Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Art of Resurrection

by Elle Cosimano

It wasn’t a body I’d dumped. Not really. 

More like a slippery mass of heart and guts that I delivered in the form of an 85,000-word manuscript with a query letter.

“You write passionately, with a lot of heart,” my soon-to-be agent said right before she signed me as her client. “You’ve got the makings of a great hook and a hot romance here. But the plot is weak, and the mystery isn’t really a mystery at all.”

She was right.

So with rigid determination, I set out to give it structure. I tinkered with the story until the skeleton of a strong plot took shape, then preserved and tucked the fragile heart of my book safely under its ribs.

“Now you’ve got the heart, and you’ve got the plot, but you’re writing a thriller. And it isn’t scary enough,” she said. Then she added in a stern, mothering tone. “Elle, someone has to die.”

And again (and as always) she was right.

So I toughened up. Pushed my way past all the inner and outer voices that held the reins on my story. I let go of my fears of what people would think… would it be too dark? Would it be too scary? I let go and I ran toward the darkness instead of skirting the edge of it like a coward. 

And when I returned from that journey, the thin, fragile body I’d left lying on my agent’s desk had muscle! It had legs to stand on! It had filled out into some living, breathing thing. It was terrifying, and I loved it!

All it needed was a bit of fleshing out. A little character arc-rounding here. A little backstory-filling there. A little shaping and definition, and… viola! 

I’d finally dumped a body -- a real mystery – into my agent’s trusting hands.

And what I learned from the process was this.

The best stories – the ones with the power to move us -- aren’t left in a basket on our front porch, a cooing, babbling bundle of joy. They’re constructed from messy parts, bits and pieces collected from roadsides and dark alleys and gutters, reassembled in some Frankensteinian laboratory of the mind. They’re re-constructed, over and over again. They have stitches and scars. We bleed for them.

Your story may feel broken. It may feel, at times, like it can never be fixed.  But if the guts are there, the rest can be built (and re-built) around them as long as the laboratory is open.

Elle Cosimano is the daughter of a prison warden and an elementary school teacher who rode a Harley. She majored in Psychology at St. Mary's College of Maryland and set set aside a successful real-estate career to pursue writing. She lives with her husband and two young sons, and divides her time between her home near Washington, DC and a jungle tree house in the Mayan Riviera.

Nearly Boswell knows how to keep secrets. Living in a DC trailer park, she knows better than to share anything that would make her a target with her classmates. Like her mother's job as an exotic dancer, her obsession with the personal ads, and especially the emotions she can taste when she brushes against someone's skin. But when a serial killer goes on a killing spree and starts attacking students, leaving cryptic ads in the newspaper that only Nearly can decipher, she confides in the one person she shouldn't trust: the new guy at school--a reformed bad boy working undercover for the police, doing surveillance. . . on her. Nearly might be the one person who can put all the clues together, and if she doesn't figure it all out soon--she'll be next.

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