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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

I’ve been helping a writer with the ending of her book for a few weeks. I see so clearly the forest while she is hugging the trees. I’ve tried gentle persuasion, I’ve tried a firmer hand, I’ve tried to see it from her point of view. I’ve given structural and line edits. I’ve talked character motivation and reader expectation.  I’ve tried to make one point: in the beginning is the end. I mean at least in this case. This is not a po-mo novel, this is not an experiment only using the letter “e.” Okay, how do I know I’m right? Experience. An exquisite sense of pacing, moment, language, and integration. Because I am a student of poetry and I believe the cup seeks the ball whether it wobbles and falls, or lands with a satisfying clink. I know from endings and I know from blue balls. I know how to twist in hot sheets with a symphony of a thousand locusts sawing outside.

Maybe she doesn’t want to let it go; after all, then it will be over, gone, who will leave little effigies in the trees? Do people really fear success? You think: this may be your last move. It is nothing if not inevitable in a completely surprising way. Oh, you little bitch. Maybe you should shut up. Maybe you should shut up. Maybe this bit doesn’t take the horse. Maybe I should go fuck myself.

How does it feel to end a book?

33 Responses

  1. like dying.

  2. Like you’ll never be pretty, only smart.

  3. I don’t know. I haven’t been able to get more than a few pages into my memoir — a different opening every time — because I have no idea where the thing ends. And I’m well aware that a strong close is ALWAYS my problem. That is, my inability to end/finish in a compelling fashion is a problem. Ah, to have someone who could see the end for me. I would take you up on your counsel!!

  4. Like my best friend just keeled over and died.

  5. Agitating. Did I choose the best way to end it? Could I do it better? Once it has ‘ended’, it feels final. Final = glorious pride and all-encompassing fear.

  6. Finishing my first novel was the single best feeling I’ve ever had in my life.

  7. actually, I think its’ something one doesn’t know before hand – i mean, you can’t possibly know before the end, and afterwards you look back and suddendly understand that fear, that not wanting to go of the little cuddly one, that fear of that being over and definitive, that fear of being either loved or spat at, that clinging to the last word, the last chance at change and flexibility. Book hits the stores next week and I’m still reprocessing all the useful wisdom of my editor. best thing he told me was, you’re going to laugh about this moment. Best thing I’ve found out on my own: a finished book is NOT AT ALL engraved in stone, it’s alive, it’s liquid, it keeps on changing in time without you, so why not doing your best and then letting it go?

  8. First, oh my god, why is the writer not listening to you?!? That’s why we have agents. She is lucky as shit to have someone with your experience giving her advice. Slap slap slap some sense into that girl.

    I wish I were a zen master, but I struggle with endings. I know where it will be, the ballpark, but that’s a lot of real estate. I take comfort in knowing there will be revisions to make it pretty perfect.

  9. Finishing my first novel felt like a relief.

  10. Wonderful. For an hour, maybe two.

  11. We’re supposed to end it? Just keep writing series after series, never let the story end, if the main character dies, always have another in the wings..
    Author to agent: “And, ya know, this book is followed by two in the series called….” Agent to author:” uh, can we just go one at a time. This is like eating bananas before bedtime.”

  12. I know how your author feels. With my second book, the ending came to me first–no story, just the ending. I wrote the whole book with that ending in mind. It was so dramatic and beautiful and I loved it the way I love the way a baby’s breath smells. A seasoned editor at Harcourt bought the book. The ending needed to be changed she said as if it were garbage to be thrown away. I kicked and screamed and scratched and held onto my beloved words. She stayed calm and acted like an adult. Every time a new edited version arrived, we need to change this would still be there. In the end, I let her have her way because I was sick to death of looking at the thing. And you know what? She knew what she was doing the whole time.

  13. After I finish a novel, I feel listless for a couple of weeks. I used to call it “postpartum depression,” but then I had the real PPD thing and it’s not even remotely the same. Thank God.

    The first thing my literary agent wanted changed about my novel was the ending. She explained why and I said, “Oh my goodness!” because she was exactly right. I’d had the ending in mind when I started the book, and it wasn’t right for the book all along. 🙂

  14. “An exquisite sense of pacing, moment, language, and integration.” I can only hope and dream that my book’s ending will be as such, and that someday I have an agent who cares about this, and can see it.

  15. I don’t know how it feels to end a book but I can tell you that it has to get easier because I am paralized with the perfection complex…So afraid to fail.

  16. It’s a little like packing up for a really long trip overseas. And when you are about to leave your apartment, you check the burners on your stove one last time to make sure that the burner with the wonky knob is really turned off. Because sometimes it doesn’t turn off all the way on the first try. And no matter how many times you check it, you worry that maybe it isn’t really turned off all the way. So you pull off the knob. Then you remove the burner and place it on the counter-top. Then put the burner in the sink in case the burner and the knob accidentally come together and turn on the stove. Then you put the burner on the patio, because the tile out there is fireproof. But even then you’re not mentally happy to leave on your trip so you start to systematically dismantle your entire stove to make sure you haven’t left anything to chance.

    Or, something along those lines…..

  17. Like Jen, finishing the first was the single best feeling of my life. Truly a high like no other. Finishing #2 was a drop into an abyss, even though in many ways I felt better/prouder/blah blah blah than #1 and was already mentally moving into #3. But #2 was: this is my only family in the world and they’ve left me.

