There are so many ways to say something has come to an end, each with its own nuance. Kaput. Conclude. Terminate. C’est fini. C’est bien fini. No más.
Finale, grand or otherwise.
The end of a war is always a good thing, the end of a life dependent on the circumstances.
Coming to the end of a novel one is writing feels more akin to a whimper than a bang. Even before the final words are set down, an air of urgency kicks in. Almost there. I can see the light eking into the tunnel. A novel is a world constructed with heart and mind, populated with individuals drawn from flesh and blood. Readers who know the writer may see resemblances, hear echoes, their own transaction with the fiction. Readers who know nothing about the writer may ask how much is true, autobiographical. What we take away from a story is intertwined with what we bring to it.
Many years ago I ran the New York City Marathon. A friend of the family sent a note: ‘Congratulations on making it to the finish line. That kind of experience lasts a lifetime.’ A dear cousin finagled her own celebratory surprise at a family Thanksgiving dinner a few weeks later. It was 1981, a good ten years since I’d left the fold, single in the city now, where Thanksgiving had evolved into a friends’ affair. This year, my cousin insisted, was for family. I could do that, change things up a bit. Score one for nostalgia and family get-togethers. Score another point for sentiment, the cake she had for me, two candles, the numbers 2 and 6. My mother had her own surprise, my marathon photo laminated and set in a frame alongside the program listing each runner’s time, 3:48:57 for me. Some numbers you never forget, down to the second.
Running a marathon, like writing a novel, is an accomplishment, indeed. But momentum, more than the distant goal, is, for me, the driving force, which is why I confess to being a little surprised when I’m congratulated. I ran. I write. It’s what I do. Not that I’m anything but grateful for the woohoo! It makes me stop and take stock.
“I have a book in me,” people so often say. “If I only I could sit down and write it. “Of course, those of us who write know there’s much more to it than sitting down. With a novel especially, there are characters with me day and day out, a life of their own, cuing me to their next move. Waiting to jump off the page. Days go by, distractions take hold, weeks pass, other obligations get in the way, then months, maybe years, later a novel nears completion.
Now what do I do?
And maybe that’s the point here. Let others revel in my accomplishment while I immerse myself in the day-to-day revelations I look to each morning, today the first snowstorm (putting aside the Halloween surprise) of the season. I’ll start by weeding through the files and clippings that never made it into the novel even if they gave some insights to character and place. Then I’ll read through the novel, one more time, before I watch it take flight, hopefully landing (sooner than later) on the desk of an editor who simply can’t put it down once he/she starts reading. Knowing that the more likely scenario will be a a bumpy ride, swells and dips, hanging on to words of praise as if I’d been handed a major award, reading between the lines of those ‘encouraging’ rejections (an oxymoron?) in the hope that I might glean something — anything — to keep me from falling down.