The other day I made a galette from scratch, rolling the dough out into a square and then cutting off the corners to make a rough circle. This leaves little triangular scraps of unused dough. My husband’s mother used these little scraps to make tiny turnovers full of cinnamon, sugar and raisins. So he did, too. I understand. It’s hard to waste good stuff.
The more I write, the more I learn that the difference between okay fiction and great fiction is editing. Mostly, in my case, cutting. Cutting, and cutting, and then cutting some more. Not necessarily because what you wrote was bad, but because it just doesn’t fit.
This is where the scraps file comes in. There is a scraps file for almost everything thing I’ve written. It’s where I put the things that have to be cut, so that I know they are never lost. They had to be written and they had to be cut, but it’s too painful to think they might not exist anymore. They’ll never make it back into the finished works, so here’s my attempt to make something yummy out of the stuff that’s left behind.
Scraps from my novel, The Carthage Speakers Bureau
“Yah, yah,” he said. Carl Dan was always sprinkling tidbits of different languages and idioms of speech that couldn’t really be considered language at all into his speech. Sometimes Norwegian idioms picked up in Minnesota and sometimes Mandarin curse words from Singapore mixed with a deep South expression picked up in Alabama. Growing up listening to him had been Kim’s daily geography lesson. Part of her still mourned the life she might have had with her dad if he hadn’t met her mother and settled down in Carthage. But she knew he didn’t feel any regret at all. Sometimes after a few micro-brews, her dad would declare Carthage “God’s own country,” and Kim would groan.
No one in North Carthage or Carthage much wanted to taste food at a Chinese restaurant that didn’t taste exactly the way Chinese food tasted at every other restaurant they had been to. Her dad had read up a bit on the history of Chinese restaurants enough to know that this had always been a key to the success of Chinese restaurants. Relative uniformity. Like they were the first McDonald’s.
Kim said it looked almost exactly like the stone archways the Roman’s used to build. She had a lot of theories about what this meant. Theory one: that the level of technological sophistication in rural Indiana at the time the bridge was built had only just caught up to that of the Roman Empire. Theory two: that the Indiana engineers had been imitating the Roman’s. Theory three: that when you build an archway out of stone, that particular design is just the one that makes the most sense. Regardless of the particular reason, the end effect was that when you stood in the middle of Elm St. on the Carthage side and looked through the archway of the railroad bridge, it was as if you were looking into a magic portal into another world. Those were the exact words, in fact, Riley had used to describe the railroad bridge to Kim once.
“A magic portal,” he’d said to Kim when they were about ten years old.
“You actually just said, ‘magic portal’,” Kim had guffawed, and after that, Riley had kept his reflections on the railroad bridge to himself.
Scraps from a short story, The Face of Major League Baseball
I thought all girls who were older than me were pretty. Something seemed to happen to them when they got older and they became beautiful. I was very nervous about whether this would happen to me, too, or whether some kind of special knowledge was required. If there was special knowledge involved, I would have to rely on my mom or Deven or Aunt Bea, so I was really hoping that it would just come.
I like saying Deven’s name. It sounds, like Tony said, rich and creamy. Even though it annoys her a lot, I say Deven’s name out loud as often as I can.
“Face of Major League Baseball?” Aunt Bea said. “What does that mean? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Did he win the batting title? A golden glove? The triple crown? Who gives a shit about his face? What, is baseball a beauty contest now? Let’s just hope he doesn’t get depressed again and ruin our season. On the DL for anxiety! What they’ve done to baseball.” Aunt Bea took another long drag on her cigarette and blew it out her front window that was always cracked open. This was the only concession Aunt Bea made to my mom’s yelling at her about smoking around me. She blew the smoke out the window, which didn’t mean her whole house didn’t still smell like smoke, even the houseplants and her cat. Pebbles always smelled like cigarette smoke, even her breath, which made you wonder if Pebbles was smoking, too, when I wasn’t there.
“What’s the world coming to.” Aunt Bea said, which was her favorite thing to say. It wasn’t a question. I know because I’d tried to answer a few times and Aunt Bea had told me not to be such a smart-aleck.
“He did win National League MVP in 2010, Aunt Bea. And the National League Hank Aaron award.”
“What the hell is that? What’s the Hank Aaron award? I’ve never even heard of that, and I’ve been watching baseball since I was three years old.”
When my mom first started leaving me with Aunt Bea, I would cry and cry. I was seven years old then, and as both mom and Aunt Bea would point out, a little too old for crying. But I’d never heard anyone talk the way Aunt Bea did. She seemed angry all the time. Everything I said made her angry. Everything I said was wrong and that was what I told Mom.
“No, no, no, Jean,” Mom said, leaning over to dump more cat food in the bowl on the kitchen floor, the cats all swarming around her and rubbing against her black work pants that were always covered in hair. “Don’t listen to Toots. Look at her. Look. Don’t listen.”
My mom is always saying things like this that sound really crazy. Sometimes they turn out not to be as crazy as they sound. Sometimes they just stay crazy. She was right about Aunt Bea, though.
The next time I was there, I launched right in. “They’re saying Barry Bonds will get into the Hall first round, Toots,” I said, plopping myself down on Aunt Bea’s uncomfortable living room couch. ‘Toots’ is what all the adults in my family call Aunt Bea. But as they are always pointing out to me, I am not an adult. So I am not allowed to call her Toots. Not even when it’s just me and Mom and no one else around. Personally, I don’t think they will ever let me call her Toots, even though being able to say that all the time would be even more fun than saying Deven.
“What the hell kind of bullshit is that?” Aunt Bea said. “That arrogant, uppity bastard will never get in the Hall of Fame.” Aunt Bea really hates Barry Bonds. Tony said it’s because he’s black, though that doesn’t make sense to me, because she loves Ken Griffey, Sr and Ken Griffey, Jr. She loves all Griffey’s. But there’s really nothing that makes Aunt Bea angrier than just the mention of Barry Bonds, so I leaned forward on her couch and did like Mom had said. I watched instead of listened.
Aunt Bea went on yelling about Barry Bonds. She was loud and she cursed, but watching instead of listening, I saw that she was very still. She stared out the window. She tapped her cigarette gently against the sill and watched the ash fall. She reached her other hand down to give Pebbles’ tail a gentle pull as he walked by and all the while she went on cursing Barry Bonds and baseball. “It’s all Bud Selig and the goddam Yankees’ fault,” she said, and looked over at me and smiled. Then she took another long drag on her cigarette and blew the smoke out the window. “What’s the world coming to.”
After that, I stopped crying when I had to stay at Aunt Bea’s. And when I stopped crying, she let me look inside Tony’s old room, that was stacked full of baseball cards.
“Baseball,” Tony had explained to me when I was just a little kid, “is a sport–nay, an art form. It takes patience and intelligence to fully appreciate, Harlow, and these are qualities that are sorely lacking in today’s world. This explains the popularity of football as well as the election of certain political candidates.”
Scraps from a short story, Light
Not the house Gerry had lived in with her ex. Not ex-husband. Just ex. She’d called him “the ex” and he had assumed, of course, that meant “ex-husband.” What else could it mean? It was only after they’d moved in together that he discovered she’d never been married to the father of her children. It was not something he had expected, but in retrospect, it made Gerry seem bohemian in a sexy kind of way. Mary would never have had children out of wedlock.