March 24, 2013 § 11 Comments
You read the last page and close the book.
For a moment you remain in the story, reluctant to leave. Each time you picked up this book, your body, and the narrative of your own life whose unruly plot you barely control were left behind. You’ll miss that brief vacation, and you’ll miss characters you know better than you know many real people—you’ll miss the ride.
But you’ve hit the back cover, so you look up. Your familiar “real” life is still there, a little boring, a little scary, the plot arc random; real life could use a good editor.
For a writer the last page, after it has been rewritten a hundred times, is tossed like a paper airplane toward an unknown reader, who may or may not pick it up, smooth it out and read it.
The feeling of being kicked out of the story is the same. It just hits harder. Think Scarlet O’Hara: “Where will I go, what will I do?”
I finished writing a book a few days ago, a two year journey from first sentence to last. In the story a boring summer is redeemed for a bunch of kids by the discovery of an abandoned garage deep in the woods. It is the getaway to which the kids run—and I did too.
Sitting at this computer I opened drawers and blew the dust off the books on the shelves of the garage the kids named “Nowhere.” I snuck out bags of randomly pilfered food items: maraschino cherries and peanut butter from home. I played the upright piano that leaned against the back wall.
I often unconsciously drew on the world I’d left behind, picking the pocket of real life, but rearranging what I’d stolen to create a better story.
It wasn’t until I thought about writing this post that I remembered Casey, the real kid who provided the spark that became Cody Floyd, the book’s main character.
This is the incident I had forgotten. The first time I met Casey he was a boy in shorts with dirty knees walking down the street with a paper bag over his head. I watched him run into a car, a telephone pole, a mailbox. Finally I lifted the bag and asked, “What are you doing?”
“I just like to see what happens.” He pulled the bag down again and went back to ricocheting off the unseen geography of the neighborhood. This turned out to be a typical encounter with Casey. Casey was a kid who viewed the world as burnished with mystery and possibility.
My character, Cody does too.
Instead of a brown paper bag Cody finds a fedora at the back of a closet, and he begins to wear it exactly the way Casey wore that paper bag. To the older kids watching him walk down the street blind it’s just Cody-as-usual, doing a Cody-as-usual-thing. But for the boy under the hat something big is going on. He can feel a tingle, and he knows what those older kids have forgotten. Magic is real.
I was with Cody under that hat. I felt the tingle.
But now I have written the last page. Cody is seven, the age at which his brother Ben says a kid figures out that magic isn’t real. The magic hat lies buried in the ground—its magic was not always benign. As Ben points out early in the story, “It’s kind of lucky magic is fake. Even in stories magic is only nice at first. It always messes up the person who has it.”
The book never settles the question, is magic real?
But the magic of story is. And I firmly believe that, “THE END,” isn’t.
This is what really happens when the writer bows out. The characters continue to live the story without help. They must. How could they be so vivid the writer has hung out with them for years and then cease to exist because the writer has walked away?
It’s still summer in my story. Stuff is still happening.
Sooner or later I’ll feel a tug at my sleeve and I’ll sit down to write a sequel.
Until then, or until another story catches my attention, I’ll sit on the dry shore of real life–a good place too, but less prone to magic.
Note: In Richard Brautigan’s,”Sombrero Fallout” a disgruntled writer crumples the pages of his novel-in-progress and tosses them in the wastebasket. The novel carries on without him.