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'Murder Your Darlings'

February 28, 2008

If I’d had any way of knowing the trauma that would ensue, I’m not sure I would have joined my husband at Lowe’s to pick a gallon of paint for our den. But it’s been one week and the phrase ‘Murder your darlings’ keeps zipping through my mind.

No, I’m not planning on doing away with my husband or my children. This phrase, from one of my writing textbooks, refers to editing, which can be a very painful process. It hurts. The words I write are like my children.

So is my collection of novels.

“Too many,” Tom huffed. “You need to weed out.” He was scowling at a bookcase he was attempting to move from the wall so he could begin rolling on swampwater green.

I fumed and clenched my teeth. Silently I began moving armloads of books to the dining room. Books were wedged spine to spine, shoved to the back of five wide shelves, on their sides six deep in front of these. My darlings.

Okay, I said to myself, after dozens of trips back and forth to the dining room. Maybe I do need to weed some. I bet folks at Goodwill need books. This altruistic thought helped.

I decided to do it slowly. I would never perform such a painful task in one gulp. First I sat down to categorize.

There were The Classics; Bronte, O’Connor, Faulkner, Welty, etc… These had to stay. There were Oprah’s Book Club Picks, some I did not really get into, but how could I let them go? Then, my most precious; Books Lovingly Inscribed From Fellow Authors. No way would those be leaving!

Next I made a stack of books I’ve Cherished, (practically memorized); White Oleander, by Janet Fitch; The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy; All Over But the Shoutin’, by Rick Bragg, and many more.

I became overwrought with emotion, had to take a break for several days. Just thinking of weeding through the mountain of books which did not fit any of the above categories was agonizing. I know what goes into writing a book and it somehow felt mean to fling any of these volumes into the spot I’d designated “Murder.”

So what if I hadn’t taken an interest in them before? What if they had spent years, unread, on my shelves? Maybe it wasn’t their time. We have different stages in our lives, and so many books I could not get into at one particular point later become my absolute favorites. My darlings!

One afternoon I thought I was ready. I sat at the dining table, took a deep breath. Hours flew by as I poured over the books. Dazzled by intriguing synopses on book flaps, I dove in and lost myself time and again. Finally I made a new pile – Read Soon.

One claimed to be “a story that crackles and sizzles like burgers on a red-hot grill.” Another was called a “major addition to the canon of one of the world’s literary masters.”

One book was so strange I laughed. The Dogs of Babel, by Carolyn Parkhurst, was about a linguist who comes home to find his wife dead and their dog the only witness. He proceeds to coach the dog to speak.

I fixated on each author’s photo, studying details of their lives; hometowns, education, jobs, kids . . . I read the praises to each author’s agent and publishing house.

In the end, after days spent agonizing, moving books into the Murder pile, then back to the Darling pile, I only got rid of 21 books. A teeny fraction of my novels. I don’t want to tell many of the titles for fear they are your darlings. The only one I will dare to admit murdering is Nights in Rodanthe, by Nicholas Sparks. I tried and tried but could not find a gleam of interest for this tale, and did not feel I ever would. Then I thought “Maybe I’m murdering this book because of jealousy! Maybe the fact that it was a New York Times Bestseller and translated into thirty languages has turned me mean and green!”

“Nah,” I said later, consoling myself. “It wasn’t only the cover you judged this book by.”

Truly, Julie

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