I’ve been revising Third-Rate Romance the past few weeks, yanking out the weeds. Here’s an excerpt, where the hopeless heroine-writer Kelly King has gone to great lengths and adverbial phrases to pick up the pace of her Inspirational-Historical-Western. After a decidedly not cute meet-cute, her characters debate the wisdom of their story. Bold typeface is Kelly’s wobbly work, the rest is her characters’ conversation after she’s left the scene of the crime.
Taming the Texan/King
She had seen the cloud of dust long before she saw the lone stranger riding across her barren field. Clutching her faded skirts and running as fast as she could, she clambered up on the porch where the shotgun lay propped against the ripped screen door.
It could be Jack Darcy. It could be any outlaw down on his luck, looking to take advantage of a young widow in the middle of nowhere. As the man rode inexorably closer, she knew she didn’t know him. With the sun behind him, his face was masked in mystery.
He dismounted and walked lankily toward Eliza’s crooked front steps. It didn’t seem to bother him at all that she had leveled her shotgun squarely at him.
Eliza’s heart hammered in her chest. “Get off my land.”
“You won’t shoot me, darlin’,” he drawled, his deep voice penetrating her tattered senses. ”And it’s not your land. I’ve got me the papers to prove it.” He reached inside his coat for the sealed envelope from Judge Archie.
Mistaking his intention, Eliza took a hasty step backward, tangling her feet in her torn petticoats. With a terrified shriek, she overcorrected and stumbled forward over the basket of corn just waiting to be shucked. The gun discharged with an unholy roar. Tumbleweed blurred by the porch, and a blossom of blood seeped through the dusty coat of the stranger.
“I reckon I was wrong,” the man said, still standing, though unsteady. He sank into the painted blue rocker, a look of mild surprise on his deeply tanned face.
Eliza scrambled up, her russet hair a fiery corona around her pale worried visage.
“I didn’t mean to—oh, I’m sorry—who are you?”
“Lincoln Harkness, ma’am, at your service,” he said, right before he toppled onto the splintery porch floor.
Wow. That was some powerful stuff, Kelly thought. She smiled and hit Save.
“Good God Almighty! Was that really necessary?” Link wiped the sweat from his impossibly handsome face with a red bandana. Damn, it sure was hot in this godforsaken book.
“She read somewhere you’re supposed to start right off with a bang, in this case a shotgun blast. Too much exposition is a killer. Hold still. The shell bounced right off your badge, anyway. It’s hardly a scratch,” Eliza said irritably. “I’ve worked this land ever since my worthless husband died. I simply cannot believe she’s going to take it away from me. I mean, really, I went to an exclusive ladies’ seminary in Boston. I’m an educated woman. But I was tricked into coming all this way by a silver-tongued liar, and I’ll be damned if another man gets the better of me! I’ve worked my fingers to the bone!” Eliza spread her shaking hands in front of Link. He couldn’t disagree. She definitely had a point. They looked pretty bony.
“There’ve been locusts. Tornados. Off the page, but still. As it is, I’m barely surviving. I even had to give to give my dog away! He would have barked at you when you trespassed. I miss him.” A silver tear rolled down Eliza’s hollow cheek.
“What kinda dog?” asked Link, gasping as she none-too-gently slapped some foul-smelling ointment on his bare chest.
“A shepherd. A hungry shepherd. He didn’t much care for vegetables, and I couldn’t afford meat for him. When he ate the last chicken, he had to go.”
“Pity. A dog’s good company. I was fixin’ to get me one myself when I moved in.”
“You can’t move in! This is my ranch! It may not be much, but it’s all I’ve got.” She narrowed her sea-green eyes. “Don’t you have to live in town to keep the peace?”
“I think Chesterville’s a pretty quiet place. She don’t know nothin’ about sheriffin’ but what she’s seen on Gunsmoke re-runs. I ’spect I can sleep in the jail when I have an unexpected guest.” He paused, weighing his words carefully. “I do have the papers, you know. Even with that there hole in them, they’re still legal.” His black gaze never left her. She looked away and sighed.
She should have known. Her late husband had been written to be a feckless gambler. No doubt he’d lost their home before he had the kindness to go toes up in Madame Georgette’s whorehouse in Beaumont. Damn the man to Hell. She hoped he was roasting and sweating bullets. But he was a lucky devil. He didn’t have to live through the next 300-odd pages.
Link cleared his throat, his square fingers rubbing at his dark stubble. If he’d known he was going to meet the most tantalizing red-headed woman he’d ever seen, he would have seen to trimming his moustache and getting One-Eyed Willie to give him a good close shave. He might even have taken a bath. But he hadn’t had much preparation for his debut and didn’t know half as much backstory as Eliza seemed to. He leaned back in the rocker, furrowed his manly brow, and considered.
There was one way she could stay, but he didn’t want to stick around long enough for her to reload if she misunderstood his offer. He gathered up his courage. He was a hero, after all. He couldn’t let this little lady get the better of him, even if he’d only gone to school through the third grade afore he made his way in the cruel world. He may not have had much book-learnin’, but he was plenty smart and studly besides.
“Miz Eliza, there is one way you could stay.”
“Oh! Thank you, Sheriff! I knew you were a civilized man underneath all that—”
Link held up an enormous, elegantly formed hand. He bet she had big plans for that hand in future chapters. “Wait. I mean to move in. This place is mine.”
“I don’t understand.” The transparent joy evaporated, and realization dawned. She slapped his face roundly. “She’s writing our story for the inspirational niche! I won’t be your whore!”
The blast must have had a negatory effect on his reflexes. He scooched back to prevent further abuse and shook his head. Hell and eternal damnation. By the living Jesus, there’d be no fun ahead, he reckoned. Just his luck to wind up in the Wild West with all the wildness sucked right out of it. But he’d have to make the best of a bad bargain. She really hadn’t given him much choice. “No, ma’am, I don’t need a whore. I need a housekeeper.”
Eliza tucked a wavy strand behind her ear. “It wouldn’t be proper,” she said stiffly, “the two of us living out here alone together.”
“Well, then,” said Link with a trademark crooked smile, “we’ll just have to get us a dog.”
How do you slip in vital information when you write? Do you even notice infodumps when you read? Show/tell me about your Big Bang when your/your favorite characters meet!