This week, in the writing life, I was thinking about what happens when a story ends, and I thought about it in a few ways (of course I did).
I’ve had people ask where my character are now. What do I envision them doing? Did Evie and Sandy from The Glass Wives end up together (most readers say yes). What happened to Nicole? From The Good Neighbor readers ask if Izzy ever had any more children (she’d wanted a busload) or if Rachel and Seth ended up okay.
My answer is always tentative, and soft. I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed. The truth is, my characters live on the last page of their novels in perpetuity. For me, Evie and her friends and family are still cleaning up from the Passover Seder and Izzy sits forever on the front steps of her childhood home on Good Street, ready, at last, to walk away and start anew—but in my mind—she still right there.
My characters and stories have no afterlife for me.
The same goes for my short stories, though, as I’ve mentioned before, some of those have helped to inspire portions or characters in my novels. Instead of those stories moving forward perhaps, they exist as a well of possibilities. Their futures lie in my own future work. In The Apron Strings of Amber Sweetly, the ending of the story was a direct inspiration for the ending of The Good Neighbor. I had struggled with the ending for that novel, and then the words sprung to mind, and I knew that I had already written the template for what would work perfectly. In The Kindness of Neighbors, there’s a feisty lady in her eighties. She doesn’t ring true for Mrs. Feldman in The Good Neighbor, but in her I see bits and pieces of Boop from my WIP. None of that was intentional, but as I reread that story today it reminded me, it showed me, that indeed there must be something to it, if it keeps popping up. Which means Boop will prevail. I knew she would.
I think what this means to me is that perhaps there are nuggets in whatever we write that might be plucked out and focused on in their entirety. I don’t mean writing a series or a sequel (not for me, anyway) but taking some old idea and making it new, turning it inside out and upside down. If it was good enough for a mention in one book, maybe there’s more to it. Maybe not, but maybe. And that’s a good enough reason, perhaps, to revisit some old work.
That’s what I did yesterday. I reread The Apron Strings of Amber Sweetly and The Kindness of Neighbors, both which had been published in literary journals that no longer exist. And I liked them both. Apron Strings remains my favorite short story of mine to this day, and I’d written about had about six published. I remembered that I’d written “Apron Strings” as a way to experiment with first person present tense. I’d been writing fiction in third person as a way to differentiate it from my essay writing. Then, I read Henry’s Sisters by Cathy Lamb (have you not read Henry’s Sisters? You should) and it was in first person. I’d read many first-person POV novels but none to that point that were as captivating as this one. None struck a chord or made me think “I want to do that,” until Henry’s Sisters. In “Apron Strings” I stretched my writing wings, and while I have never switched from past tense to present tense in my novels, I have shifted to first person from third. I don’t know if I’d have been that brave without reading Cathy’s book. Thanks, Cathy!
When I reread The Kindness of Neighbors, I remembered it had won a coveted short story contest and had been published in The Grey Sparrow Journal both in print and online. 2011 seems like a lifetime ago — I hadn’t sold my first novel yet — so these publishing coups meant the world to me. And still do. I also remembered that the sense of home and a newfound family and purpose also resonated through The Good Neighbor.
Here’s a lovely new review of The Good Neighbor. It’s so nice to find something like this eight months after the book came out. I know the book is selling, but feedback is a wonderful thing.
This week in real life, Mitzi jumped on the bed after about six months of not jumping up on the bed due to knee and hip issues (she’s 12). Then she proceeded to roll all over it on her back, the way dogs do, making sure that no spot was left unacknowledged. She was very grateful I’d been keeping her bed warm for her. But last night, she slept on the floor as usual, so it might have been too much excitement, even for her.
Also this week in real life, I had my two kids home at the same. BANNER WEEKEND for mom. This will happen again at the end of August. Then again at Thanksgiving, wherever that Thanksgiving may be.
But that’s another story…