Book Endings and Old Orchards


Please accept my apologies for the sporadic blogging. I’ve already used the birth of two grandchildren and my son’s heart attack as excuses for not writing, although I did try from time to time. Everything I put to paper sounded too whiney and self-absorbed, so I used the time to write fiction instead, permitting murderers and adulterers and Pam Smith’s badly behaved children to take over my thoughts.

Getting down to business, I have problems ending a story. A novelist builds tension throughout the body of a piece, and should try to end it with some pizzazz. All too often though, it falls flat. I’ll use Someone Like You as an example. In this story, two sisters raised in an atmosphere of violence, long to lead normal lives but end up exposing their own children to very similar environments. I felt they had somewhat resolved their issues toward the end, but what then? They were going to live happily ever after, sort of. I wanted to expand the story and show them having a happy time with mom and dad, everything forgiven but it felt like a fairy tale; not usually the way life is. So I left the reader dangling a little. The sisters were going to have supportive men in their lives, but the issues they struggled with would still be there.

In The Savant of Chelsea, the ending came to me suddenly, like a gift. A reviewer who hated the book, said about me; “I could just sense how f*+king proud she was of herself.” Lol! I love that ending! And believe me, it came from some universal energy…I can’t take credit for it. Also, the end of Pam of Babylon; when she tells Andy Andretti, “Call me Pam,” I burst into tears. Family Dynamics and The Tao of Pam, those are powerful endings too, I think. But it’s not necessary to end every book with a bang. In The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, I was left scratching my head at the ending. But it didn’t make any difference to the Pulitzer committee when they gave her the prize for literature! And Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Huh? What kind of ending was that? Yet the book remains on the NYT Best Sellers list because it is a compelling story that was difficult to put down. It had to end the way it ended.
Sometimes I end the books the way I do because there is just nothing more to say about the story.

In Alice’s Summertime Adventure, my editor asked that I add at least another paragraph, but I just couldn’t. For me, the story was over when the action that happened… happened. (Don’t want to give away any spoilers.) Other times, I end the way I end because I’ll start the next chapter in a new book. I’m doing that with A Greektown Wedding; the action picks up where Christmas in Greektown ended, with Liz, John’s wife and Jim, Maria’s husband leaving the apartment above the grocery store together. In the next book, they stop at a hotel on the way home from Greektown after the holiday meal. Anyway, enough about that. I wanted to address it because it keeps coming up and I’m sure will continue to do so. Here’s a great article from Huffington Post about endings.

Last but not least….the grove. Jim and I bought a small piece of land in southern California and we didn’t realize it had a grove of dying fruit and nut trees; avocados, figs, citrus and macadamia. I think I must have an arborist gene; I know I’ve inherited a love of trees from my father. These trees are driving me crazy. I have spent part of every day for the past month pruning, watering, raking, and haven’t touched half the trees. Jim got into the act, bless him and he makes it much easier. A gift from him this week; another hundred feet of hose so I no longer have to carry five gallon buckets of water. We are in a water emergency here in the west, but I’m very careful about watering. My only fear is that I’ll kill something that is doing fine in dormancy, although my Aunt Lil just confirmed I should be watering. Here’s an Indian Prayer for trees.

Earth Prayer
Grandfather, Great Spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice.
You lived first, and you are older than all need, older than all prayer.
All things belong to you — the two-legged, the four-legged, the wings of the air, and all green things that live.
You have set the powers of the four quarters of the earth to cross each other.
You have made me cross the good road and road of difficulties, and where they cross, the place is holy.
Day in, day out, forevermore, you are the life of things.
Hey! Lean to hear my feeble voice.
At the center of the sacred hoop
You have said that I should make the tree to bloom.
With tears running, O Great Spirit, my Grandfather,
With running eyes I must say
The tree has never bloomed
Here I stand, and the tree is withered.
Again, I recall the great vision you gave me.
It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives.
Nourish it then
That it may leaf
And bloom
And fill with singing birds!
Hear me, that the people may once again
Find the good road
And the shielding tree.
– Black Elk 3

Pay Attention

I am not a religious person, but I am spiritual, and trying to be alert to the spiritual around me these days. I have some distractions that immediately make me either be fearful or think negatively.  I don’t live in a vacuum, so protecting myself from the unpleasant by isolation isn’t an option.  One of the ways I am attempting to be positive is by trying to stay in touch with my spiritual beliefs.  When someone asks me to pray for them, I do it right then.  I learned to do this from my friend Claire, who confessed to me about thirty years ago that she prays right away for requests because she is afraid that if she doesn’t, she’ll forget.  This technique has worked for me over the years, especially now when my memory seems to be fading at record speed.

Something that I am learning from my friend Jill, is to make sure that I set aside a time for the spiritual and don’t leave it to chance.  The night hours don’t always work well for me because, face it, when you get up at four in the morning, by the time night falls, you’re tired!  So I try doing my altar time or meditating in the morning.  Or if is nice out at dusk, I might light a fire in the fire pit and sit outside on our patio at the edge of the ravine.  It is dark and quiet out there after the sun sets and if you are very still, you can hear the animals moving through the forest.

My friend, Betty and I have birthdays within a couple of days of each other and when we turned sixty, we noticed that suddenly we were both being led to say no more often, and to not do anything that we didn’t want to do unless it was absolutely necessary.  We try not to be coerced.  Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t try to do everything we can when a friend is asking for something.  But it seems like we are both able to resist being manipulated.  Our inner voices are coming in loud and clear.

Sedona, Arizona is considered a very spiritual place, and I believe that this area in west Michigan, especially where we are right at the edge of the ravine, is very spiritual.  So many things have occurred that are blessings!  My Aunt Von told me yesterday to pay attention.  She said that so much that we experience is our intuition, or something from the outside coming to guide us.   In different instances lately, I know that my mother is giving my sister, Liz and I her wisdom.  Or I feel her support.  My intuition has grown by leaps and bounds.  I believe this is due to using it and not ignoring it. You can get all the advice in the world but if you don’t recognize it and put it into use, it isn’t going to work.  So I am working at considering ideas that come to me and investigating their source.  Not every single thing needs to be put into play.

Something wonderful happened this morning that is a combination of blessings and an answer to prayer.  I have written before about Jim and I sitting in our kitchen, watching birds and wildlife in our back yard.  This morning I was deep in thought, and a large bird flew from over our roof and swooped into a tree.  I thought it was a big hawk or even an eagle, which we have.  And then its head swirled around and I saw that it is an owl!  I love owls!  I have been hoping to see one since we moved here.  Suddenly I thought, this is no coincidence.   The owl has come here for me.  I quickly got out my books and found that Athene is the goddess of communication, the patron of writers and that her totem is the owl.  I can’t describe how thrilling this is to me.  I think my mother sent the owl.  So while she is here looking at me, I might add, I am going to say my prayers for my extended family and all my friends and just enjoy being in the presence of such a fabulous creature.