Starting at 'the end of the road... ' - Umberto Tosi
"A stick, a stone, it's the end of the road
It's the rest of a stump, it's a little alone
It's a sliver of glass, it is life, it's the sun
It is night, it is death, it's a trap, it's a gun
The oak when it blooms, a fox in the brush
A knot in the wood, the song of a thrush...
... It's the wind blowing free, it's the end of the slope"
- The Waters of March, Antonio Carlos Jobim.
I finally see the end of a novel I worked on all year. I've finished its final draft after many, many revisions, Now I tackle the arduous tasks of polishing and copy editing with a mix of relief, liberation and melancholy. I've come to know these characters and I'm about to say goodbye to them in a sense. "It's the end of the slope."
|E. L. Doctrow, 2013|
Fortunately I'm a head-banger. I learned to run at brick walls over decades of writing on assignment against immoveable deadlines. Usually I broke through, or discovered a way around. Maybe it's because I'm a bullheaded Taurus born in a Chinese Year of the Ox, if you're into astrology.
In any case a suitable wind-up came to me by end of summer, sequestered well into the pandemic by then. I realized what perhaps should be obvious by now: that I couldn't start out my mystery with its conclusion - not a credible one anyway. I had to write my way to it. That's just me. My private eye - the one-eyed detective Frank Ritz needed clues. He needed to wander the maze for a while, getting mugged and misled in the process in order to figure things out - coming to actionable conclusions not necessarily to his liking, but that's the PI life.
Anyway, by then, I realized once again who dunnit is secondary to who are the characters, really, and why do they do what they do: That is in the kind of mysteries I favour. If the writer plays it write, the reader doesn't want the story to end. Not that leaving loose ends works.There are no hard rules but plenty of aphorisms. I can't remember which writer said that "a great ending is one completely unexpected, yet inevitable in retrospect." A place to aim, I've thought.
Don't ask me how one can turn a series of random plot events into clues and come up with anything that makes sense. It happens. I can't insure a suitable dénouement next time around because I can't figure out the process. Moreover it will be up to the readers to judge if it works.
I won't give away the novel's conclusion, but I can safely divulge its coda (as opposed to the dénouement.) It's an ending that is a beginning - much like we experience today, 3 January, 2021, when we emerge from dark year into a beginning filled with hopes and apprehensions.
I used a personal anecdote that has stuck with me from that time as my coda - a beginning that marked the end of an era. My private eye, Frank Ritz is older than I was then - a WW2 combat vet in his mid 30s. But he could well have been standing nearby me at that moment. It was on the side of a makeshift grandstand one evening in mid-July, 1960 at the gargantuan Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, when John F. Kennedy, fresh from winning the Democratic Party nomination for President of the USA gave his now famous "New Frontier" acceptance speech.
"...We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier--the frontier of the 1960's--a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils-- a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. ... For the harsh facts of the matter are that we stand on this frontier at a turning-point in history. We must prove all over again whether this nation--or any nation so conceived--can long endure... " proclaimed the dashing young candidate who would become America's 35th President, in words that echo the challenges of today as we dispose of the thug and demagogue who has been the nation's 45th.
I had positioned myself by the press section. As a "copy boy," I was tasked with collecting the stories that our reporters would typed feverishly and rush the copy straight to the Times Building city room a few miles away. I did not fully comprehend the historic dimension of JFK's speech at that moment. Neither would fictional Frank Ritz perhaps fully grasp the watershed moment that began the 1960s. He would be there on a gig as part of security arranged by the Kennedy campaign.
Candidates in that more innocent time didn't have the U.S. Secret Service protection that they now enjoy by law. Who thought about assassination then - even though half-forgotten attempts had been made against FDR and Truman? And who would have guess that JFK would have been shot dead in Dallas just a bit more than three years later? Not me. Not Frank. So there is my coda, an end and perhaps the beginning of my next Frank Ritz Mystery, this one works well enough and I'm willing an able, I hope as 2021 begins. Happy New Year to each of you readers, and for me, one day at a time