November 12 – 18: “What is the craziest idea you considered including in a book, but later cut out?”

This week we take a long, hard look at crazy, while ITW Members gather to answer the question: “What is the craziest idea you considered including in a book, but later cut out?” Join ITW Members AJ Colucci, Aimée Thurlo, Thomas M. Malafarina, Ania Ahlborn and Barbara Graham.

Barbara Graham began making up stories in the third grade. Learning to multiply and divide paled in comparison. She is an unrepentant quilting addict in addition to a compulsive writer. She lives in Wyoming with her long suffering husband and two dogs.


Born in Ciechanów, Poland, Ania Ahlborn is also the author of the supernatural thriller SEED, and is currently working on her third novel. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of New Mexico, enjoys gourmet cooking, baking, drawing, traveling, movies, and exploring the darkest depths of the human (and sometimes inhuman) condition. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband and two dogs.

A.J. Colucci grew up in a suburb outside of New York City. She spent fifteen years as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and writer for corporate America. Today she is a full-time author and self-proclaimed science geek who lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters and a couple of cats.

Thomas M. Malafarina is a horror fiction writer from Pennsylvania. He has published four novels, “99 Souls”, “Burn Phone” “Eye Contact” and “Fallen Stones” and story collections “13 Nasty Endings”, Gallery Of Horror”, “Malafarina Maleficarum Volume One” and “Volume Two” as well as a collection of single-panel cartoons called “Yes I Smelled It Too: Cartoons For The Slightly Off-Center” through Sunbury Press of Mechanicsburg, PA. Thomas’ short stories have been featured in numerous anthologies.

Aimée and David Thurlo have been married for forty-two years. Aimee moved in next door to him and it was love at first sight. Three weeks later, they were married. David was raised on the Navajo Indian Reservation and left Shiprock to complete his education at the University of New Mexico. Aimée, born in Havana, Cuba, has lived in New Mexico for forty one years. The team’s popular Ella Clah mystery series, featuring a Navajo woman police officer, won a New Mexico Book Award. Their Lee Nez Navajo vampire novels are currently under option to Red Nation Films in Hollywood. They also write romantic suspense novels for Harlequin and have sold more than a million copies worldwide.

  1. Because I write science thrillers that require an enormous amount of research, I have to constantly cut out “gems” I’ve discovered, which might be fascinating to me, but don’t do much to move the story forward.

    One particularly zany idea came at the end of The Colony; it turns out the ants actually communicate with each other through their own language. A group of scientists and acousticians figured out their signals and devised a way to make the colony attack New York City. Sounds crazy but there is striking evidence that ants communicate through sound much more than previously believed. Some scientist think there is an actual underground internet where ants share information on food sources, enemies approaching, etc. In my story, the ants had an alphabet similar to our own but in a three dimensional language. The idea was edited out because it seemed implausible to my editor, and I think she was correct. As a writer of science thrillers I have to stick to hard proven facts. I think that’s what made Michael Crichton’s early books so appealing. His ideas were based on true scientific theories, which made readers believe these fantastic events could really happen.

    This does bring up an ever-present issue. How much advice should an author take from an editor, and should you consider taking something out when you’re not really sure it makes the story better? I find that my initial reaction to my editor’s suggested cuts is always “Is she kidding? Forget it! I love this part.” However, after a couple of days I almost always agree with her. It’s like Falkner and King said; you have to sometimes kill your darlings. By the way, The Colony comes out on Tuesday. (Yikes!) My first book launch.

    1. First, I want to squash the notion that cozies are by nature “civilized murders”. Not so, murder is murder. The genre does frown a bit on sex, lots of profanity and on the page violence, otherwise, an author can pretty much kill as many people as needed and in any number of extremely unpleasant manners. I spent quite a bit of time exploring how to kill someone with wild boars. The critters are mean and omnivores. In short, they would clean up their dinner mess leaving few clues behind. Sorting bits of the victim out of pig poop wasn’t going to fit the story but it was intriguing for a while. While I enjoy killing people (imaginary only) in unusual manners—Serpents, Artifact, Music, and now Vegetable—being ripped apart and eaten is a bit harsh, even for me.

  2. The craziest idea I considered (and actually executed only to shake my head at myself for even attempting) was the idea of making one of my main characters dead ala The Sixth Sense. It seemed like a good idea at the time, an intriguing idea, but it required a lot of tiptoeing. For one, my character couldn’t touch anything. This included opening and closing doors, lifting things like cups and forks to eat and drink; then there was the little detail of not being able to touch any other character either. Introduce a bit of romance into the equation and after a while I realized that if I knew someone like this in real life, I’d probably stop associating myself with them. It was a matter of practicality that, while it worked in a movie, didn’t quite work in a book. At least not for me.

  3. David and I work together. Sometimes we do projects that only one person wants because…well, we’re married, and that’s what you do. I wanted very badly to write about a motorcycle riding nun who solved crimes and had a ride-along dog named Pax. You see, I went to a Catholic boarding school while growing up. Half of Ursuline Academy in Arcadia, Missouri was a cloister and I wanted to write about a life I’d grown to know from living side by side with the nuns. David wanted to write about a Navajo vampire cop. We did both series for a while, then after both came to a close, our agent suggested we do a new one – a vampire nun in New Mexico. We actually considered it and even plotted it out. In the end we changed our minds – a good thing because we got to do other projects like the Copper Canyon series, we both loved from day one.

