I write seven days a week with an undetermined day off to celebrate, mourn a rejection email, or regroup after I learn the critique group doesn’t like my anti-hero protagonist. I grab a cup of coffee and begin. I prefer this creating of the characters, plot, and scenes, to refining them at the end of the process with a paid professional editor. During this part of the process I must use the left side of my brain and analyze the work—break it down—and ultimately myself.
Recently, I pulled out a dusty short story, added 500 words to make the guidelines for an anthology submission, re-edited it, and sent my baby to a professional editor in North Carolina, who I’d never met, and waited. When she emailed my hard-felt words back she wanted more details/content about the weird family dynamics that lead to the abuse cycle in my story.
No problem. My job as a short story writer is to cover the drama of complex human relationships in three to five thousand words.
After two weeks and swapping the manuscript back and forth to be tweaked further, I let the writing sit for 24 hours, reread it out loud, found more technical errors, and submitted to the anthology by the deadline July 1, 2018.
A few days later, I got an email from the anthology mistress. She wanted to use my story, but asked me to consider a major change in the mother’s character, in the main abuser’s physical characteristics. She even suggested an exciting occupation for this character. I flinched. I felt the layered quality of the work was built brick by brick, and couldn’t be changed. I let the submission sit. I agonized. I emailed the editor and explained I would minimize the qualities she found stereotypical, but the characters were based on my street work in law enforcement.
When I reworked the material, I realized I hadn’t outright addressed the motivation for antagonist’s abusive action. Of course, she was abused as a child. I thought I’d implied it. I slept on it. I verbalized my distress to my poor husband. In the end I added five lines of dialogue, background info through a secret revealed about the mother from her oldest daughter’s point of view, and discarded the adjectives defining the mother as obese, not just overweight. My bias was showing.
My main objective in all my writing about abuse has been to show the cycle perpetuates itself. Over the years of doing and editing and redoing, I had lost sight of my original theme or purpose for the writing: to reveal only blaming the abuser leaves us as a culture without a viable solution to help break the cycle of abuse.
Note: We are bias toward obese people. Check out Dietland, an AMC funny, poignant drama series on Monday nights.