Thursday, June 23, 2011

Killing My Darlings

I tackled the Eighteenth Chapter today, the transitional chapter between the set-up of the first half and the action of the second. I knew as I wrote it that a lot of what I put in was stuff I needed to write but the reader didn't need to read; details that would help me place my imaginary people in the real landscape of San Antonio, May, 1865. I could also tell that what remained would have to be shuffled around and that part of it belonged in the next chapter. I have probably not taken out everything I need to, but at least everything's in the right order and I believe the chapter break comes in the right place. It wasn't any fun, though. Some of what got taken out was broken off and tucked less verbosely into other bits of the chapter; some of it is just gone.

Here, for posterity and to soothe my vanity, is the longest continuous chunk of stuff I had to yank out. I'm inclined to think it's not bad descriptive writing, and if I had the leisure of a nineteenth-century audience I could polish it up into a really good one; but I don't and I won't.

So I had plenty of time on my own. One of my favorite places to spend it, and my money, was the bookstore across the street from Mrs. Schmidt's. The proprietor was a German, and though his stock was well picked over and some of it damaged, compared to our home library out on the frontier, it was a treasure house. Also, like most bookstores in those days, he ran a circulating library; so for a small fee I could take a book home, read it, return it, and read another, only buying the ones I knew I would read again and again. Scientific works, sermons, and silly novels; Schiller, Shakespeare, Shelley; Burns, Byron, Bacon; Ivanhoe and the Iliad! No Roman lounging in a bath ever felt a greater sense of luxury than I did lounging on the riverbank in the cypress shade, reading and smoking and looking up to see the spangle of sunlight on the water.

As if to make up for that long, miserable winter, the sun came out and stayed out, baking the clouds out of the sky. Entire days went by with no breeze except directly on the river. Where people walked, what had been ankle-deep sucking mud dried hard and fragmented into billions of particles, which rose with every footfall and coated the town in a fine layer of white lime dust. Where no one walked, the vegetation grew rank and lush, goosegrass forming waist-high green mounds, sunflowers shooting for the sky like military flares, bushes flinging new branches across paths overnight. Where the ladies of the town had planted flowers or tomatoes, grass choked them out; where they'd planted roses round their houses, they found themselves mewed up by briars and blossoms like the Sleeping Beauty in her castle.

Mornings and evenings, dogs, cats, and children hunted rats through green tunnels of weed. Swallows wove crazy patterns above the shimmering green river in pursuit of insects. Frogs and fish dined like kings on the black clouds of flies breeding in the stables, and herons -- big and little, brown and gray and blue and white -- dined like emperors on the frogs and fish. Around noon, every inhabitant fell into a torpor, or into the river, adopting the Mexican custom of siesta, because absolutely nothing happening in San Antonio during May of 1865 was worth rousing oneself to action in that midday heat.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely the least-fun part of writing. And making it into a blog post sounds like an excellent way to ease the pain. I think I will go right away and try it. Worse yet, I'll also post my most recent filicide right here:

    A two-lane paved road, the Niemandslandbahn, connected a row of towns from the Alps to the North Sea. Some had already existed, like Armentieres, while others grew out of the temporary shelters built in No-Man's Land, and had names like Pax Romana, Réconciliation and "Wir Sagen So". Thousand of French Citroens, British Wolesleys and German Autopopuli drove along it every day, except on December 25th, when all traffic ceased for 24 hours, and much of its length was used for festivals and parades.