How does one really know what to edit out or keep in a manuscript? Readers tell you different things based upon their personal tastes and, of course, those are the readers I want to reach. This editing thing is so frustrating…
Do you ever just want to crap out those bad writing ideas that are blocking your creative process and let the good ones get flowing again? Sadly, there is no enema for that. My mom, a nurse, swore enemas took care of everything. Mom was wrong. So, when I am stuck between first person, third person, this scene or that, I walk away. I need to regroup. I do not regroup with prune juice and Metamucil shaken with a splash of Milk of Magnesia. No, sometimes my “regrouping” comes at a price to our furniture, walls or whatever can take on paint. I painted our kitchen cabinets. Well, not painted them so much as I painted on them. I even painted a huge wall mural in the living room. It’s not that I get writers block often, just sometimes. Sometimes, I am unable to relate to my characters for a moment. It’s as if I disconnect, but come back to loving them later. Does this happen to you? How do you handle writer’s block?
In the spirit of the season, I’d like to share a little story I wrote last year. As many of you know, I studied forensic psych and this story has some truth behind its tale. Please let me know your thoughts and share with me what chilling tales you have in you…
The nervous tension in the room was agitated by the kid’s constant kicking at the back of my chair. When the bailiff wasn’t looking, I swirled around and snarled at the kid with all my pent-up anger and frustration. Seeing my expression, his mother protectively wrapped her arms around him causing him to curl into her safety and to leave my chair alone. I slowly returned to face the front of the courtroom, satisfied in my prowess, and without another thought to there being a young kid in the courtroom.
Eerie sounds of chains sliding in rhythmic step along a hollow corridor caused my heart to chug and beads of sweat to drip down my brow. My hands trembled uncontrollably. As the chains quieted, the door opened revealing the monster standing in an over-sized orange jumpsuit accessorized with handcuffs and shackles. Guided by two bailiffs, Rayson Rily Keller trudged along with his scabby head held low before coming to a stop next to his attorney.
“All rise,” the command echoed through the courtroom as the judge entered. All stood, but me. No one seemed to notice.
As the judge sat, so did the rest of the courtroom. Keller slumped into the chair, leaned back and cocked his head toward the jury. They ignored him.
Enlarged paintings of various women sat on display as if a part of a private art collection rather than evidence of multiple homicides. I cringed imagining his fingers (and other unmentionable body parts) oozing through the heavy paint, intimately revealing the cryptic portrait of his next victim. One painting in particular was especially disturbing. On a red painted canvas, bright gooey swirls of green, purple, and red adulterated in an evil blend, caressing around the contours of her fragile face. Her delicate hand, paused gently along her cheek, was exacerbated with long fingernails in lurid black. Overly expressed dirty red lips, slightly apart, appeared wilted as if too frightened to let air pass.
Then the eyes… he had taken extra time to define the eyes. In these windows-to-the-soul, there were flecks of blue and green framed with grey and red streaks as if they were quivering in horror. Haunting.
This was the only painting without a black diagonal line painted across the face, the successful crossing out of a life. There were thirteen paintings in all crossed out, I was to be number 14 and this was my portrait. It was the image he carried of me throughout his day as he planned my death. This is what I looked like in his world.
I had long hair back then that I would often braid or curl around my face. I loved to wear fanciful earrings and made certain my hair was pulled back in just a way so to reveal them and set off what I was told were brilliant eyes. My long eyelashes used to brush my sunglasses leaving streaks of mascara on hot humid days. And, to catch the attention of an attractive co-ed, I would apply a fresh coat of pearly pink gloss to my full lips. I missed the fluttery feeling in my stomach when a nervous boy approached me attempting to ask for my phone number, it was a thrill I would probably never have again.
“Ma’am?” the bailiff handed me the microphone since I could not stand to reach the podium.
Victim. Merriam-Webster defines the word as: a person who has been attacked, injured, robbed, or killed by someone else. I am all of those. A noun. A person, place or thing. I was labeled as his victim in the eyes of the court. We were tied together for all eternity, just as he wanted.
