This slightly out of place Renaissance man writes mysteries and more. Seedlings are sneaky little germs of ideas that refuse to go away. When they sprout and grow, they'll appear here. Topics include writing, family, gardens, and more. They're often infused with a bit of gentle philosophy and always with a lust for life.
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 (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 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!