  18. Yeah, gotta agree with Alma. A writer needs to listen to their agent. I’m fortunate in that, like you, I have an agent who has been willing to work with me. Her patience is so appreciated. I have no compunctions against listening to her. She knows what sells. She can see the forest and the trees. And while I may cringe at times at her suggestions, it is because my biggest concern is not that I can’t give up my ‘little darlings’ but that I’m just not getting it and failing. Line edits, plot suggestions, guidance–give it all to me and believe me, I’m going to pay attention.

  19. “How does it feel to end a book?”

    It feels so good. Nothing quite like it.

    Endings are always the hardest part for me. Not doing them, but getting them right. Chekhov is a master at endings, but then, he’s pretty much a master from the get-go. I love studying his work, seeing how he makes the magic. But he didn’t write books, with their size and complexity. I bet he could have if he’d had time, but he didn’t.

    It sounds like you’ve put a lot of work into helping your writer get the ending right. It sounds like you know what you’re talking about. Yes, people really fear success, fear letting go, fear taking chances, fear making choices. Sometimes there is nothing you can do to help them. Sometimes all you can do is cut the Gordian knot. Have you tried issuing an ultimatum?

  20. Orgasmic. Until I realize that the next characters I sidle up to will be strangers and we’ll have to go through the whole damn mating dance again. I don’t want all that foreplay. I want to get to the good part.

  21. So glad to hear that other writers feel the same way I do when I finish a book – sad. That really threw me for a loop with my first novel. Now I brace myself for a week or two of feeling homesick for a place I just made up!

  22. Honestly, I knew I had so much revising to do, revising that would take me back through (and likely change the whole shape of) the novel, I didn’t feel any real separation anxiety. It was very anti-climactic. I’d thought it would be momentous, but in reality — “Huh … I like that last sentence … I hope I can still use that … man, I really don’t want to revise this … why am I doing this? … I wonder if there’s any Cool Whip left in the fridge … hm … I want to eat that … I should go check right now … look at this later …”

  23. Well, but when is it REALLY done? I finished writing a novel and then I submitted it to agents. It didn’t happen this way, but I would think that the next thing is that the agent wants changes. If he/she can sell it, then the publisher wants changes. Maybe it’s not really “done” until it’s printed and in your hand and then you’re promoting it, maybe like going on vacation with your story. Could be it’s not really REALLY done until you’re on to the next book … not unlike ex-boyfriends, I’m not sure you really ever move on until you’re moved on.

  24. Like a birth and death happening simultaneously.

  25. I mother love finishing a book. I smoke a Cuban cigar, pour myself a fine Cognac, slap the wife on the ass to let her know I still appreciate her backside and play Bach on the piano really loud.

  26. You didn’t say if your writer’s book is a novel, but here’s a one-off from Forster’s “Aspects of the Novel” that coincidentally I came across today at lunch:

    “Nearly all novels are feeble at the end. This is because the plot requires to be wound up. Why is this necessary? Why is there not a convention which allows a novelist to stop as soon as she feels muddled or bored? Alas, she has to round things off, and usually the characters go dead while she is at work, and our final impression of them is through deadness…. Incidents and people that occurred at first for their own sake now have to contribute to the denouement…. If it were not for death and marriage I do not know how the average novelist would conclude…. The writer, poor dear, must be allowed to finish up somehow, she has her living to get like anyone else, so no wonder that nothing is heard but hammering and screwing.”

    I don’t know if that helps.

    • Two thoughts.

      One: Doing daily or weekly journalism is good practice. You finish something because you have to, and it gets printed, and that’s it. In a matter of hours or days, you’ve moved on to something else. Whatever you don’t like about what you just finished will pretty soon not matter. Same with whatever you do like. Which is just as well. If you recall or re-read anything years later, you may be displeased with even the good stuff if you’ve made any progress at all. In some sense you carry it all with you but in another sense have to leave it all behind.

      Two: Opening night, for anyone who’s worked in theater, is an ending. (Or rather first preview, considering the now-common habit of giving countless performances before you “open.”) The work isn’t over, but it’s about to change. Similar, I imagine, to reaching that point where the author and the agent and the publisher all agree that the manuscript is finished, ready to go. Something is ending, something else is beginning.

      As for reaching the end of a book, I hope to find out someday.

    • What I meant to say here was that Forster somewhere remarked that marriage no longer counted as an ending. Could be remembering that wrong, because it seems obvious now, and like something that earlier novelists already knew. What _does_ count as an ending is a big question.

    • I woke up thinking about this and hoping I remembered where I had seen it so I could make a note of it. It IS helpful, but I don’t know why.

  27. I think the end comes when you are sitting around and you are trying to explain to your invisible friends, critics, fans, what it all means. If you are lucky like me, you might have the voice of the late and great Mel Blanc in your head telling you through one of his famous characters — aaahhhh, shuuuttt up! Then you start whistling past the graveyard and suspecting your neighbors of conspiracy. But don’t worry, just stay away from your easily lighted outdoor cooker for a week or two, or three, and you’ll be fine. When it’s done it’s done. But…

  28. My post just mysteriously ended up in the wrong place, as a reply to one comment (which I was thinking of saying something else about). I meant it as a comment to Betsy’s whole post.

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