Nothing like a deadline to concentrate the mind.

On Friday, I have to turn in a draft of The Kiss-Off. This is a big draft: it’s the copy that’ll be printed on archival paper, distributed to my advisors, and placed on a shelf in the library for all to see (not that many usually do, but hey). So, of course, about two weeks ago, I started in on the most radical set of revisions I’ve attempted in the last six months.

Yep. Born procrastinator.

I’ll skip the technical details, and share one of my favorite bits of revision. This is from the first third of the book; the main character, Dorrie, has run away from an argument with her mother and ends up in a private space by a little creek, where her intimidating lodger, Leonard, finds her:

She tipped up her face and closed her eyes to feel the sunlight play over her skin. The black ash rocked in the wind, tiny movements like an absent-minded mother forgetting that the baby’s already been set down. She smelled mud and leaves and bark.

Another frog plonked into the water. A sweetness appeared in the air. But it wasn’t until she heard the scratch of a matchstick and the hiss of flame until she realized she was not alone and opened her eyes.

The gangster drew on his cigarette until it caught, then shook the flame off the matchstick and flicked it into the water. He took a deep drag and blew the smoke over the stream, then looked down at her.

“Smoke?” he asked.

She shook her head. He wore workmen’s clothes: canvas trousers held up with brown suspenders, a blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up above the elbows. A flat cap shaded his eyes. He tucked his cigarettes into his trouser pocket and leaned back against a tree and smoked. First he watched her, then he turned his head and looked across the stream, at the cleared bank. He had broad shoulders, but a shallow chest. His arms were pale.

“What do you want?” she whispered.

At first, she thought he didn’t hear her. He kept smoking, kept staring away from her. She wondered if she should repeat the question, and was working up her courage when he took a last deep drag, then let the smoke slip from between his lips as he picked up his foot and crushed his cherry against the sole of his shoe. He tossed the butt into the stream.

“Why did you do that?” she said. He raised an eyebrow at her.

“Didn’t think you’d mind,” he said.

“I mean, making sure it was out before you threw it in the water.” Her face went hot and her tongue tangled.

“Habit,” he said. He studied her face. “Carelessness will kill you, in my business.”

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