II. The Agony of The End

There’s a certain euphoric sensation that seeps through you when you finish a tale. That moment you write The End, you become emotional soup. There’s relief upon getting that far. There’s excitement, and also anxiety. There’s almost always the certainty that it could be better, and sometimes doubt as to whether it’s good enough. (Hint: it’s probably not; now’s also when you start to feel overwhelmed at the massive revisions ahead.) There’s sorrow. Exhaustion. Elation.

You lean back in your chair and sigh. You call someone, whoever it is you usually call, your spouse or lover or friend or rival, just to tell them the news. “I’m done.” “Really? Congratulations!” Like you’re really, actually done–because you’re not–like you’ve given birth to something–because you haven’t. But you’ve completed the first draft, and that is most definitely an accomplishment. Celebrate. You’ve earned it.

I haven’t.

Yesterday, I completed the first draft of the first novella of this 12-in-12. I wrote END right there, in the place where it belongs. I sat back, I sighed, I made that phone call. Then I asked myself, “What now?”

I always ask that. Do I send the manuscript to a First Reader? Print it and attack with the blue pen right away? Put it aside for a month or two and take it up again with fresh eyes? It’s a powerful question, and there are plenty of good answers. And maybe none of them are wrong; every story will have its own perfect next step. But now, completing the first of twelve, the question has another urgent layer: What now? How do I start the second novella immediately upon completing the first?

(In case you’re interested: the first novella is awaiting a title, though it was briefly known as The Queen in Winter and, also briefly, In The North Country; it’s a noir-tinged fantasy set in motion by memories of upstate New York, Route 9, and a quiet unassuming motel set just off the road; it’s also about a circus, and cats, and poetry; and it’s a story for fathers and daughters, despite that I’m neither a daughter nor a father.)

I grabbed the bits and pieces of two novellas I know I’ll be working on this year, Kings and Ghosts, and sent out a search party to find the notes, character sheets, and bible. (Yes, these are Midnight stories, so there’s much known and unknown about that city, and I’ve got to keep all its details straight.) But I also know I need a day to decompress. It sounds awful. It feels awful. It, in fact, is awful. But I need one day to clear my head before I dive into the second novella.

I’m off to a good start. The first novella took less than half a month. It fell a little short of the twenty-five thousand word goal, but that’s okay. Some will be shorter, some will be longer. I’m also allowing my mind to process other thoughts and gestate fledgling ideas. Because that’s how it’s done. My mind is a mad scientist’s lab, complete with attics, turrets, basements, cellars, secret rooms, and dancing girls. There are clouded mason jars hiding things better left hidden, and some of those jars have been in here since childhood. There’s a massive kitchen with pots of stew bubbling along nicely, sauces that are nearly ready or too thin or in serious need of some reducing. There’s a living room where I keep the various versions of me, past, present, non-existent, and unimagined. We argue philosophy and politics and mathematical theories.

So I’m wandering this labyrinthine chateau, with its pitfalls and poisons and flowers and, like I said, dancing girls, and tomorrow I’ll emerge with the first few words of the second 12-in-12 novella.

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