On this blog

Thursday, August 11, 2011

...To Be Continued...

This world is not conclusion;
A sequel stands beyond,
Invisible, as music,
But positive, as sound.
(Emily Dickinson)

People are naturally curious.  They like to 'fill in the blanks'.  When I was growing up, I'd see someone and figure out what went before I saw him and then project what would happen to him afterward. I still do it.  In cases of extreme annoyance, I sometimes write a mental scene in which the person in question has an unpleasant experience - usually involving a blueberry cream pie in the face.  (Blueberry stains and custard is gooey.)

How many times have you read a book and wondered what happened to the characters afterward?  Jane Austen addressed this curiosity about her characters' lives, I understand, after Emma was published.  She stated that Mr. Woodhouse lived a time after Emma and her Mr. Knightly married (and moved in with him) and by dying allowed them take up residence in Mr. Knightly's residence of Donwell Abby.

While it is wonderful to finish a story, I always feel a strong sense of loss when I have to leave characters that I grew to love.   It's like leaving beloved friends.  You can write a sequel - I'm doing it right now with Pharaoh's Son - but sometimes the books stand alone and require no sequel.  In The Safeguard, my novel set in 1864 Georgia, the story ends in October of 1865 as Lavinia sees her little daughter throw aside her imaginary tea set, pick up her skirts, and go tearing across the lawn toward Sheppard, who has returned as he promised.  They marry, certainly, and they probably spend their time between her properties in Georgia and his home in Geneva, New York.  But there are no conflicts, no loose ends.  To follow them would be a letdown.

At the end of A Killing Among the Dead, Wenatef is leaving Egypt.  There is no life for him there, and he knows he will not live the year out if he stays.  But he's heard of a white substance found in the mountains across the ocean, something soft and cold that you can crush in your hands like bread dough.  He decides to leave Egypt and travel to the mountains to see the white substance called 'snow'.    Somehow, that situation caught my readers' attention and people ask me "Will you write a story about Wenatef encountering snow?"

Well...  I may just write a quick several pages for my father, who really wants to see it.  But the story is set and while I have my own opinion of Wenatef's future, it isn't necessary to write a sequel.

How many series have continued to be written because the author has bowed to the wishes of a public who wants, say, just one more Sherlock Holmes story?  Or one more (fill in the blank with the name of a popular detective) story? I think the test of the necessity of a sequel is this: is there an overarching story line that mandates more than one 'story'?  For example, in the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, each story is complete in itself, but when they are strung together they lead to the final resolution envisioned in the first novel. 

Perhaps we are too used to being spoon-fed.   We are told what is what, our children play on toys that do everything for then, we sit in a constant stream of information and statistics.   I do not see that we are allowed much scope for the use of that wonderful power, imagination.  Perhaps we don't want to use it.  It's too dangerous.  Like a half-broken horse, it can run away with us and take us places that are uncomfortable, wild, perilous.

There's a piece of conversation toward the end of A Killing Among the Dead that seems to fit into this train of thought.  When Wenatef is speaking with Unas the last time they meet, and Unas speaks of his madness:

"...To turn away from that - to fight free.."  He drew a shaking breath and was still.
"You can do it," Wenatef said.  "The choice is yours." 

It isn't such a terrible plunge to take.  Let me set it up:

"So...  What happens next?"
"Next?  What do you mean?  That's the end of the book."
"No, really - what happens next after he leaves Egypt?"
The author sits back with a smile.  "What do you think happens next?" she asks.

Try it.  it's fun.  Addictive, too.  In a nice way.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Writing Tools

Look familiar?
I like tools.  Any type of tools.  I can easily spend a month's salary in a hardware store.  Or an office supply store.  Pens, pencils, screwdrivers, notebooks of all sizes, post-it notes, three-ring binders - I love them all.

But there are different types of tools, and each trade has its own.  For a writer the most important, I would imagine, are the writer's imagination followed by his or her command of words, then grammar...  You get my drift.  I could get very philosophical and talk about writers with fabulous imaginations, but without the ability to write.  I'd love to cite Edgar Rice Burroughs, for example - except that I enjoy his writing.  But having read this passage, I can only chuckle:
"Your time shall come, then, I-Gos", Gahan assured the other, "and if you have any party that thinks as you do, prepare them for the eventuality that will succeed O-Tar's presumptuous attempt to wed the daughter of the Warlord.  Where shall I see you again, and when?  I go now to speak with Tara, Princess of Helium."
    (From The Chessmen of Mars (c) 1922 by Edgar Rice Burroughs)
To be a writer, you need to have a writer's abilities, so we can set that to one side.  But what of the tools that help the writer to write?

Something to write with, I'd imagine.  Nowadays if you don't have a good word processing system, you're in trouble.  I remember buying my first computer, put out by Epson.  I don't know what its memory capacity was. I do know that if I wanted to use my word processing system (a very, very distant version of Word Perfect called 'Professional Word', as I recall) I had to fire up my computer (inserting the start-up disk, which was the size of a 45 record), then insert my program disk in the lower drive.  Then I could start writing.

I was resistant, initially.  What's wrong with typing things?  I type well and quickly (110 wpm at last testing).  I was converted the first time I decided to change a character's name and used Global Search to do so.  I never looked back.

That computer performed valiantly but was replaced in due time with one that had maybe one gigabyte of memory.  It took the diskettes that were a lot smaller and sturdier than the originals.  I converted most of them as quickly as I could.

Some place to store what you've written - like a diskette.  Hard copies are nice enough - except that you end up having to retype them which I now do not feel is quite so easy as I did.  Writers are always fiddling with things.  I'd make changes and save the changes - on a new diskette.  If you check out the photo, you'll see that I have lots and lots of those diskettes - and the only machine I have that can read them is a Dell desktop that is getting old and crotchety.  (I'm writing this on an ACER Aspire that has a 300 gb hard drive, takes flash drives and CDS, and works beautifully.  But it doesn't read my old diskettes.

Diskettes are not the only storage venues.  If you look at the photo, you'll see a slice of my storage means: three-ring binders (the big, fat one sitting atop the bottom manuscript contains jottings on four different stories, none of which were ever saved to electronic media.  Salvageable?  Maybe.  I'm looking through them.

Then there are the notebooks.  I have lots of them.  I keep one in my purse and if something occurs to me, I jot it down.  How many times have I had a great idea for tweaking a scene, thought "Oh, I'll remember it!" and then discovered that I couldn't.  I came up with quite a system for jotting down, transcribing, and then marking what I transcribed.  But I hung on to the notebooks.  Lately, I was interested to see the absolute first notation on one of my books, The City of Refuge.  I had noted an idea for the story - and it was fairly well-developed - around 1984.  It sat in limbo for a time, then came into full blossom around 1994.

Pens.  Can you have enough?  I used to say that something like White-Out was a must. I don't think so any more.
Most recently, I bought a stack of steno pads and four college-ruled 8 1/2 x 11  spiral bound notebooks.  I might need them.

In fact, I think I need to go through what I have and figure out what I need.

...and convert those old diskettes to CDS before I lose something crucial.