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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.

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