I’ve been asked a lot of questions in the year since Gathering String was published. I was prepared for some of them:
- Is your husband Jack or Sam? (Neither and both.)
- How long did it take to write? (Too long.)
- Do reporters really use such foul language? (F**k yes.)
Some caught me off guard:
- How do you keep from going too far when writing a sex scene? (By going too far and then deleting most of it.)
- What would your mother say about this? (You finally finished something.)
- We hated all your characters. Why didn’t you make them more likeable? (Ouch!)
But there was only one question I had a hard time answering:
- Why did you end it the way you did? (It’s complicated.)
Starting the long haul of a novel is hard. Believe me, that blank screen, with its mocking cursor defying me to put down the first word, is daunting. And I changed that first word many, many times. Yes, I expected starting to be hard. But I had no idea how difficult it would be to stop.
For me, writing a novel was like an avalanche. The first few words came in a trickle. But then the characters started coming to life – speaking, swearing and loving. The action picked up speed. And suddenly my typing fingers could barely keep up with the landslide of words. They roared down the screen, a flood of phrases and dialogue that overwhelmed anything and everything, including common sense.
There’s a wonderful scene in the movie Wonder Boys, that speaks to this. It comes just after a voluminous paper-copy draft of a novel blows out of a car and is swallowed up in a river. One character sadly asks what the novel was about, and the stunned writer says he doesn’t know. At that point a different character asks, “If you didn’t know what it was about, why were you writing it?” The writer responds, “I couldn’t stop.” Having tried to stop the avalanche, is it any wonder this became my favorite scene? I loved writing and I couldn’t stop.
It took more than a month of swinging my delete key machete to pare my novel down from enormous to simply long. And still, I was left with the question of how to stick the ending.
I had three possibilities:
- End the story with my two protagonist newsmen (Jack and Sam) sending in their joint breaking story, and leave it to the reader’s imagination what the aftermath would be. (This ending was not only my newsman husband’s choice, but also that of a faculty member at the Poynter Institute.)
- In a brief scene following the filing of the news story, have a minor character watching a flood of press to give the reader a taste of the all-hell-broke-loose reaction. (This ending was the choice of two college professors of creative writing.)
- In a lengthy epilogue, give the reader a complete follow-up of what happened to the main characters after the story was published. (This ending was the choice of every female who read the rough draft of the book.)
After much equivocation and a good deal of whining, I finally took my exasperated (and bored) husband’s advice and followed my own instincts. I went with the second ending. I liked the idea of showing some kind of aftermath to the story’s publication, while not tying up for the reader exactly what happened to each character.
Interestingly, the reader response to my choice of ending seems to fall along gender lines. (Keep in mind that this is far from a scientific sampling. My impression comes only from people I’ve talked with, either individually or in group settings, or from people who wrote reviews of the book or commented in social media.)
- The readers who felt it ended too soon, and didn’t care for being left in the dark about what happened to my characters were, to a person, female.
- The readers who would have ended the book with the filing of the news story were, to a person, male.
- And the readers who very much liked the way the book ended? A nice mix of male and female.
I’m taking that as a sign that my instincts pointed me to the ending that worked for the majority.
It’s been a year since Gathering String was first published. I’m working hard on a follow-up novel that I hope to publish sometime this summer. In the meantime, the price for the e-book edition of Gathering String has been reduced. If you haven’t read it, take a look.
For those of you who have read the book, and felt it ended too soon, or are just curious to know what happened to Sam, Jack and Tess, I’m happy to share the epilogue I wrote but never published. Give it a read. I’d love to know what you think.