With a novel on the horizon, Laura van den Berg was an obvious choice for an installment of Resurrect Your Darlings, our feature that lets writers revive old drafts, alternate endings or deleted sections of their work that they just don’t want to let go of. Today, van den Berg offers up a sneak peek of what you won’t be seeing in Find Me, out February 17!
For a long time, Find Me had a number of subplots, the most enduring of which involved a drug-dealing Televangelist (and an accordion filled with diamonds and a detective on his trail) who intersects with the novel’s narrator, a young woman named Joy. While most of the other subplots peeled away from the book in time, the Televangelist stuck around—it wasn’t until I was working on my final edits, months after the book was sold, that I finally let him go.
The Televangelist was a thread of backstory, written with the hope that it would illuminate Joy’s interior life and the psychic state she was staggering out of at the start of the present story. Also, I’d recently read a couple of novels where past and present threads artfully gained momentum alongside each other and was interested in trying out that type of structure. There used to be nearly a hundred Televangelist pages, which I will most certainly not subject you to, but here are two paragraphs:
The Televangelist worked out of an old warehouse in Inman Square, long ago converted into offices. The studio was on the ground floor. He employed a cameraman who had been fired from a local news station after a string of DUI arrests. His hands shook and he was always breaking equipment. When I pointed this out to the Televangelist, he said Psalm instructed us to deliver the weak from the sinful hand and he intended to abide by the word of the Lord.
His Saturday morning program was called “The Fury of God.” From the cheap studio stage, he talked about Christ’s imminent return and how the Holy Spirit was going to send us all straight to the black lakes of hell. Whenever I watched him perform, loneliness flared inside me like a lit match.
The basic problem with the Televangelist sections was that they did not, in the end, have very much to say about Joy—apart from demonstrating that she was not always possessed of the greatest judgment and was very lonely, facts that were apparent to most readers pretty much right away. There was a lot of “action” and “plot” associated with the Televangelist, but ultimately those sections lacked conviction (ha) and all that event obscured Joy’s interior life as opposed to illuminating those corners in the way I’d hoped.
Axing the Televangelist still proved difficult, for two reasons: A. Who doesn’t like writing about Televangelists? Even the word is fun to say! I liked the idea, in short and B. I was hung up on what would occupy the space the Televangelist left behind. Where in the world would I find a replacement subplot? But when I finally worked up the nerve to cut the Televangelist, a funny thing happened: I realized that, in fact, no replacement subplot was needed. New threads of Joy’s history came onto the page, threads that would turn out to be vitally important, but they were more impressionistic in nature, privileging interior movement over exterior event. I could feel my draft getting tighter. I could feel Joy and her world coming into sharper focus. I could feel the white space speaking to me and I tried to listen to those gaps instead of being so anxious to pave them over.
I can still remember the rush of relief I felt when I went through my draft and deleted all the Televangelist sections. I did not save those parts; I just let them go. It was like jumping into a pool of cold water: a little bracing and then energizing. I hope never again to cling so hard to a part of a project that I know, deep down, doesn’t belong. These days, when I look at the finished book, it’s hard for me to believe that the Televangelist ever existed at all.