marble, which has been searing Sam’s leg all day from his pocket; little brother Billy was trying to “warn” him.


           Sam raced toward the laundry room in a panic. Rachel’s wheelchair sat abandoned in the hall, and his son froze in the doorway, hands clenching and unclenching at his side.           
Andy’s voice thickened. “Maybe you shouldn’t come in here.” He spun and held out both hands to keep Sam out of the room.
            One of Rachel’s shoes lay beside the doorjamb. The brown clogs. Slip on. With lambs wool lining. She loved them so much she wore them even in summer.
Sam drifted closer, terror pooling in his stomach. As if in anaphylactic shock, his throat tightened and threatened to close off his air. His heart beat wildly now, in his throat, ears, chest.
Sam barreled past his son and stumbled into the room, his voice hoarse. “What happened?”
             Rachel lay on a basket of laundry, her eyes wide open, looking with blank surprise at the ceiling. Sam’s garden shears protruded from her heart. The image danced before him like heat waves on tar, shimmering with unreality. Blood ran from Rachel’s floral print blouse to the sheets stained red in the basket, pooling on the white linoleum floor.
            The room tilted. A series of screams of No No No No No resonated in his head. Or maybe he yelled it aloud. He couldn’t tell as he shoved Andy aside and collapsed beside her, checking for the pulse that evaded him like a cruel tormentor. Neck. Wrist. Ankles. No beating met his probing fingers.
“NO!” He drew the shears from her chest, sickened by the soft sucking sound it made, then wadded up a compress of pillowcases and held it over the wound to stem the flow. More blood dribbled from the wound and curled around her pearl buttons. He realized with a start that she was still warm.
            He looked wildly about the room, as if a solution lay beneath the neatly folded piles of towels and linen. “Call 911. Hurry!” He cradled Rachel in his arms, smearing the blood between them, and feeling her arms dangle away from him, as if she didn’t have the strength to return his embrace. 
            Andy cried out, anguish pinging across the small room. He squeezed between his mother’s body and the washing machine, holding his hand out to his father. “Dad. It’s too late. She has no pulse. I checked, too.”
            “NO!” Sam’s mind reeled, his vision clouded, and the scent of blood tasted metallic on his tongue. “Who did this? Is he still here? She’s still warm, Andy. Find the bastard!” He stiffened when his brain repeated a phrase he’d heard during some of Rachel’s favorite shows.
            Don’t disturb the evidence.
            Panic slewed over him, boiling inside his head, freezing his arms and legs.
My garden shears. The killer took them from the barn. Used them on my Rachel. And my prints are all over them.
A great gulping scream filled his throat, tearing out of him like a primal scream. “RACHEL!”
            Her head slumped sideways when he moved away, as if she was rejecting him. He checked her pulse again, muttering under his breath. “No way. No. No.” In a sudden manic thrust, he stood and reached for the marble, searching his pockets, patting madly at his pants and shirt. “My God. Where is it? What did I do with it?” Sam asked aloud. “Billy! Why didn’t you warn me?”
            Inside the double-stuffed world that batted him between reality and nightmare, he remembered the marble’s insistent throbbing all morning. Billy had tried to warn him, had tried hard.
            “Dad, come on. You can’t help her now.” In spite of Andy’s two tours of duty in the heat of battle in Iraq, the bodies he had seen and possibly created, and his soldier-toughened soul, he wept. Loud and strong, he wept and choked on his words. “Dad. Please. Leave her be. It’s over.”
            Andy pulled him to his feet. Sam stared at his son as if he’d never seen him before. His eyes widened, trying to piece together a puzzle. Who is this nice young man? And why does he look so familiar?
            Andy took him by the elbow and started to shuffle him toward the living room.
            “Come on, Dad. Let’s go sit down.”
“No. Please. My wife needs me. She has multiple sclerosis, you know.”
Andy’s eyes popped open. Tears still streamed from them, and he shook his father’s shoulders as if he could not only snap him out of it, but maybe bring back his mother, too. “Dad! Come on. Hold it together. Don’t do this.”
Sam stopped and stared at his bloodied hands. His legs weakened to jelly. He stumbled, then braced himself against the wall as sobs wracked him in waves of increasing amplitude.  He slid to the floor and buried his face in his hands.
Dear God.
Not Rachel.

Okay, that's it for this week. Now remember, no matter what else happens in your life on this Valentines Day, write like the wind!

                                                                                                            - Aaron 

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