Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Every Time We Say Goodbye

"It would concern the reader little, perhaps, to know, how sorrowfully the pen is laid down at the close of a two-years' imaginative task; or how an Author feels as if he were dismissing some portion of himself into the shadowy world, when a crowd of the creatures of his brain are going from him for ever."

**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.

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 fiancĂ©e, 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.

Want to get back into a cheerier mood? Click here.


  1. What a thoughtful (and thought-provoking) post. Sharon, I believe we interacted a few times when I was a member of the Guppies back in 2005-2006. I have always loved the premise for your series, and am glad to see you again here.

    I look forward to wherever imagination takes you next.

  2. Sharon, welcome. I look forward to reading your work, both the ended series and the new work. And as a Girl Scout for 12 years (then and now, also a writer), I love the merit badges!


  3. Hi Sharon, love those merit badges! One of my big time regrets is that I didn't keep my Girl Scout sash--I had filled up the front and the badges were moving around the back. Would love to look at that now. what was I thinking?

    I also had the experience of a five book series ending--the Cassie Burdette golf mysteries. It's one of life's "little deaths" to finish up with a set of characters. I assure you that I went through all the stages of grief...but time heals, though that sounds silly in this context! I have really enjoyed moving on to write the next book and one after that. And Cassie still feels like a good, old friend. (I think she was relieved to have me move on and badger another character.)

  4. Sharon, it's a series I'm going to miss more than I can say. I feel deeply connected to Benny, Elizabeth, Avivah and Darby. I'll look for them in your future novels. But whatever you write, I know I'll love. You, Ms. Wildwind, are an enormous talent, so please - just keep writing.
    (thanks to Hank for the head's up about the tissues!)

  5. Sharon, I've had the pleasure of reading and enjoying the first four Benny, Elizabeth, Avivah and Darby books and sharing them with our local SinC chapter, Murder We Write. I will be sad to say good bye to these folks who have become 'friends' to me, but I wish them well. I know you will continue to entertain and inspire your readers no matter which book and/or series you decide to write next.
    All the best,
    (President: Murder We Write)

  6. Thank you all so much. It is so nice to see that the merit badges are out there circulating. I occasionally post new ones on my web site.

    Most of all, thanks for the positive comments about this series. It has been a roller-coaster ride, mostly fun, and I think after the fabulous four leave home, I will miss them more than I think.

    Hey, Susannah. I do remember you from Guppies.

  7. It's always a tough decision to end a series. I still haven't officially ended my Constable Evans books because I'm not ready to say goodbye to him.
    I your case, Sharon, they are tied to an emotional time in your life so I realize this must be a big decision.
    Good luck with your new venture.

  8. You have such a great mind and very image-heavy discussions. It's a pleasure to read this.

    Unfortunately for me, I'm not entirely certain I'll ever be able to end any of my series. I'm running a 4- or 5-star hotel (if my reviews are to believed), and my characters move to different rooms rather than move out. They also fill rooms with their friends, and if they DO move out, they either come back for a visit or convince their friends to book in for a few months or years. Even those that left after the honeymoon some 8 years ago are back again now for a second.


  9. Fascinating post and introduction. Thank you.


    Terry Odell




    Email Hank at hryan at whdh dot com
    with your snail mail address!

  11. Lovely post, Sharon. Having read snippets of Book 5, I can assure your fans that plenty will happen before that five-hankie ending. And if you ever want to bring your characters back--well, in real life, my stepdaughter moved back in for a while right after she got married! So I believe it's never too late. :)

  12. Sharon, you always find the BEST way to say everything! Thanks, Hank, for having Sharon here. I'm looking forward to a brand new series, after the last one of these, of course!