Sometimes the sub-plot causes more trouble than the main plot.
As most of my fans know, the seven Lena Jones mysteries were all based on real cases, and the eighth, DESERT RAGE – due out mid-October – is no exception. While the book’s main plot concerns IVF, (in vitro fertilization, a specific version of “test tube babies”), the subplot delves into Arizona’s troublesome death penalty.
The only state in the U.S. that executes more convicts than Arizona is Texas, which makes Arizona the second-ranked legal killer in the U.S. Startling, yes, but you’ll notice that I described our death penalty as “troublesome,” which seems a rather insufficient word considering the fact that we legally kill people in this state. Yet “troublesome” is the correct word when writing a novel. Because, as I found out in my research, it’s really, really hard to kill someone. Legally, that is.
Back in what people like to call The Good Old Days, Arizona hanged its Death Row inmates. The method worked perfectly until 1930, when convicted killer Eva Dugan was accidentally decapitated during her hanging. The hangman had miscalculated Eva’s weight and the height of the “drop,” so when he hit the lever to lower the trap door, Eva’s body dropped — but not her head.
In 1934, when Arizona recovered from its collective shock and started executing people again, it joined the ranks of states using the gas chamber, although some critics of the new method grumbled that cyanide pellets were too merciful for convicted murderers. Proponents of the death penalty grumbled even louder in 1992 when — after a brief flirtation with the electric chair — Arizona decided to implement lethal injection. No decapitations, no gasping, no frying inmates, just a quick and merciful drift into eternal sleep.
That was the theory, anyway.
Theories don’t always work out. Since 2010 the lethal drugs used in Arizona executions included midazolam, hydromorphone, thiopental, propofol (remember Michael Jackson?), and pentobarbital. Any combination of those drugs, when handled correctly, should have been strong enough to kill an elephant. But a snag developed when drug manufacturers, one by one, began refusing to sell their drugs to the state if they were going to be used for executions. So Arizona began hopscotching from drug to drug. Each time the drugs had to be switched, I had to rewrite the execution scene in DESERT RAGE. In all, there were four rewrites. For a one-page sub-plot scene.
Then, in June of this year, came the botched execution of convicted murderer Joseph Rudolph Wood. It took almost two hours for Wood to die, and horrified witnesses said he appeared to have suffered considerable pain.
By then, my book was at the publisher’s, so I called it back. But the long, troublesome task of rewrite after rewrite had finally taught me something. Instead of naming the new compound used by the state, I rewrote the execution scene a fifth time, dropping any mention of a specific drug.
Comparatively, DESERT RAGE’s main plot — in vitro fertilization — was relatively easy to write. After a donated egg and donated sperm got cozy with each other in a Petrie dish, the then-fertilized egg was implanted into the uterus of a soon-to-be birth mother. Nine months later, a beautiful baby girl named Alison was born.
In DESERT RAGE, the beginning of life turned out to be much easier to write about than the end of life.
Betty Webb, Author of DESERT RAGE and other Lena Jones mysteries
Visit Betty's website at: www.bettywebb-mystery.com