52 Pickup 2.0, #40 10/6/2020
“Not to be morbid, but have you thought about writing a book that will finish the series? And just keep it in reserve in case you get sick or something happens to you? I am thinking of Sue Grafton and how she passed before she finished the Kinsey Milhone series, or how Henning Mankell became ill and wrote the ending to Wallander?”
-Lynn Henderson Thompson
Not morbid at all, and yes that thought has crossed my mind. The problem, of course, is that authors, like everybody else, think we’re going to live forever… “Ask not for whom the bell tolls” comes to mind when I think of author mortality, whether it’s Hemingway’s ambulance crash, Dostoevsky being marched out of prison to be shot, Stephen King being run over by a car, Samuel Beckett getting knifed on the streets of Paris or Hunter S. Thompson fighting a riptide and almost drowning—it almost happens to everybody, and then eventually it does.
I’ve always been intrigued by writers who were that far-sighted. Some of the ones who immediately come to mind are C.S. Forester and his Horatio Hornblower series where he wrote a short story about the courageous admiral long after his retirement where the grandson of his old adversary Napoleon has his carriage break down outside Hornblower’s home and provides the man with a place to stay for the night; another being Dumas’ Twenty Years After where we learn of the final destiny of The Three Musketeers.
Nobody wants to tempt the fates, but an awful lot of writers have left the reader to imagine what could possibly happen to the characters. I don’t particularly care for the idea of leaving the good sheriff hanging, so I can’t help but imagine that I’ll come up with something even if there’s a hubris involved with thinking you can sum up the character’s entire existence. Sometimes I think it’s best to just get the characters to a place that’s acceptable and leave it at that.
Of course, these days if there’s a popular series, the estate of the author contacts another writer and just keeps the series going, something I have to admit that I’m not in favor of. It seems to me that’s like deciding that you’re going to take a composer’s work and continue writing their music or adding to an artist’s canvases, which changes the complexion of the original work as a whole, altering it—and I think that’s wrong. There are some wonderful writers out there that do a masterful job at re-writing other authors and I can understand taking the characters from another author and then doing something different such as Anne Hillerman’s continuation of Tony’s novels. In my estimation she did it exactly right, waiting a reasonable amount of time and then taking a support character from her father’s books and elevating that character to a central role all the while making her father’s characters a background of her own.
I’ve warned Judy that if something happens to me that that’s it, no more Longmire.
I do have some strong feelings about where the series and its characters will end up, even timing it out to approximately when I think my writing career will be drawing to a close. I shared some of those ideas with the Longmire producers and they modified those thoughts to suit the quasi-ending of the TV series.
One of the difficulties in writing an entire end-point novel is that you’d have to put all that effort into a piece and then stick it in a drawer like a time capsule where it wouldn’t be garnering any income and that’s tough to do in that you only have so many writing hours in the day. I can see the appeal of a short story or one of the novellas like Spirit of Steamboat or The Highwayman which are easy enough to write when I have extra time.
Of course, the stories do change in the writing so some conclusion I come to now might not fit the characters twenty years from now—but I’ll be keeping it in mind.
See you on the trail,