On Books and Brush

Hey all. Gerry Boyle here. Good to be back in Maine after some time away (a research trip to Ireland; fishing in Florida). And now that I’m home with the weather finally warming, I’ve been busy. This past weekend, I did some pruning, trimming, cleared a bunch of brush, weeding out all the stuff that collects after a long winter.

And then I went outside.photo 2


And yes, I did move some brush (see photo. Was this a long messy winter or what?). But I also spent a chunk of time weeding through the manuscript for my latest, ONCE BURNED, considering the editor’s suggested cuts (most were just fine), and making a few of my own.  I even took a hard look at some sections of the book that I particularly liked.

The novel is first-person, which can limit the amount of time readers can spend inside the criminal’s head. So I wrote a preface, from the villain’s point of view. And then four additional POV passages interspersed with the narrative. And some good stuff in there, I thought. I like the way my criminals think. Here’s how one of the POV inserts begins, just a taste:

You learned a lot about a small town when you operated at night. Who was an alcoholic, drinking alone in a pickup in the woods. Who was selling drugs, deals going down on back roads. Who was a thief, busting in through back doors, coming out with a bag full of jewelry and pills, like Santa Claus but backwards. Who was screwing around, car pulled into the bushes, windows steamed up, moaning and groaning and grunting. And then the next day the two of them sitting tall with their families—and spouses— in church.

People were mostly hypocrites, the public face hiding the dirtbag underneath.

I don’t know about you but I like that bit. Unfortunately, like some of the writing I liked most in this one, it ended up on the cutting-room floor. This, I’ve learned, is a crucial part of the writing process, and it doesn’t involve actual writing—putting words on the page—at all. It involves taking them off. So the inserts got uninserted. I saved them for another time but maybe that’s just a way of easing the pain of the surgery.

The lesson for me, and it’s one I have to relearn with each book, is that the writing can’t get in the way of the story. And the part of the writing that you like best is what will lead you astray. For me, that habit is dialogue. Characters get talking and before you know it they’re chatting away, having a good old time—but not one that necessarily adds to the tension or moves the story. A good editor won’t be fooled. And the red pen comes out. “But I love that line,” you say. Alas, good lines on their own do not a novel make.

So that’s my story for today. The brush pile is getting bigger. But the novel, I know, is getting better and better.

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3 Responses to On Books and Brush

  1. MCWriTers says:

    Wow. Great stuff, Gerry. I’m still in first draft stage, and forcing myself to write down words that I expect will come out later, just to get the flow going and the sense of the scene down on the page.

    It helps to have a good editor, and a collaborative relationship, about editing. Even we have to kill our darlings, they can make us better writers.

    When does this book appear? Faithful fans want to know.


  2. John Clark says:

    Ah brush piles, he said after two afternoons leaning between branches high in old apple trees, wielding a pruning saw and hoping to return to earth in one piece, and then there are splinters, but I digress. I, too am eager to get the next book. I have been introducing new patrons to your books for years and have yet to have one not want to read them all.

  3. Gerry Boyle says:

    Thanks guys. ONCE BURNED will be published in May 2015 by Islandport Press, where the collaborative editor is Genevieve Morgan. I know this sounds like a long way off but in the publication process we are well on our way. Final edits (see brush pile), cover design, marketing plan—that’s the drill. Also, DEADLINE and BLOODLINE, the first two McMorrow novels, will be reissued by Islandport this fall, with new introductions. So while there is no book for John to recommend to his patrons, it is on its way.

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