  4. One of the craziest ideas I had for a horror story eventually became reality, but as a condensed version in my short story “Retribution” from my collection “13 Nasty Endings” and “Malafarina Maleficarum Volume 1”. The original idea was to have the main character, a man who was driven mad by the savage rape and murder of his wife and family, seek his revenge on their attacker, who had been freed on a technicality, through a series of seemingly endless tortures.

    I knew from the start that this was going to be especially challenging to me because I make a habit of never doing human on human type of horror violence. This is largely because we can get our daily helping of this sort of thing on the evening news. Plus I like dealing in the realm of the impossible – it’s a much safer place.

    “Retribution” was originally going to be either a much longer story or even possibly even a novella. But once I started writing and doing some of the torture scenes, I realized there was no way I could put in every single one of the ideas I had originally planned. It would either be too much for most readers to tolerate or might even eventually travel over into the realm of campy. Sometimes violence overdone becomes so ridiculous that it somehow becomes funny in a sick and twisted way. So I decided to scrap most of it. The few scenes I did put in were graphic enough. Maybe someday I will revisit the story and add the rest, but I would like to think the world is still too civilized a place to accept such a tale.

  5. It sounds like our happy little muderous group could work together and have a vampire nun riding a wild boar release the ants and have them kill an already dead torturer. What happens in the second chapter?

  6. Thomas, you make a good point. Human on human violence is definitely a scary thing to explore, and a majority of horror writers really have pushed the envelope far past the point of terror and much closer to the edge of ridiculous. With my upcoming release, The Neighbors, I’ve been criticized for being reserved because I don’t allow the stuff to get too brutal, too nasty, too depraved. The fact that writers can catch flack for approaching their work with a sparing hand is an interesting one. It seems that the more overtly violent books there are out there, the more expected that stuff becomes. But I suppose the same could be said of movies. We’re no longer in the days of The Shining and Psycho. It’s all Saw and Hostel from here on out.

  7. Ania,
    Very true indeed. It is that same mentality that has me fast forwarding through graphic fight scenes and even sex scenes in movies because they are just plain boring. (no pun intended). I would much rather have such things toned down a bit and more emphasis put on the story.

    This is not to suggest I am above putting graphic violence and basically disgusting scenes in my books. In fact I am known for painting such descriptive horrifying violence with words. But I only use it to set a mood, to frighten or revolt the reader in order for them to believe a situation which cannot possibly exist, just might exist. When I write horror I am expecting a reader who lives in a modern logical society to let go of that convention for a short time and enter a world of unbridled terror. In order to do that I use whatever tool works best. But there are limits, and the trick is finding where those limits lie.


  8. I think (hope) there is a larger audience that can appreciate Psycho over Saw. It does seem like young people today want to see more gore for the sake of shock value, but that probably has to do with the amount of violence they are exposed to, videogames/internet etc. I like to think when they grow up, their taste in books and movies will mature. I thought Night of the Living Dead was a great movie at 16, but I wouldnt watch it today. Only time will tell how much impact our increasingly violent culture has had on our youth.

    1. I grew up in a town where they showed repeats of the old Universal Monster movies and the cheesy giant spider/ant/etc. Sci-fi movies of the 1950’s. I loved them and they terrified me. Now they would bore most kids to death.

      But I had to give them something. They had warmth similar to the sound of music played on a vinyl record. However, I no longer listen to vinyl and only watch the old movies when I feel like waxing nostalgic. (Which is not very often.)

      I began publishing my horror stories in 2010 not to recreate that era nor to copy the horror of today, but to make a new breed of horror story once which someday would become a new breed of horror movie, hopefully new, original and nothing like anything out there today. I can only dream

  9. I still think that there is little more terrifying than the “bump in the dark”. The unknown menace. The dog growling and backing away. Sure, eventually, it either turns out to be the hamster climbed out of its cage or it’s three huge men with weapons and the chase or fight begins. Violence and gore without the underlying humanity is boring.

    1. The scariest Halloween Haunt I was ever in involved me simply walking around in the dark with all sorts of sounds nearby and me just waiting for something to jump out and grab me. But it never happened. The entire thing was just darkness and sound – absolutely nothing to see yet it was amazingly terrifying. The curse of a vivid imagination.

  10. I think Thomas is right–our own imaginations supply the creepiest, scariest ideas. No matter if it is people, places, sounds or smells–whatever says “you are not safe”. The tricky bit is finding what freaks out our readers, not ourselves, and then preying on that fear. (hopefully without giving ourselves nightmares or heart attacks)
    I personally am terrified of snakes–and I put myself into the position of having to research snakes and their bites.
    What scary research did you all have to do?

  11. I’m claustrophobic so i put my protagonist in an air vent 18 inches wide and had her crawl about a mile, with killer ants on her trial. For inspiration, I was thinking about the time i had an MRI, and my heart was pounding writing the chapter.

    1. I too am claustrophobic, I also hate the dark, heights and a whole assortment of other such things. Therefore it is only natural that I often put my characters in situations, which I myself couldn’t tolerate in order to get the real feel of terror in my writing

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