Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot
- Truman Capote
A statement like that makes a reasonable person gasp. The idea of "taking a child out in the back yard and shooting it" is such an arresting and shocking image that it takes one's breath away.
But if you're a writer--or anyone who creates--you might understand. First off, to say that Capote had a flair for the dramatic would be an understatement. In life as well as in his writing, he loved to push buttons, which is probably why he's remembered as much for who he was as much as for what he wrote. But Capote's point, about the sadness and loss a creative person feels at the end of a project is a lot like a death. A death that you bring about by your own hand.
I understand the quote because I feel a sense of loss and despair when I write the words, "the end." For me, who rarely writes a series, it is as if I have effectively killed off my characters. More prosaic people in my life think I'm crazy when I say that my characters come to life for me when I'm writing a book and that they often surprise me with what they do or say. Other writers--for the most part--understand.
For me, writing a book is all about taking a journey with the characters I have created. In the course of that trip, I nurture them. I love them (even the bad ones...and as many parents might attest, sometimes you love the bad ones the most). I don't always see it as me giving them life, but them giving something to me--surprises, emotions, a better understanding of not only them, but myself. They become dear to me, real to me.
When I finished my novel Deadly Vision, I asked my friend Mary, who was an early reader of the book, to give me her opinion on it. In the course of our conversation, I told Mary about that sense of loss I felt now that my characters' journeys were over and how much I missed them. She laughed and said that maybe I should "host a tea party" for my "little friends." She didn't quite get it. Or maybe she did. One of the best tests of friendships is sometimes the ability to be mean with each other and get away with it. But I digress.
The point is, when I get to the end of a book, it's not a cause for celebration, it's an occasion for mourning. Because, to use Capote's rather melodramatic analogy, I have taken my offspring out in the backyard and shot them. They are gone and for me, they won't be back. Once a work is published, I never reread it. And maybe that's why, because when I'm done, I'm done. And those people I came to know so well are gone forever, like dead loved ones. It's bittersweet to revisit their world.
Call me fickle, but after a suitable period of mourning, I find comfort in the arms of new friends, new characters and seldom look back on those I've shot. Heartless bastard.