Survivor: a person or thing that survives. Survives is a verb – to remain or continue in existence, conveys an action. In my eyes, I am verb not a noun. I am still here, I am the only survivor. I am here to present our “Victim Impact Statement” to make certain he gets death, a death that we deserve in exchange for all our lives. His death, bought and paid for with our own. I want his death more than anything, for killing me and leaving me to live like this forever.
I wheeled forward in my chair and cleared my throat, preparing to introduce myself to Keller and the jury for the first time. I glanced over at him. He was looking straight at me and wore pride as if I was his work of art come to life.
“I am still Felicity Whitmore,” I said firmly. “I am not your victim. You failed with me.”
I turned to the jury. “You have come to know me as #14, but I am Felicity Whitmore. On September 14, 2011 I was riding my bike to my apartment after leaving my computer class on the AUM campus. It was lunchtime and I was in a hurry to get home to eat. I stayed on the bike path, where it was supposed to be safe.”
I paused reflecting on the day. “It was a warm day. I remember thinking that the warm breeze was going to tangle my earrings with my hair and that I would have to cut them out when I got home. I used to love earrings, but I can’t wear them anymore.”
One of the women on the jury blew her nose and wiped her tears. She nodded at me to continue.
“He pulled me off my bike, threw me inside the stolen van, and raped me several times, once with a knife. I screamed and screamed,” I could barely talk and needed to catch my breath, “…but no one came. No one helped me. I don’t understand why no one came.” All the jury members were crying. The judge wiped her eyes, but Keller sat there intoxicated with my story.
“Then, he poured gasoline on me and all over the inside of the van before tossing a match on me. He left me to burn to death just as he did to Kathie Dolan, Jaimie Martien, Lindsy Cavanaugh, Kelleen Hurst, Kathy McGovern, Alexis Humbert, Samantha Artisk, Nichole Lathrop.” With each name read, I heard someone in the courtroom cry in affirmation of their loved one’s horrifying death. “Haily Guerra, Ana Lange, Angela Coope, Kimmi Woods, and Jillian Noyes who was 3 months pregnant at the time.”
“I no longer have my hair, ears, eyelashes, lips, either of my legs or most of my fingers. My skin is nothing more than a scarred shell. I spent over eight months hospitalized and endured 12 surgeries with more to come. I could not hug my family, they couldn’t even hold my hand. If it weren’t for Mr. Abdul-Muqtadir Bashour,” I stumbled over his name, “also known as ‘Mike,’ seeing the van on fire and reaching in to pull me out, I would be just another name on the list of victims, but instead I am the survivor. Mike has also suffered third degree burns, over 18% of his body. He too is a survivor. I cannot thank Mike enough for saving my life.” I heard Mike clear his throat in the back of the courtroom. Even though I didn’t see him, I knew he would be there. He was a heroic father of three and my savior. He often visited me when he came in for the treatments of the burns he received while saving me.
“On behalf of the victims and their survivors, please give death to him,” I pointed the only finger on my right hand, I will never speak his name. “Do not believe his attorney’s plea that he was a victim of his mother’s abuse. She is not the one on trial, he is, and we have already paid the price for his soul. I ask for you to hear our cries for help when no one else would.”
It was only four hours before the jury returned, “Life”.
Our lives were not worth his in the eyes of the jury. I felt less than insignificant in the world.
“Thank the Lord! We thank you for your blessing!” she praised.
I wheeled around to yell at the woman with the kid seated behind me, but the framed photo in her lap took me aback, it was Keller as boy. She leaned over in relief and hugged the kid who was quietly focused on drawing with his crayons, refusing to be disturbed.
“You’re his mother,” tears of frustration poured over my cheeks.
Still wrapped around the kid, she turned her head toward me and whispered, “Rayson is my baby boy.”
Somehow, I understood.
She went on, “And, this is Rayson, Jr.” She turned and kissed the kid on his head.
A colored paper fell from his lap. There it sat on the floor, a work of art from a child prodigy, a detailed portrait of a woman with wild colors framing her silhouette and frantic horror in her eyes…