At the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, students can attend a public lecture called The Elevenses, each day at 11. I filed notes today from the 2003 lineup of the Elevenses. The first talk in the first week of July was “Move Along Folks, Nothing to See Here. The Fiction Writer as Darling Killer.”
The advice comes from Marcos McPeek Villatoro, who cut a wide swath with his white Panama hat and panache throughout the week I was there. He’s transparent about his personal life, too, as evidenced by his compelling radio essays on NPR. Villatoro is a novelist who advised us all to find those things we love the most about our writing, our darlings, and do them in.
He admits it’s not novel advice. “Flannery O’Connor said it long ago: Kill your darlings.” He goes on to describe the homicide that he believes improves the caliber of his work in the humanities:
Believe me, friends, I have taken whole chunks of my writings out back and after careful consideration, rumination, discussion with myself and others, I’ve taken a blade across those little darlings’ necks and oh, how the blood flows! Chop chop. Here’s one tale: the agent told me, “Wonderful book, I love it, you’re brilliant… and you’ve got to cut 50-100 pages.” So. Out to the woodshed, where I macheted 82 pages from the manuscript. That’s the book that will be out this fall.”
Murder must have been on Marcos’ mind at the time. The book was Minos, about “Nashville cop Romilia Chacon, who has been searching for six years for “the Whisperer,” the serial killer who murdered her older sister, Catalina,” according to Publisher’s Weekly, which added in a starred review, “Scintillating, densely plotted.”
Murder can make for good reading, and good writing. Have a look at what survived the axe in this excerpt (about halfway down the page) up on Amazon.