Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What's in an Ending?

Some of us write in a kind of stream of consciousness way. Some of us plot. Some of us outline. Some of us have an idea that writes itself.

We all must find a way of coming to an end: one that is appropriate, comes at the right time, is both logical and emotional so that the reader puts the book down with a feeling of satisfaction.

None of us want to hear that our ending was disappointing, unless that disappointment is because they wanted the story to go on and on.

One of the most iconic endings was written in a novel published on June 30, 1936 and very quickly became the most quoted ending for decades to come at the end of a novel 1037 pages long.

“After all, tomorrow is another day.” (Gone with the Wind)

This is the only ending completely suitable for this book, because the readers know this heroine very, very well and are assured that yes, one day, she will get him back.

However, this open, promissory ending has the drawback of inviting others to continue the story to suit their own wishes. The Margaret Mitchell Trust has only ever authorized one sequel, Rhett’s People, but all potential sequels pale in comparison to MM’s achievement.

Many of the best endings are in the classics, both modern and ancients. Here is the ending of one of my favorite books by American author, Anne Tyler:

“…She was frantically waving down taxis—first the one ahead, then Macon’s own. ‘Arrêtez!’ Macon dried to the driver. The taxi lurched to a halt. A sudden flash of sunlight hit the windshield, and spangles flew across the glass. The spangles were old water spots, or maybe the markings of leaves, but for a moment Macon thought they were something else. They were so bright and festive, for a moment he thought they were confetti.” (The Accidental Tourist)

And the ending by a much-acclaimed author, Gabriel Garcia Márquez:

“Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights.

“‘Forever,’ he said.” (Love in the Time of Cholera)

Some endings intentionally leave you wanting more, particularly if they are part of a series but cliff-hanger ending are best left to chapters in a single book, not a series that requires a purchase—being left in the lurch or forced to buy is not necessarily pleasant.

As in Gone with the Wind, a novel that ends leaving us wanting the story to go on can lead to “fan fiction.” Whether that is a good thing is a matter of personal choice and taste.

If for any reason, an ending cannot be found that is satisfactory, some writers (and script writers as well) used the epilogue. Like the prologue, the epilogue serves a purpose—the device can cut off any further speculation in the same way that a prologue sets the stage before the story begins. These address backstory and closure but, as Elmore Leonard said,

“Avoid prologues.” (10 Rules of Writing)

I extend that admonition to ‘Avoid epilogues’ as well. If we’re writing a series (or think a book may become a series), an ending can keep that door open as well as close the chapter on that particular story without leaving us with the sensation something is missing.

Or an ending, a final sentence or paragraph
·      Ties everything up
·      Brings all the pieces together
·      Clears up the mystery
·      Identifies the culprit
·      Puts all characters at peace
·      Or leaves all possibilities on the table.

Although the total of the reading experience is the ultimate determinant, we still want the final word to linger and resonate, not as an ending, a finality, but as a promise of forever, hope.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Memories on Father's Day

by Fran McNabb

With Father’s Day next weekend, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without saying something about our dads.

I want to share a few memories I have of some special men in my life starting with my father. My
dad was from the generation where men left the housework and raising the children to the mother. He was a fisherman, a hard worker who shrimped at night and slept during the day, so my brother and I didn’t see him as much as we would’ve liked. On summer Sundays, however, he’d make sure the boat was clean and he would take the family and our friends out to the islands. Those days made up for all the tip-toeing around the house while he slept. I have wonderful memories of Dad and Mom sitting on his boat overseeing everything and getting the food ready (homemade fried chicken and potato salad) as the children swam and played.

I realized that all men did not leave the childrearing up to the mother alone. I spent many days with one of my aunts and uncle. It was here at their home that I realized men actually helped take care of the little ones. When he was home, my Uncle Jimmy helped with the everyday tasks of raising their children. I’m sure throughout the ages men have done that, but it never occurred to me until I watched my uncle. He’s no longer with us, but when I think about him today I think about those small moments between him and his children that probably went unnoticed to anyone else.

Today it takes two to raise children. My eldest son took on the responsibilities of helping with his one baby from the moment they brought him home. Both of my sons helped to raise their sons and helped around the house. Does it make men any less of a man to do things like change diapers, toss a ball to his son, or mop a floor or iron a shirt? Absolutely not. I think it makes a man more of a man.

And I can’t end this without mentioning my husband. Living with someone for almost forty-seven years and raising two sons together make for some wonderful memories, but it’s the memories of him spending time with our boys that bring me the most joy today. Maybe our sons learned from him because today all my men cook and press their clothes and help around the house. (Yes, I do iron as well. In fact, I love to iron.)

Happy Father’s Day to all the men in your life. If you have a special memory to share, I’d love for you to comment so we can all enjoy it.

FRAN MCNABB lives with her husband on a quiet harbor bayou along the Gulf Coast. She always says that her fictional heroes all have a little bit of her husband in them. Now she can say that since her sons are grown, they too have contributed to the heroic qualities in her novels. Check out her tender romances on her website www.FranMcNabb.com  or contact her at mcnabbf@bellsouth.net. She loves to hear from her readers. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


Owning and Loving Books

I’m the oldest person in my family and as such, have participated in cleaning out my grandmother’s, my parents’ and my in-laws’ houses.  When my father died, a number of years after his and my mother’s house had been emptied and sold, he left a suitcase of clothes, a small bookcase full of books and a bundle of papers neatly organized.  That’s my goal, to own just a few possessions and not be overwhelmed by stuff.  I’m not there yet, but I envision a time when I know where everything is and use everything I own.

