I know a writer will survive on the island when she is as resilient as Laura Boggess. Laura agreed to let me share a behind-the-scenes editorial moment with you. And she suggested I even name her by name, which I love. It will make the conversation more lively and possible, to my mind. Thank you, Laura.
We’d been chatting about Beginnings and I said I am going to do an off-shoot column based on A Book of Beginnings. The column, perhaps not surprisingly, will feature beginnings. She was game for my idea and offered an old beginning she found in her files. This is what happened next…
I read the beginning and heard something strong in it.
That is how I chose to do what I ultimately did. I listened for the absolute heartbeat of the piece, found it, and brought it forward. And, well, got rid of the rest.
Here is the original beginning:
As a boy, his mother taught him how to pinch off the bottom of the funnel-like flower, pull the stylis through, ever so gently, gently—so as not to break the fragile filament—and with it, that dewy drop of sweetness.
He once read that olfactory memories are the most enduring. Smells linger on inside our brains long after their bodies have gone. Aromas stirred by a breeze as gentle as a breath can awaken memories long forgotten in the attic of a mind. Old-timers awaken in the middle of the night to the acrid smell of war that took the lives of their dearest friends. Aging mothers need only catch a waft of soured milk and their shriveled bodies respond with a longing for the nursing infant of their youth. Even the hardest of hearts, it is said, will be softened when the dormant scent of first love is stirred once again.
He knew this to be true, and this is why he smiled when the light scent of honeysuckle whispered on the edge of his consciousness.
Such effort expended for so small a prize. But then, some things are worth the labor.
Here is the Edited Version Which Laura Survived
This is why he smiled when the scent of honeysuckle whispered. He remembered.
You May Notice
The new beginning is—um—shorter. It might even be the whole first chapter, if she was brave about white space.
If Laura were to revise from where I ended up starting her, she could recapture certain aspects of the original beginning by working into a single outstanding memory. Maybe it would be the flower. Maybe not. It might benefit from being a specific incident with the flower. Maybe not. In any case, my suggestion would be that she not repeat most of what was deleted but that she open out the essential heartbeat in her signature style, accumulating lyricism around a spiraling memory.
That’s my editorial opinion. You are welcome to edit me.
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