I never could color inside the lines.

I met with another book club last night — have I mentioned how much I love this? — and my host asked a terrific question:

“If the last page of your book were the first page of a different book, what would happen?”

Anyone who’s read 600 Hours of Edward would understand why I politely declined to answer. The open-ended conclusion allows readers to make their own choices about where the story goes, and I don’t want to intrude on that. This is the biggest reason — not the only one, but the biggest — there will be no sequel. Moving Edward into another story means moving him from that spot, and I don’t want to do that.

The whole notion of ceding control to readers fascinates me. Leaving wide-open areas for interpretation is tough to do — one need only look at all the horribly expository stories out there to realize this — but enormously satisfying for readers who don’t want to be spoon-fed.

Every time I talk to folks who’ve taken on my novel, I get a new insight into the story — some of them more surprising than others.

Last night, one of the book club members zeroed in on a scene midway through the book, as a flummoxed Edward fields increasingly angry e-mails from his online paramour, Joy-Annette, and can respond only by typing up his responses, printing them out and filing them away with his letters of complaint.

Here’s the passage:

Annette, or Joy, or whoever she is, writes three more times, and my green office folder begins to fill up.

Edward:
I was going to write and see if we could work something out but I think that it is better to let it go. I think at this point, any making up would just lead to more of the same kind of misunderstanding and “drama.” I think your substantial, kind-hearted, sweet, beautiful in your own way, and so much more you will never know. But I cant go into something this emotional. My last boyfriend, whom I dearly loved and completely supported through so much stuff, took it and them he slammed another girl just a few short months ago. Therefore, I am looking for a less dramatic deal right now.
Annette

Annette:
My head is swimming. You’re looking for a less dramatic deal? Somehow, I find that hard to believe.
Regards,
Edward Stanton

Edward:
I wish you would write back. I need to know what your thinking about all of this. Maybe there’s a way we could start over. I don’t know. Write me back and lets talk about it.
Annette

Annette:
I think it’s funny — not funny “ha, ha” but just funny — that I’m the one with mental illness.
Regards,
Edward Stanton

Edward:
Your an asshole. I pour out my heart to you and you say nothing. Goodbye, looser.
Annette

Annette:
Goodbye. And it’s “loser.”
Regards,
Edward Stanton

I put the green office folder called “Joy — aka, Annette” away for the last time. It’s nearly noon, and I’m headed back to bed.

We were chatting about the comedy of Edward’s frantically responding to Joy-Annette’s shrill messages but filing them away (a key aspect of the book is that Edward does not send his letters of complaint). Then my questioner says, “Yes, but he sent one of those messages.”

No, I say, he doesn’t.

She insists that he did, that Joy-Annette wouldn’t have kept writing if he hadn’t. She pulls out the book. She deconstructs the scene. “He sent a message,” she says. I’m smiling. She’s convinced. And you know what? Maybe he did. I certainly didn’t conceive it that way, but really, my intentions don’t matter. Her sense of it does.

So Edward sent one of those messages, okay? Unless, of course, you think he didn’t.

*****

Yesterday, I wrote a little ditty about literary fiction.

Turns out that mega-ultra-super-duper agent Nathan Bransford was doing the same thing. A robust discussion is taking place in the comments section, if you’re interested …

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