That’s my goal, but it should not come as a surprise to fellow writers, book lovers and anyone who knows me that my biggest indulgence is books and it’s books that are overtaking my house. I drop by bookstores wherever I am and rarely leave without buying several.  I read book reviews, get recommendations about new authors from friends, and attend conferences where I listen and meet new authors.  I pick up or order those books too.  When I go to the library I come home with a stack to read.  Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read all of them, I may never, but I anticipate a time when I will and having those books and knowing they’re there to read when I’m ready brings me joy.  I recognize that not everyone feels this way, but for me books are a window into other worlds and an opportunity to meet people who I’d otherwise never know.

But I do have too many books. I live in a big farmhouse in upstate New York where every room except the dining room has several bookcases and each of them is filled to the brim.  I have a small apartment in New York City with two big bookshelves and those and my bedside tables are also overflowing.

In my quest to simplify my life and environment, I’ve started getting rid of some. It has not been easy.  It’s one thing to get rid of books that I didn’t like or duplicates, another to get rid of books that I love.  I started by telling myself that I would only keep the books that I haven’t read or if I had read, intended to read again.  It meant I gave away some of my very favorite books from college and my younger days as well as classics I knew I wouldn’t reread.  Although painful at times, I’ve managed to get rid of a lot, donating them to our local library’s annual book sale or leaving them in the lobby of my apartment building in the city. I plan to keep at it and consider every book that I own to determine what to keep and what can go.  In the course of this divesting, I’ve come face to face with the realization that there is a finite time for everything including reading books.  But it’s also meant I’ve revisited old friends and been reminded of books that I’ve loved and now can share with others.

Believe me, I still have all those bookcases overflowing, but at least now not all of them are double shelved and of course, there will always be room for new books.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

What I Loved About Elementary School

by Victoria M. Johnson
A few years ago, Compass Point, an organization specializing in nonprofit leadership skills, took a poll of its website's visitors, asking them to identify what skills they learned in elementary school that they continue to use today, and what features of grade school they wished carried over to adult life.  The results were nostalgic:

Of skills most often used in adult life, 50% of respondents said spelling and grammar skills, 28% said learning how to play nice with others, 11% said how to calculate percentages, 6% said how to dodge things coming at you, and 6% said how to stand up for yourself and what you believe in.  On which feature of grade school respondents most wished carried over into work life, 59% want recess, 18% want field trips, 6% want bake sales, 6% want slumber parties, 6% liked knowing when their work was finished, and 6% liked the more structured exercises in personal affirmation that took place in school, but that don’t happen in real life.

Field trips and recess—I loved those days. Didn’t you? And I’m surprised only 6% identified ‘like knowing when your work was finished’ as a feature they missed. Today my work seems never to end. Projects just kind of blend into one another to seem like one long project. Only my writing and the grantwriting work I do has a sense of completion. That is unless I have overlapping deadlines.

What about you?  What grammar school skills do you use most in your adult life?   Which feature of elementary school do you wished carried over to adult work life?  Let us know in the comments below.

(Note: I searched the CompassPoint.org site to find the poll, but it is no longer there).

Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma.  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at http://VictoriaMJohnson.com for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Bean Counters and Brutality

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Not long ago on one of my eloops there was a discussion on the recent Harlequin line closings. One of the group asked if we didn’t think the business was getting more brutal these days.

I'm a cynic, but I believe the industry started getting brutal in the 80s, when the 'acquisition mania' began and the bean counters took over. Before the 80s publishing was still a kind of gentlemen's game - a strict game, with rules about agents and royalties and the superiority of publishers over mere authors - but although sometimes harsh still a place more friendly to authors than it is now. You could submit a book over the transom (does anyone still use that phrase any more?) and actually have it looked at. Publishers would take a chance on something new. They would work to build an author's career. It was a working symbiosis - a somewhat lopsided one, but not too bad for the authors.

Then in the 80s the financial world went mad in every field. Big publishers gobbled up small houses and were in turn gobbled up by bigger publishers. Books were no longer regarded as books and keepers of the culture, but as items to be marketed, just in the same way as shoes and handbags and other retail objects. ("Hey, design 617 is selling well, so let's do it in green and purple and puce too.") As time went on the publishers began to tighten the niches and if a niche didn't pay off enough to suit them, it was marginalized if not eradicated altogether. Everyone wanted something exactly the same as the current bestseller... but different. Writers who did not write (and re-write) exactly what the publisher wanted eventually disappeared from the company's rolls. The bean counters had taken over. People were expected to read what they made available and the market began to slide, which made the bean counters tighten things up to a stranglehold.

Then came the digital revolution and the phenomenon of self-publishing. This is a mixed blessing, as there is so much dreck out there it's startling, but there is also a lot of good stuff, stuff that had been marginalized by the traditional publishers. Readers could once again find whatever kind of genre and sub-genre they wanted. Self-publishing authors were getting - finally! - a fair share of the money and not being treated as if they were nothing but a supporting cog who would be replaced if they didn't behave.

The big publishers still don't understand this phenomenon. Yes, they utilize it by putting out ebooks and clinging ferociously to ebook rights, but I honestly believe they don't understand the basic standards at work here. Writers write what they want to write, and readers read what they want to read - all without the dictatorial hand of big publishers controlling what is available. It is the free market in microcosm. And the big publishers don't get it, so they still act as they always have. A sub-genre doesn't pay off the way they expect, so axe it. We as readers shouldn't worry - self-publishers will soon fill the gap. 

I know there are writers who are well treated by their publishers, whether big or small, and will probably read this post with astonishment or anger. I rejoice that you are happy, but there are lots, lots more of us who have seen the other side and understand. 

Has the industry turned brutal lately? Lately? It always has been.