I’ve become quite the ruthless editor of late. Detachment is key: I take a step back, eye each passage, measure its worth against the whole, and weigh each pound of flesh. Sometimes, I still can’t see it–what needs to go, what needs to stay–and that’s where great critique comes in. But more often these days, the path reveals itself like a break through a proverbial forest of trees. And then I cut away the chaff, the fat, and sometimes, even the beating heart that for one reason or another just doesn’t fit where I want it to go. And I’m left feeling lighter. Freer.
This excerpt has been on and off the cutting room floor of my queried novel, and now finally finds a home in the manuscript in an entirely different place. Sometimes it’s all about location and exposure: the light has to be hitting a scene in just the right way for the reader to see it fully.
For the first time in her eighteen years, Meg wanted to turn back the clock. Five days—that was all it would take to make everything alright, and just the thought of such a simple yet unattainable solution brought the now-customary sharp sting of tears to the backs of her eyelids and caused her chest to swell tightly as she swallowed. She felt sick—had been sick, two times already—and now, she braced her feet on the edge of her chair, her arms wrapped around her knees, and didn’t care that the heels of her shoes were leaving muddy streaks on the backs of her thighs. She was wearing the same shorts from the night Jessica went missing—she only had three pairs—and the sight of them, whenever she dropped her eyes to her lap, caused an illogical rise of false hope to shoot straight to her brain. Because surely if she, Meg, was still here, sleepless, dirt underneath her fingernails, hiking boots laced, then somehow they were all just place-holding, and no time had passed at all. Surely the officers and the volunteers coming and going from the room, crossing the kitchen to pack up supplies and back outside to tear down tents, would realize that nothing had gone horribly wrong and no one was inexplicably, tragically, missing.
She wanted a do-over. She wanted to return to the start of this last school year, to the day she and Danny and Silas had all started out together, and do it all differently. Of course, she couldn’t explain this to anyone. None of them could, ever, not Danny, even now pouring over license plate numbers of the other cars parked at the trailhead with a deputy, and certainly not Silas, sitting across from her, watching her as she watched him, two people rendered immobile by a debilitating helplessness as sheer as a sheet of glass between them.
She wasn’t in this alone, but she might as well have been. She curled up into herself, turning her head to stare at a single nail hammered into the log wall beside her as the seconds ticked by, then the minutes. The two of them sat mutely as the room emptied and filled and emptied again, and Meg was forced to concede that this was happening. Mid-afternoon folded into evening; at one point, she pushed away a bowl of soup brought to her in a thermos. The last of the summer sun slanted through the thick panes of the storm windows in distorted waves upon their skin, and then it had set, the shadows fallen. As the earth continued to rotate indifferently on its axis, Meg allowed herself to imagine she could physically feel it spinning beneath her. Faster and faster.
Stopping for no one.