Posted on June 9, 2016
It takes a long time to write, edit, and revise a story. A Fairtytale Bride took an inordinately long period of time to write. I struggled with this story and it went through no less than three major revisions. In the first draft, my hero, Jefferson Talbert-Lyndon, comes to Shenandoah Falls to escape his career blunder and also to begin writing a novel. In the final version of the story, Jeff is in town mostly to hide out. He might think about writing a novel, but he’s not as dedicated to it as the Jeff who appeared in the first draft.
The scene below, shows Jeff working on his novel, thinking (maybe too much) about his background, and struggling with living off the grid. There are many problems with this scene: Jeff is way to angsty to be sexy and there’s far too much backstory in this scene. Bottom line, it didn’t move the story forward much.
I think I knew almost as soon as I wrote this scene, that it would have to go. But I had the hardest time cutting it. You see I fell in love with the opening paragraph. In fact, I loved the opening so much that I even tried to start the book with it. But talking about Thoreau isn’t very romantic and the story is a romance. So after rewriting this scene about twenty times, I finally let it go the novella’s third and final draft.
But I saved it because I knew it would make a terrific blog post. I hope you this stolen moment with Jeff Talbert-Lyndon brought to you straight from the cutting room’s floor.
* * * * * *
As a how-to manual for living off the grid, Walden sucked. Henry David Thoreau may have lived all by himself for two years, but that was before electricity, running water, HD TV, and the World Wide Web.
Jeff was willing to bet that Thoreau would never have been able to survive on Walden pond for two years if he’d tried to do it today. The world was more material these days. And he was, clearly, a material man.
Bear Dance, the fishing cabin with the pretentiously whimsical name where Jeff was hiding out wasn’t even all that rustic. It actually had electricity and running water.
Of course the heating system ran on wood which had to be split with an ax before being burned in the wood stove. It was a chore. But there was one good thing about it. Jeff kept his spirits up by imagining that every stroke of his ax was taking a little shred out of Wim Schuler, the political radio personality and demigod who had single-handedly wrecked Jeff’s career in serious journalism.
The good and bad news was that the spring nights got cool up here. Cool and humid and damp. So Jeff needed a fire every night, giving him ample opportunity to vent his fury.
But other aspects of the cabin were beginning to wear thin. He had no TV. No radio, except for the XM system in Mom’s SUV. No Chinese carryout or bagles.
And no Internet.
When he’d escaped from the pressure cooker of his Manhattan apartment a week ago, the idea of living off the grid had seemed appealing.
But now that he’d had some time to reflect, the lack of even a cell phone signal was problematic. He’d run away from the furor his story had created. And with Shuler stirring the pot on a daily basis, it seemed impossible to do anything about it.
But a big piece of him wanted the world to know the truth. His sources may have been shaky, but the story he’d written about Supreme Court nominee Joanna Durand had been true. The country needed to know the truth about her connections to Big Oil, even if most people chose not to believe it.
He picked up his coffee cup and walked out onto the deck. Once these negative thoughts about his career entered his brain, he’d worry them to death. He needed to find a way to let go.
He stood on the deck taking in the spectacular view. The wild dogwoods were in full bloom up here. Their delicate white blossoms dotted the forest’s understory. And yet, he felt so utterly alone, surrounded by all this natural beauty.
He needed some connection with the world of the living. He wasn’t Thoreau.
Of course, if he wanted to, he could go knock on Charlotte Grove’s front door. His father’s kin might let him stay for a while. Maybe it was time to visit them.
But he’d never been close to Dad’s family. No, scratch that, they were strangers. Like Dad. Except Dad never missed an opportunity to swoop down into his life by telephone, email, and text message to express his disappointments. Being a diplomat and the current ambassador to Japan, Dad didn’t have much time for face-to-face communication with his son. His latest verdict on Jeff’s behavior had been delivered via a White House press release. The Administration had not been pleased that Jeff’s article had attacked their nominee. And Dad was an old fishing buddy of the President of the United States.
The current occupant of Charlotte’s Grove, Dad’s oldest brother Mark Lyndon, was a US Senator and a member of the Judiciary Committee, which would vote on Durand’s nomination. So if Jeff went visiting, it would be awkward for Uncle Mark.
And for Jeff as well, since he’d only met his uncle once, sixteen years ago.
Dad had brought Jeff here to this cabin for a weekend of male bonding and fly fishing. Uncle Mark had come up here to join them. And together, Uncle Mark and Dad tried to teach him how to tie a fly and cast a line.
But Jeff didn’t have the patience for fishing. Not then or now. So his one chance to bond with his father had been a painful failure. And it didn’t help that Mark’s son, his cousin David, was a fly fishing wunderkind.
Jeff took several deep breaths and told himself to forget about Dad, and Win Shuler, and his obnoxious Cousin David. The novel was his priority now. Working on it would give him structure.
He returned to the dining room table and stared at his laptop’s screen. He’d written the first chapter. He’d made a good start but he’d come to a grinding halt over something small but important. He needed detailed information about eighteenth century weapons, and unfortunately the books he’d purchased at Secondhand Prose, while wonderful historical sources, didn’t contain that kind of down-in-the weeds information.
It turned out that novelists needed the Internet just as much as journalists did. Maybe more so.
His mind drifted back to the last conversation he’d had with his dad, on the day the press release had been issued. Dad had wanted to know what Jeff’s plans were.
“I’m going someplace quiet. I’m going to make a start on the novel.”
“Really?” Dad said in that superior way he had. “Don’t tell me you’re going forward with that ridiculous idea of setting a novel during the French and Indian War. Honestly, son, you can do better than that, can’t you? No one wants to read a story set during the French and Indian War. It will never sell.”
“Thanks for your opinion, Dad. But I think James Fenimore Cooper would disagree.”
The silence on the other end of the trans-pacific call was almost satisfying. When it had stretched out to fifteen seconds or so, Jeff had followed up with, “You know, Dad, the author of Last of the Mohicans, an American classic set during the French and Indian War?”
Jeff shook his head and pulled himself back from yet another toxic memory. “Let it go,” he said aloud as he stared at the words on the computer screen. The multiple cups of coffee he’d consumed this morning burned a hole in his chest.
And then an errant thought crossed his mind: The girl in the bookstore would know who had written Last of the Mohicans. The thought warmed him in a way that no amount of coffee could. It was as if the sun suddenly shone into the dark, cold, lonely places in his heart and mind.
Oh, yes. The girl in store would know who James Fenimore Cooper was. And there was one other thing about that adorable book elf. . .
She had a high-speed Internet connection.