This morning, over two cups of coffee, I wrote the final scene of Necessary Evil. And, thus, the final scene of the entire Milkweed Triptych.
This is the third novel I’ve finished (not counting one hilariously sucktackular piece of compost in my trunk that will never ever see the light of day). But it’s the first time I’ve finished a trilogy (obviously), and it feels a little different.
It didn’t really hit me until I shut down Word and copied backups to the thumb drives, which is part of my daily ritual for closing out a writing session. And then I realized: “Holy crap. This is the last time I’ll do backups to new Milkweed content.” And I got a little wistful.
(Yes, I’m a sentimental weirdo. Pleased to meet you.)
I have, I like to believe, a pretty solid sense of perspective. So, I’m well aware of how minor this is in the larger scheme of things. It ain’t like I’m writing War and Peace, or the Song of Ice and Fire, after all.
Nevertheless, this was a personal milestone. As I’ve said many times in many venues, I originally embarked on this writing project just for the sake of having a project. I wanted to tackle something bigger than a short story so that I could concentrate solely on craft for a while, instead of devising a new story for each meeting of my writing group. I sought a millstone against which I could grind my writing skills.
Well. Yeah. Found it. And grind it did. For the next four years. Which is something, considering that I’d expected to write a single standalone novel. Not a trilogy requiring backbreaking historical research.
(What an undertaking it must be to write an epic fantasy series, with 5 or 7 or 10 or more books. Maybe someday in some far-off future, I’ll give it a shot. But not in the near term future. Spending four years on one project was quite enough for me. What would it be like to spend a decade or more with an entire world in my head? I honestly can’t imagine it. The Jordans and Martins and Sandersons and Ericksons of the world have my deep and abiding respect for the sheer magnitude of their self-appointed tasks.)
When I brought the idea to my writing group, and they promptly turned it into a trilogy, they actually felt a little badly about getting so excited about it. A couple of folks actually worried that they had broken me. (They only told me about this much later, though. And I got the last laugh anyway—they might have challenged me with a much larger project than I thought I was ready for, but they actually had to read my first drafts. Ha ha ha, those suckers!)
So, when I started writing Bitter Seeds, I didn’t know if I could write a freakin’ WWII novel. And I had no idea if I’d make it to the end of the entire story. Frankly, I had my doubts. When I started The Coldest War, I didn’t know if I could write two novels. And then I found myself elbow deep in Necessary Evil, and for a while it felt like I’d never see the end of the story, even though I’d already covered 2/3 of it. But all along, I knew what the last scene would be. Almost from the beginning. I think I was about halfway through writing the prologue to Bitter Seeds when I suddenly realized what the final scene had to be.
And that’s what I wrote this morning. It’s pretty much what I imagined. Turns out that what I had always thought would be the last line of dialogue wasn’t quite the last, but it’s pretty damn close.
Necessary Evil isn’t done-done yet. I’m printing the entire manuscript right now, so that I can start pen-on-paper revisions tomorrow morning. I’ll read and rewrite the entire manuscript before I submit it to my editor. And, of course, after that there’s all the work that has to happen to turn a manuscript into an actual book. Big difference between words on paper and something with a cover. But my contribution is coming to an end; soon, it will be in the hands of editors and copyeditors and cover artists and layout designers and an entire publishing infrastructure. At some point the book will come back to me in different guises, with different purposes. Editorial notes. Copyedits. Galley proofs.
I still have a LOT of work to do on the Necessary Evil rewrite, to try to hammer this thing into some semblance of shape before foisting it on my editor. But what has changed, as of this morning, is what I’ll call the “mental burden” (for lack of a better term). The burden of original composition. The burden of feeling guilty whenever my thoughts strayed away from Milkweed, whenever I had down time but didn’t dedicate it to trying to figure out how I was going to approach the next scene in the book, and the scene after that, and the scene after that… All that time I’ve spent dutifully daydreaming about Marsh and Gretel and Will and Klaus and Reinhardt and Liv and good old Stephenson.
[Printing update: Well, that’s a lovely new sound. I think the laser printer is happy to see the end of this trilogy, too.]
It’s a strange thing, after living with these characters and their world in my head for a few years. But now I’m free of them. Or, perhaps more importantly, they’re free of me. I’m no longer obligated to devote my spare processing cycles to their struggles.
I’m free to turn my daydreaming to other projects. I’m already flirting with the new idea, and looking forward to our first date together, after I send Necessary Evil to my editor. And if things go well, I hope to be deep into a committed relationship with a new novel—with new characters, new rules, a whole new world—by the time The Coldest War hits the shelves.
Marsh? Gretel? It’s been fun. Maybe we’ll see each other again in a short story. I love you guys, but don’t call me. I’ll call you.