Monday, June 25, 2012

Author Rosemary Harris: Kill Your Darlings

I’m delighted to welcome author Rosemary Harris back to Thoughts in Progress. SLUGFEST, the latest installment in her Dirty Business Mystery series, is now available in paperback.

Rosemary joins us to talk about having to cut away parts of one’s story in ‘Kill Your Darlings.’

We've all heard that expression a thousand times. Don't fall in love with your own words to the point where you have a hard time cutting, if cut you must. It isn't ordinarily an issue for me since I tend to write light (short) and add layers with each successive draft.

But the term took on a new meaning for me as I started writing SLUGFEST, the fourth title in my Dirty Business mystery series. Set at the Philadelphia Flower Show I had unknowingly been doing research for the previous ten years, long before I had any notion of writing a book. I'd been a volunteer there for years and had lived in Philly for a while. 

Slugfest pbThe book was supposed to have been the second title in the series but a chance meeting at Malice Domestic with legendary editor Ruth Cavin changed my mind. She was not my editor but it would have been foolish of me to ignore the free advice of one of the most esteemed editors in the business. She told me not to take my heroine on the road in the second book. I considered it for about thirty seconds and decided she was right. I pushed the book to the back burner.

After the third book I decided it was safe for Paula Holliday to leave the confines of the fictional town I'd created for her. And I was hoping to have her rub shoulders with a better class of bad guy.

I unearthed my research, started to work on my outline and very soon I hit another snag. Every mystery I'd written had victims. And killers. And jerks and the occasional dopey crook. If I set the book at the Philadelphia Flower Show, wouldn't I run the risk of offending some people I liked? What if I killed off someone who was - unbeknownst to me - beloved at the show? (I did come up with two characters who were remarkably like two of the real life participants at the show.) But I loved the story. I didn't want to shelve it. 

So I shelved the research. Gone were all the wonderful Philly details. No cheese steaks, no Theatre of Living Arts, no South Street. No chocolate factory at the Rittenhouse hotel, no chase scene around the Liberty Bell. And worst of all, no coattail marketing to coincide with the show. I killed my darlings. A lot of them. (Dare I say I weeded them out?) And in their place sprouted The Big Apple Flower Show set in hard-to-offend-anyone New York where Paula could find any number of lowlifes and perpetrators.

Rosemary, thanks for returning to Thoughts and sharing your take on killing your darlings. I’m sure all your research won’t be a waste. You’ll find a perfect story for it that will work well without offending anyone while delighting readers.

Now a bit of background on Rosemary. She was born in Brooklyn, New York and now lives in Fairfield County, CT. Her first book PUSHING UP DAISIES was nominated for both the Anthony and the Agatha for Best First Novel. Her latest book SLUGFEST (now in paperback on Amazon ) is set at a legendary flower show where more than just the plants are dying.

She is past president of MWA's NY Chapter and SINC's New England Chapter. In her spare time she volunteers at Habitat for Humanity and with her husband and the help of many generous friends she has helped to build a library in central Tanzania. 

Rosemary blogs at with Hallie Ephron, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Rhys Bowen, Jan Brogan, Lucy Burdette, Deborah Crombie and Julia Spencer Fleming. Visit her at and Facebook at

Here the book trailer for the first book in Rosemary’s series, PUSHING UP DAISIES, for your enjoyment.

If you’re a writer, is it hard for you to cut words from your story? What about just writing letters or in a journal, is it hard to trim down what you’ve written? Thanks so much for stopping by today. Have a wonderful Monday.


  1. Rosemary, thanks again for guest blogging. It's always fun learning more about how an author develops a story, even if they have to kill a few darlings along the way. Wishing you continued success.

  2. Mason - Thanks very much for hosting Rosemary.

    Rosemary - Thanks for the very interesting perspective on developing your series. It's interesting that you were advised not to take your protagonist "on the road" right away; I was faced with the same choice with my own series and ended up taking the same decision. Good to know there's some solid reasoning behind it :-).

  3. Hi Margot,
    In retropsect it was the right thing to do for the series my publisher thought I was writing. None other than Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen (who is something of a satisfied customer) has told me that it's almost as if I've written four standalones. I took that as a compliment but it can be that readers prefer the familiarity of the (mostly)same cast of characters and setting not just the same protagonist. Time will tell!

  4. Rosemary - Thanks for the behind the scenes peek into tehe writing of Slugfest. Good thing New Yorkers are so delightfully thick-skinned.

  5. Hi LD,
    You're welcome. Another thing Ruth told me..the original title was Pest Management but Management was too long a word for the jacket!

  6. Sometimes it's extremely difficult to cut words. Every single one is a darling. The funny thing is, once they're gone, I don't miss them. I'm writing my first series, so I'm happy to hear that my protagonist needs to say put for at least one more book. Nice to meet you.

    Hi, Mason!

  7. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.


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