**Charles Dickens from the preface of David Copperfield.
HANK: Go get a box of tissues. Then come back.
Sharon Wildwind (and this isn't the sad part) became one of my first colleagues in mystery-writing world. We've never met in person, but we connected because she's a friend of my old pal Laura Palmer (are you out there, Laura?) who was a reporter during the VietNam war. Sharon was in the war. A nurse. Here she is, in the early 70's signing someone into the Pleiku Emergency room.
She came home safely (obviously still not the sad part) and eventually wrote five mystery novels. Her main characters were drawn from her own experiences...and in country and back home.
Now Sharon has decided that the series has come to a logical conclusion.
And that is the sad part.
Here's Sharon Wildwind.
Empty Nest Syndrome
I already have plans for the spare room. Making plans for the spare room is what mothers do, isn’t it, when their kids leave home? I’m a little hazy on this, never having had any real children.
The children who are leaving home are my Vietnam veteran characters. Benny Kirkpatrick, child #3, is headed for the altar in the fourth book in the series, Missing, Presumed Wed, which was released in September of this year.
Let me say that there are problems with the wedding, like Benny’s mother being kidnapped and Lorraine Fulford, Benny’s fiancée, not sure that she wants to marry into Benny’s strange family. Regardless of whether the wedding comes off or not—you’ll have to read the book to find out—Benny and my other three fictitious children, Elizabeth Pepperhawk, Avivah Rosen, and Colonel Darby Baxter, are leaving home.
I’ve told them so in no uncertain terms, and encouraged them to start packing.
Their fifth and last adventure, Loved Honor More, is almost finished. At the end, everyone gets a chance to be brave and most of them have to make a choice between love and honor. Tough calls.
Last week a reader asked me how I knew that it was time to end the series. One nice thing about writing stories that take place thirty-five to forty years in the past is that it’s possible to pick specific dates with which to bookend the story arc. When I began the series, I decided to cover a period starting when Pepper came home from Viet Nam (July 1971) and ending in the weeks following the fall of the American Embassy in Saigon (April 30, 1975).
I hoped at least three stories would fit comfortably into that time frame. As it turned out, I found five. In the words of the Australian song writer, Eric Bogle:
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory . . .
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all
~The Band Played Waltzing Matilda
By the time the American Embassy fell, most of my protagonists were in their thirties. Pepper, the baby of the group, was twenty-eight. Even the most militarily gung-ho among them found their memories changing. Days would go by without Viet Nam intruding. Nights would go by without bad dreams. Paying the mortgage had become more important than paying the piper.
One of the nice things about ending this series is that I can use up my treasure storehouse. All the snippets of dialog, partial scenes, etc. that I’ve held on to because they were too good to use up are going into the final book. It’s the mental equivalent of cleaning a closet.
The day I send the final book out into the world looking for a publisher, I’m holding an emancipation party. Each of my characters will get a certificate stating that he or she is now an emancipated minor. Small gifts will be exchanged and there will be balloons and noisemakers and, of course, cake. Always have cake.
I won’t mind if they drop by from time-to-time to let me know how their lives are going, but they will no longer be required show up for literary roll call Monday to Friday at 0800 hours. I think most of them will be relieved about that.
As for all that spare mental space that their departures will create, I’ve already got tenants waiting. A few years ago I had another emancipation party, for characters in a series set in northern Alberta that I realized stood very little chance of being published as it was then written. The characters went away, had further adventures, and now they want to move back in. I understand this also happens with real children.
They’re going to have to share the space with characters in a stand-alone about love and knowing when to quit. It’s going to be interesting to see whether the new series or the stand-alone wins first place as the next book in the queue. Whichever one does, I only hope that the readers and I have as much fun with the new group as we’ve had with Pepper, Avivah, Benny, and Darby.
I’ll send you a postcard from my new headspace.
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