The truest thing I ever heard about writing is how hard it is to self-edit. Not just from a copy-editing perspective, but from a content perspective. Everything you write or think about your characters feels important and essential, and cutting part of it out is so difficult. But once in awhile, even when you like what you’ve written and how you expressed it, you have to acknowledge that it does little or nothing to move your story along, or develop your characters.
In ‘Mother’ I wanted to show Keisha’s journey toward readiness for motherhood, and once of the ways to do that was to show where she was coming from, which included her days when she was ‘That Girl’–promiscuous, self-serving, and immature. So I wrote this scene. It didn’t make it into the book because while I was content-editing, I couldn’t recall why the scene was important to include. I heard the voice of my college writing teacher in my head. Once when he urged me to edit a scene out of a short story, I balked and asked why.
He said, “Because it doesn’t mean anything.”
But I liked that scene and thought I’d written it really well. He didn’t disagree but still thought I should exclude it.
“Does every scene have to mean something?” I challenged.
And I recall that he thought for a moment while looking up at the ceiling. “Yeah,” he said finally, as though breaking bad news. “It kinda does.”
And that’s always stuck with me since. Whenever I edit for content, I ask myself, “does this scene mean anything?”
So this very short scene wound up on the cutting room floor because I couldn’t recall what it was meant to show. Now, much later, I think I remember. Part of what I wanted to show with Keisha’s character was that she tended to think of her days when she was promiscuous as her being in control of her destiny and using men. But in fact, she was never in control and the men were using her. This scene was one where I wanted to show just how powerless she was, and how she often wasn’t in control of her circumstances, and how terribly it could have gone wrong for her.
Outtake from ‘Mother’:
Keisha didn’t really like hanging out with rappers all that much.
Unless her cousin Mike was there, it was too easy to lose control of the situation, especially if there was drinking involved. A couple times, she’d found herself alone in a room with three or four dudes, low men on the totem pole, hangers-on—most of them not even in the music business, but friends of people who were. They were, like her, hitching a ride to something bigger and better. And most of them saw girls like her as one of the perks of hitching that ride, and thought nothing of grabbing her ass and trying to pull her into corners to get her to suck them off or something.
Only when Mike was around did they treat her like a human being. But one time, Mike wasn’t around and there were drinks on the table—rum and tequila, beer, champagne. There had been a show in a nightclub and Keisha had gone along as part of Mike’s entourage; these guys were strangers to her, friends of the guy who made up the other half of Mike’s rap duo, Darrell. For a while, Keisha was part of the crowd, partaking of the drinking, getting a nice little buzz of her own, shooting the breeze with Darrell’s friends, not even noticing at first that neither Mike nor Darrell were in sight. Then her head started to get fuzzy and the guy next to her reached out and rubbed against her breast. No conversation, nothing. Just reached out and touched her as casually as brushing up against a piece of furniture, except this touch was definitely intentional.
One of the other dudes laughed and said something about his boy not having any game, then he reached out and touched Keisha’s breast too. And suddenly, she became aware of where she was, and who she was with. Four men, two of them on the burly side, all of them drunk, herself included. Their voices were getting louder the more they drank, their laughter bordering on uncontrolled.
And they were starting to gain awareness of her as the only female in the room. Granted, it was a very nice room in the Grand Hyatt, paid for by the label that Mike said was courting him and Darrell. But it was a hotel room nonetheless, and she was defenseless and alone with a bunch of drunk men she didn’t know, and there was a very large, unused bed nearby.
Excusing herself to go find her cousin, Keisha casually stood, when the first guy, the one who touched her breast, stood with her. When he did, he towered over her, his chest almost in her face. For one panicked moment, Keisha thought he was going to block her from leaving the room.
“Sorry,” he said, just as she was preparing to try to shove him aside. “I need to go take a piss.”
Then he stumbled by her, heading for the bathroom.
Taking that opportunity, Keisha headed for the door.
“Where you goin’ shorty?” one of the other guys called. “We ain’t even started to get it poppin’ yet.”
“I can’t hang wit’ y’all,” Keisha said, trying to sound casual as she opened the door out into the hallway. “I need to get me some sleep.”
On the other side, she took a deep breath and leaned against it. She didn’t know where her cousin was, but she needed to find him, or take her butt back on the train and to her father’s house in Brooklyn. Just as she’d begun walking down toward the elevators, Mike came into view. He was with Darrell and they were talking excitedly to the man walking between them.
Keisha missed a step, stunned for a moment.
It was him. It was Chris Scaife.
Read the entire book on Kindle.