You know how I’m always blogging about the perilous allure of original ideas? Those little bastard darlings that seem so promising…so perfect at first glance, but which inevitably end up stalling and dying in mid-thought at some point down the road? We abandon them not because we want to, but because, for whatever reason–at that point in our lives, we must.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to ideas I’ve abandoned. I’m sure every writer out there has heard stories about Stephen King and his abandonment of the manuscript for Christine. How, if it weren’t for his wife, that MS would’ve been lost at the bottom of a refuse pile forever.
Or how many of you have seen a NYT bestselling author suddenly publish their first and second (previously failed) manuscripts, after coming out with the big ticket series? It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Whether or not there might be gold in them thar hills. So, like a gawker at a literary Antiques Roadshow, you’ll run back to your writing space and anxiously dig through your archives of abandoned plots and character profiles in search of something redeemable. Something precious.
If enough time has passed, you might start to feel a bit of hope blooming. Maybe you’ll start to see that old story in a new light, and tackle it with a new vigor. Or, you could come up with something that makes you laugh so hard that you have to sit down. And you’ll say to yourself, “at least my latest MS isn’t as cheesy as this!”
Here’s an example of just such a find. (Taken from an unfinished NaNoWriMo project a while back.) I hope you enjoy reading/laughing at this as much as I did.
Excerpt from My Abandoned Manuscript: “Red Headed Stranger”
Central Point, Oregon – 1988
Oregon State Police Sergeant Bill Rogan was midway through a re-nuked Senor Sam’s burrito when the call came in.
It was 2:00am, and he was nearing the end of an eighteen hour shift. But he took the call, because there were whispers of budget cuts coming around next month, and he was too damn old to worry about his fat ass being on the chopping block. After hoisting himself into his cruiser, he jumped on the 99 Northbound toward Blackwell Road. The call was for a noise violation, nothing too difficult. Probably a bunch of kids, getting drunk in someone’s pasture. It was prom night, in a small town. That kind of crap happened often.
About two miles out, dispatch modified the code. What had started out as a 221 was now a 164. Trespassing on state property. The location was the Upper Table Rock lot.
So the kids were partying on state land. Rogan licked his lips. Maybe this wouldn’t be such an easy call after all. State land meant all kinds of paperwork, and the Table Rocks were protected by all kinds of codes. Wildlife and such.
In the darkness, the farmlands he passed looked straight out of a painting. Quiet, natural, just the way Rogan liked it. On a whim, he rolled down the window of his cruiser and just let the nature-scented air blow across his face like a gentle wakeup call. Ever since transferring from Vegas PD last year, life had been different. Simple, almost boring. But he didn’t miss the cigarette butt paved streets or the constant wailing of sirens and god only knew what else. And he definitely didn’t miss the bodies.
When he pulled onto the tiny dirt road that led to the Upper Table Rock trail, Rogan immediately saw the problem. There was a string of taillights twenty yards long, at least a dozen vehicles. All probably filled with horny teenagers getting their jollies off before their parents realized they were late for curfew. Or maybe he was wrong. Maybe these were the kids whose parents didn’t give enough of a damn to set a curfew. All it meant to him was that they had too much freedom and not enough fear. Fear of God, that’s what today’s kids were missing.
Without further ado, Rogan flipped on the overhead lights. No siren, just the lights. He didn’t need more than that, since the lot was pitch black a second before. Rogan got a good laugh as engines revved, tires squealed, and cars scattered. Except for one.
When the rest of the cars had cleared, Rogan pulled up alongside the banged up Marquis. It was a great big boat of a car, ugly and brown and built during an era when cars were meant to take a beating. The engine wasn’t running, but the tail lights were on. From where he sat, Rogan couldn’t see any passengers in the car. Maybe the kids had headed up the trail for some camouflaged nookie. If they were still calling it nookie; Rogan was too old to care.
Sighing loudly, Rogan parked the cruiser and grabbed his flashlight. The overhead lights were still on, painting waves of red and blue light across the otherwise still landscape. Off in the distance, there were specks that could be cows or pigs or goats. But here, in the gravel parking lot of the Rock, there was only him and the abandoned car.
When Rogan tromped across the gravel to check it out, his boots made a loud crunching noise. But when he got closer, the sound was softer, muted. There must be a drain nearby, he thought. That’s good, I won’t get dust all over my boots. Table Rock park was notorious for its bright orange dust. It clung to a person, stayed with them long after they’d knocked most of it off.
The keys were still in the ignition. Rogan shone his flashlight around the driver’s seat. Nothing. The interior was dark, but he could see the cracks in the not leather seats. The car was a piece of crap.
Smiling with the memories of his own first ride, Rogan redirected the beam of light into the back.
The first thing he saw was the dress. It was fluffy like a tutu and bright green, almost neon. A person would go half-blind staring at that dress for more than a couple seconds. Then he noticed the feet. They were crossed together at the ankles, like the girl wearing the green dress was just patiently waiting to get arrested for trespassing.
“Miss?” Rogan tapped the window with the end of his flashlight. “Miss, it’s time to head on home. You been doing any drinking tonight?”
The girl didn’t move.
“Miss,” he repeated. Nothing. Rogan wasn’t in the mood to beat around the bush. He reached for the handle and gave the door a good hard yank. It swung open, and the smell hit him in the face like a bucket full of pennies.
Rogan was no stranger to that smell, no matter how much he wished he was.
The girl in the green dress had the prettiest red hair Rogan had ever seen. She was laid out on the seat, hands folded neatly in her lap. Her eyes were closed. If it weren’t for the gaping hole in her throat, she could’ve been sleeping.
On the floorboard, under the tufts of dress, Rogan could make out a man’s hand, and part of an arm. It was covered in blood. That was all the evidence he needed to get his back up.
Drawing his sidearm, Rogan took a step back and aimed into the car. “Come out, with your hands up.”
But the hand didn’t even twitch. After a few seconds, Rogan holstered his weapon and pulled out his nightstick. He gently used it to push away the fluffy material, to expose the second victim’s face. The young man could’ve been anyone. He was just that average looking. His eyes were brown, and no one had bothered to close them.
At that point, Rogan decided he’d seen enough. He turned toward the cruiser, intending to call in what was probably the first double homicide this town had ever seen. The ground beneath his feet was soaked with blood, he realized. It had leaked out from under the door, and that was what made the dust settle. It was such a small thing in the grand scheme, but that was the detail he’d never forget.
There was rustling in the bushes a few yards away. Again, Rogan drew his weapon, even though it was probably just a cow or a squirrel. Instead, a lone human figure broke out of the brush.
Crazed eyes, matted brown hair, and a muddy sweatshirt turned a scared-looking kid into the stuff of nightmares. Rogan called out for the kid to stop, but he just kept walking toward the cruiser.
Slowly, like an obedient dog, he approached Rogan and knelt on the ground. He even put his hands behind his head. The mud on his sweatshirt was reddish, the same color as the ground.
“It smells like copper kettles,” he said. “She had hair like copper kettles. I killed her. I did it.”
[End of excerpt]
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