Friday, December 31, 2010

Ring the Bell, Close the Book, Quench the Candle

Posted by: Jane Kindred
It refers to a ceremony for the excommunication of the damned, but I’ve always thought this phrase a fitting image for literary endings: the bell tolls the passing of those brief hours we’ve spent in our imaginary worlds, we close the book we’ve read or written, and we snuff out the light that illuminated it.

As 2010 draws to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about such endings. I just finished a marathon session of revisions on one of my novels, and one of the things it needed was a stronger ending, a sense of closure. Because it’s the first book in a series, it is also a beginning, so I had to carefully straddle tying up everything that came before with the promise of things to come.

Now that’s it’s done, I’m dealing with that special brand of postpartum blues only other writers understand.

For me, at least, there’s only an infinitesimal moment between basking in the incredible sense of completion and joy of that last line being written, and the onset of an oppressive and overwhelming sense of loss. I suspect that’s why a lot of us write series, to keep our imaginary friends alive. We come to know them so intimately—they have to really live for us for the magic of fiction to work—and then, poof, they’re gone: straight from the breast to leaving the nest.

I have a similar experience when I finish reading a wonderful book. If the author is good at what she does, she has made those characters real for me, that world a place where I’ve felt for a few hours I was actually within it. It’s why I also love reading a series, to keep the magic alive.

Eventually, though, everything has to end—but even in “real” life, every ending also marks the beginning of something else. It’s one of the reasons I love this time of year and the wintry celebrations, regardless of religious context, that mark the mystery of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. (In the northern hemisphere, anyway; I imagine those of you from Down Under and other places south of the equator may take a somewhat different meaning from it!) Most of these holidays have a common theme: light in the darkness. We trust in the magic: the wheel of the year will turn, and the day will be reborn to swallow up the night. And those little lights in the darkness remind us that no matter how dark it gets, this, too, shall pass. Spring will come again, and there will be new stories to tell.

I'm trying to remind myself of this now. I do have new stories to tell, and many of the old familiar characters will live again. Even the revisions I’ve finished will ultimately lead to more beginnings: submissions, rejections, and eventually (one hopes!) acceptance for publication…and then the cycle of revisions will begin again. No story is ever really finished. What I need to learn to do is celebrate the literary endings the way I do the Winter Solstice, because without endings, the new beginnings cannot come.

When a new idea begins to germinate, and you write those first words, there’s nothing like it. It can be like opening a Christmas present…or Pandora’s Box. You never know exactly what you’re going to get, but the joy is in finding out, and diving into that “new relationship energy”—a blank page full of possibilities. There are usually only two things I know when I start a new story: how it begins, and how it will end. The rest is a magical journey.

So when I quench the candle, maybe I should light another, just a little light in the darkness as a reminder that the wheel keeps turning. (And maybe I should celebrate at The Zodiac in Kim Novak-black leggings and bare feet, and listen to a little Stormy Weather on the bongos. ;) )

I suspect I'm not the only one winding things up as the year comes to a close. Today is the last chance to mark "done" on last January's New Year's Resolutions. Every year, I tell myself I’m not going to make any, but every year I have a little list in my head anyway, and this year, I managed to achieve a few significant ones, including selling my first novella. What about you? Do you make resolutions? Do you keep them? What are you resolving to do when the bell tolls to ring in 2011?

Jane Kindred

11 comments:

  1. This year I will write cards, notes and letters by hand--at least four per week.

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  2. Jane, selling your first novella is a huge resolution success. I hope your 2011 plans succeed just as well :)

    As for my 2011 resolutions? I try not to make them. One year I resolved to go horse riding and that ended well -- not. I tumbled off the horse at the end, straight onto...well...you can guess what lurks in horse paddocks. So no resolutions for me. But general dreams/plans -- I want to finish my urban fantasy novella (which is sooo close this is achievable), write a post-apoc novella and maybe, just maybe a category contemporary.

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  3. I've heard people say that they hate series but I love them. In fact, those are the books I mark on the calendar and really look forward to.
    I don't have any resolutions for you. Not that I don't have goals but making a list has always seemed too much like tempting fate.
    (Love the title of this post.)
    @Jenny - if you're looking for motivation Samhain has a call out for post-apoc right now through March I think.

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  4. I made my first sales this year too, so that was a huge one for me :) I'm not a big fan of resolutions either, but I am trying to just take more conscious control of my life rather than only being a passenger along for the ride (I spend far too much time that way).

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  5. @Eleri re the Samhain open call (http://www.samhainpublishing.com/submissions) I'm eying the calendar and will probably end up typing with fingers crossed to make the March 1 deadline. Not that crossing my fingers will help with speed. I might have to borrow some magic--or clone myself!

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  6. Thanks @Jenny, and congrats @Seleste! :)

    Mine for this year is to learn to knit. (Oh, dear. Now I've said it out loud.)

    I'd also like to stop procrastinating, but I'll get to that one as soon as I can. ;)

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  7. Oooh, I have a post apocalyptic story, but it's not a romance (about two brothers) and it's not long enough. Oh, well.

    I always have something going on so endings are mostly a sense of satisfaction for me. However, when we finished up with copyedits for The Sevenfold Spell (my first sale as well), I did have that sense of loss because I knew that I would never write about Talia again. Her story was finished. Sniff!

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  8. Halfway through a story, and I'm already thinking about the next one I want to write. I've never felt a sense of loss upon completion, only a sense of accomplishment. I'm goal oriented. Each book is like a mini goal set and reached. Then I set the next goal. Like Seleste, this year I sold my very first book. What a thrill! My New Year's resolution is to continue that momentum. HAPPY NEW YEAR HERE BE MAGIC WRITERS!

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  9. Oooo, Jane! You want to learn to knit!? You know that means I'll just have to send you home-spun yarns, made by me. :)

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  10. Wow, homespun yarn?? That is way cool. I'd like to learn how to do that . . .

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  11. Yay, homespun yarn by @cayswann! I think you should hand deliver them. ;)

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