"Don’t be daft, lad!...Ye want to leave the village? Then ye end something. Ye want a new life? Kill the old." (Father Donovan, a character in Dragon's Rook by KB)I've been contemplating endings.
This isn't a recent activity; I've been contemplating endings for a good long while. Over the past few years, I've wanted to end my job, certain relationships, even my writing. There was a time in my youth when I wanted to end my life.
Now I'm facing endings that haven't quite arrived, but whose lanterns are gleaming far down the tracks.
This is the first week of a two-week vacation, but I'm still working, not in the office but around the house, preparing for the realtor's visit on Friday. A "For Sale" sign will be planted in the yard. I will say goodbye to the house my father and I rebuilt together. It has been my haven, my hermit cave, even -- a source of quiet and refuge -- a place I can take a certain pride in, because my sweat and bruised thumbs and broken toes helped turn a rotting old house into a snug, comfortable home.
Family has gathered here. Friends have talked here. Neighbors have stood in the front yard and traded news.
Where will I live when the house sells? I don't know.
Where will family stay when they come to town? I don't know.
Where will I go to rest and write? I don't know.
I've always been a little restless. It comes, I think, not just from my personality but from my father, who moved the family around the country often when I was young. It was a mixed blessing: we met different kinds of people, saw some awesome countryside, but never truly felt at home. Even now, fourteen years after I bought this house, the place I have felt the most "at home", there are cardboard boxes that have never been unpacked, waiting for the next move.
But what does this life moment have to do with writing?
I've been contemplating endings.
My science fiction serial has lost its way -- my fault -- and I'm looking at how to bring it back on track and end it well. A serial is not my usual way of writing, and I'm not quite proud of how it's working out, but it's forcing me to not linger too long, to not polish every word until the story never gets out to the reading world. Many of my missteps might be forgiven if the end is strong. It's already written; the challenge is getting there.
A number of short stories are completed and polished, but unpublished, not due to rejection but due to my own lack of action. A great many more remain unfinished or even unwritten, just existing as notes and scene ideas. In essence, ending before they've begun.
Manuscripts await completion. They pull at me, and I want to follow, because I want to see how the stories end. I want to know who wins, who loses. Does Brygid leave her sword, and does Yasha take it up? Will Gaerbith remain immortal? How does Kieran become king? Will Maggie's hand be restored, or does it remain twisted, her weakness and her strength? Will the endings be worthy of all the pages that came before?
In a recent blog post by Rebecca LuElla Miller at Rewrite, Reword, Rework, she discusses endings:
Endings are in the position to leave the greatest impression. Consequently they should be the strongest part of each story element...Whether tightly wrapped up or somewhat open-ended, stories need to bring their character arcs and plot events to powerful conclusions. Those are the books that stay on shelves and get re-read from time to time. Those are the books that make readers want to buy that author’s next novel.Just about every writer I know wants their work to be read and re-read. It's like applause for a job well done, even if we never know, never hear that applause.
Becky's post opens with this:
When I finished the last page, I wanted to toss the book as far as I could, as hard as I could. The protagonist who I had followed for the last four hundred pages died without accomplishing his goal. No momentous lesson learned along the way, no great change to complete his character arc. Why, I wondered, had I wasted my days and hours reading about this failed adventure that led nowhere?
That got me to thinking of the first manuscript in my fantasy cycle. It ends in a dark place -- people have died, characters have left their homes, a mission appears to have failed. Despite the "to be continued" notation on the last page, I've often wondered if the hope is overwhelmed by the darkness, to the point that readers will give up on the story. Will they look forward eagerly to what happens next, or will they give up and throw the book across the room?
Honestly, that's the reaction I'm expecting from the publisher currently in possession of that manuscript: "It's too depressing! We can't print this crap."
Here is the end. Or, at least, an ending.
But if you venture beyond it and continue reading, I'd like to know your thoughts on the manuscript excerpt below. Too depressing for the first in a series?
------------------ end of Dragon's Rook by Keanan Brand ------------------
Villagers filed out of the churchyard in silent procession, the women’s heads covered in white kerchiefs. The pallor caught and reflected the last rays of sunlight, pointing the souls toward the Otherland.
Tradition dictated preparing a grief feast and telling stories about the ones just buried, but a sudden awareness had settled over the villagers, as thick as the foul black smoke still rising from the pyre. They would pay dearly for this day.
Meantime, lingering mercenaries boasted their prowess over ale at the Blue Oak. Father Donovan could hear their merriment even in the kirkyard.
Only Mother Crumb and Thryffin remained. The healer seemed suddenly withered, a bit of old root severed from its tree and left to dry above the ground. Her movements were stiff, lacking their accustomed grace, and the lines in her face were chasms to channel her tears.
"How fares Farmer Connor?" asked Father Donovan.
"I fear you will be standing over his grave on the morrow."
"What of Maggie?"
Mother Crumb wiped her eyes with the corner of her apron. "I cannot hear her."
He understood. Her Gift did not sense Maggie’s. For healers connected by their very essence, such a loss was nigh death.
"And Kieran?" As he spoke the smith’s name, Father Donovan saw Thryffin take a step then stand very still. "Does the Gift yet hear him?"
"He is gone north, I think. Perhaps west to the Ruins."
"Did he bid ye farewell?"
Mother Crumb’s glance flicked toward Thryffin, who still listened yet tried to appear as if he did not. "Kieran said nothing to anyone." She reached a hand to the boy, but he stayed where he was. "He did it to keep you safe, lad. He did it for all of us."
Thryffin turned and left the kirkyard. The priest gazed after him, wishing he had wisdom for such times.
Mother Crumb sighed. "Better for him to be with Kieran, safe or no, for now the lad cradles a great hurt. It will fester like a rotten wound."
Aye. Father Donovan knew the bitterness of cherished wrongs held tight for too long. After a silence, he said, "So it begins."
"So it begins."
The healer departed, limping as if her feet could scarce touch the ground without pain. Father Donovan quelled the sudden thought that he might soon be saying the death blessing over her.
He stood beside the new graves, his heart heavy. This day had welcomed the evil from which he so longed to protect the people, yet he could neither prevent nor alter what had been foretold.
Risá El ethem, Mymna Tor
Risá duru Nar Cahm enkára lenë llumim
Risá nen, o pyrvië grimladh
In Kelden, the resonating power of the words was lost in the beauty of sound and rhythm. Father Donovan repeated the ancient prayer, this time with the force of common Skardian:
Rescue Your people, Mymna Tor
Rescue from the Dark Enemy seeking our lives
Rescue us, and vanquish evil
Soon Mymna Tor and Nar Cahm would shout at one another, and all the world would hear.