Novel opening: An Ounce of Mercy

I like how sometimes we don’t get it right on the first draft of something we’re creating, and then we see the heart of what we meant to say is straddling the track parallel to what we actually have. It makes for an easy fix and it’s uplifting. Anyway, I’m working on the second draft of this novel. It was originally planned to be a simple ghostwriting project for my dad’s best friend, but he’s been adamant he wants to be listed as co-authors. That’s great because I think this novel is going to be very successful. I’ll just have to pay back the ghostwriting fee once it sells so we’re squared away. Simple. 

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Anyway, now that I pitched the newsletter, here is the pitch of the novel, which I’ll have tightened up around the time I finish this second draft:

In An Ounce of Mercy Charlie Sullivan is watching his wife battle cancer until he starts dreaming that she wants him to smother her with a pillow and end her misery. He can’t imagine life without her, let alone a mercy killing. Under the guise of needing something to do to keep Alzheimer’s at bay, Charlie writes about the month in their early teens when they first fell in love, and he explores the tragedies they endured that made national news.  


And here is the first chapter, when his wife is on her death bed and he’s beginning to write about the horrific things they faced when they were children. And of course it will return to them in the present at the end:



This is going to be the longest love letter you ever received from me, Kayla. I wish I would have written you more of them while I had the chance. But I was a fool then, through all those weeks of that horrific autumn when we were children, through all the years we tried to pick up the pieces following those encounters we shared.

Looking at you now, as used up as you are, and seeing how you still fight, and knowing that you do it for me more than anything, it breaks my goddamn heart. It breaks me entirely, because I want to tell you: Go on, it’s okay to leave your body here, I’ll visit it and tend your grave, and you just make sure to tell God to take good care of you because he’s got himself another angel…

But when I try to move my mouth, to make the words come out, they just won’t.

You remember the fall of 1980? How I celebrated my birthday without my mother for the first time. I had just turned thirteen, and like most children I believed I knew everything because my parents had taught me their own beliefs with such force and verisimilitude. It hurts to know that they were wrong about a lot of things, and it hurts to accept that I couldn’t help them, or save them, or simply be the binding agent that held them both to each other and to this earth.

Even now, all these years later, as I write down our story, Kayla—how we tried to save our families from falling apart, and how we tried to pick up the pieces and put them back together—I’m reminded how helpless I am.

Yet you called me your hero.

You even did it this morning when you were halfway lucid.  I hope you come through this. I hope the chemo works. I hope that you will bounce back the way you always have from everything else that would have cracked or destroyed a lesser person.

I have faith in you. You’ve proven yourself a woman of stunning faith, incredible feats, and an endless love you give not only to the world, but also to the people who populate it. It amazes me how even when you’re in incredible pain, you still believe that things will be okay.

I don’t know how you do that.

I have to hurry to get this down, Buttercup, because my memory sometimes slips and Julie tells me that this will be good for me, maybe for us.

Maybe, I can read this to you when it’s finished and you can correct all of the things I’ve gotten wrong. That gives me hope that you’ll still be here; life can’t be so cruel as to take you before our story is told.

But you know what I dreamt about last night? You told me you didn’t want to suffer anymore. And you asked me if I remembered the ending to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. You had tears in your eyes and in the blackness of your iris I could see the ending of the film, how the big Indian smothered Jack Nicholson’s character with a pillow because old Jack had been a man full of living until the end, when he was comatose and helpless in bed, so drugged up he might as well have been dead. And the big Indian smothered him with that damn pillow.

In my dream, you said, It was like an ounce of mercy.

But all I could do was shake my head, and say, I can’t.

And you whispered, You can

I can still hearing you saying it now, so loudly at times. It makes me want to hold the damn pillow over my own head. Hearing your broken voice makes it so I never want to dream again. I just want to enjoy every moment I can with you because it was a warm fall season that brought us together, and I’m afraid it’s this warm fall season that will tear us apart.

You were strong like my mother, you know. Maybe stronger. When I look at the letters she had written me before I even had the ability to read, and those you wrote as well after she was gone, it’s sometimes confusing because you two are so much alike. Despite all that happened back then, all we tried to understand, and in all the ways we failed since we had been only children, you inspired me.

You still inspire me.

I wish my mother could have known you.

She would have loved you as much as I do.

Hang in there just a little while longer.


2 thoughts on “Novel opening: An Ounce of Mercy”

    1. Thanks, Shaun. Yeah, I should have known there was more too. :) The rewrite is going smoothly. Probably be a week before I have it ready. Also have some books to mail you. Remember those 28 John D. MacDonald books I bought on eBay? There are 6 that are doubles, so I’ll be sending them your way.

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