52 Pick-up 2.0, #21, 6/2/2020
Mary Jane Spice: “Have you mapped out the story of Walt and comp or do you go with the flow? Do you have an ending in mind?”
Hi Mary Jane,
I don’t see how you can start a series and not think about how it’s all going to end, and I guess that’s mirrored in the construction of my books. I suppose some people are surprised to discover that I “bookend” the novels with Walt ending a book where it started, either with a location, action, or line of dialogue. Readers have asked why I do that, and I guess it has something to do with the cyclical nature of things–what goes around comes around. I don’t push it a great deal, but I think it’s a situation where not all readers might pick up on it, but their mind does.
The first time I did it was in the first book, The Cold Dish with Walt watching the Canada Geese from his office window as they head south for the winter, another seasonal and cyclical act. I think we take comfort in those cycles, especially in the crazy world we live in today. I find myself taking a lot of comfort in nature and the world that surrounds my ranch.
In the broader sense, I think we see Walt on the back slope of his career, a man approaching a twilight that he welcomes to a certain extent, and the older I get the more I truly understand that. I think he’s still got a long way to go, maybe even longer than he wants, but that’s the nature of keeping on keeping on.
Each book is a year-long work, and I’m afraid I can’t trust that kind of endeavor to fate. I’ve said numerous times that I like having an outline for my novels, kind of like a roadmap to help me out in case I get a little lost along the way. Generally, when you start a novel there’s a conceit that you know what it’s about, but in the writing that conclusion usually evolves, and you have to change the game plan. Those instances in the process used to scare the daylights out of me, but then I learned that those moments of improvisation can be the most powerful in a novel, an opportunity to do something you hadn’t anticipated—and if you can surprise yourself you might surprise the reader.
In the long term I’ve brought up a number of questions in Walt’s life such as his upcoming election (another cycle), his relationship with his daughter, the story of his parents, his rocky relationship with his grandfather, and others… All of these will have to come to some sort of restitution before I can wrap up the series—which is not to say that I’m in any hurry to do that!
Technically, the difficulty that you run into as a writer is that like everyone else, you think you’re going to live forever. The line is legion of all the successful series characters who never really got a proper sendoff because their creator slumped over the keyboard figuring they had another three or four books in them. Of course, this has been solved by estates hiring other writers to come in and continue a series long after the original author has bitten the proverbial dust.
Just as a note: I’ve told Judy that if I venture off into that undiscovered country from which no traveler born returns and she hires somebody else to write Walt Longmire, I’m coming back to the ranch and haunt her.
C. S. Forester pulled off a pretty slick trick by writing a short story where Horatio Hornblower (one of my youthful favorites) got to meet his arch nemesis Napoleon’s grandson in a short story. Then of course there was Dumas’ Twenty Years After, where we learned the final fate of the Three Musketeers… I’d like to think I’ll be prescient enough to know when the end of my writing career is approaching enough to give Walt the final verse and chapter he deserves. Hang with me, and we’ll see how that all turns out.
See you on the trail,