the written world: pop goes the scene


the once and future witches has been out for about three months and it’s in its fifth (5th) printing, which--for a second standalone novel at the height of a pandemic and a global recession, during a historically exhausting election season that was followed by an equally exhausting white supremacist coup attempt--is pretty goddamn great. i didn’t know if anybody was going to want 500 pages of tangled fury, but some of you do, and i’m embarrassingly grateful.

and ***THE EBOOK IS ON SALE TODAY FOR $4!*** so if you’ve been stuck on a library waitlist or hesitating over the hardcover price (fair!!) or if you have a very conservative relative who needs a passive aggressive gift they are sure to hate……..

in other news:

  • i am (honestly, sincerely) pleased to report that i DON’T have a novel coming out in 2021! but i DO have a novella from tor dot com, which is available for preorder for your bookslinger of choice. it’s spider-verse x sleeping beauty, where all the sleeping beauties crash through the multiverse to save each other from their very weaksauce story. i’m...super proud of it, actually, but don’t tell anyone. 

  • i have a short story coming out in the newly-and-beautifully-relaunched Apex Magazine! it’s called “Mr. Death” (issue 121), and it’s about the grim reaper and a two year old (note content warnings for death, fatal medical conditions, and the (past) death of a child. it’s heavy, but doesn’t have a dark ending); subscribers can already read it, and it’ll be posted online for free in the next couple weeks!

pop goes the scene

i find myself in the position, once again, of trying to talk about a narrative element that i would probably have a term for if i had any idea what i was doing, which i absolutely do not. so, bear with me: i want to talk about the last couple sentences of a scene. that final beat before the ###, the blank page, the next chapter. sometimes these are unremarkable. a character goes to sleep or passes out. someone walks out the door. it begins, gently, to rain. but sometimes a scene closes with an inaudible, intangible pop, like a puzzle piece snapping into place, and those endings--those are the endings that separate good books from great books, and i have no real idea how or why they work. 

all i have is a (partial, unscientific, subjective) taxonomy of good closers. sometimes the thing that gets me is the late, cheeky addition of one little extra bit of information (the detective unlocks his desk drawer to read over that letter once more, but--gasp!--the letter is gone). sometimes it’s a very, very good line of dialogue, a quip or a pledge or a whisper; sometimes it’s an Ominous Sign of things to come (a dead bird on the sidewalk, a grim headline, a missed birthday) or a sudden reversal of fortunes.  sometimes it’s just a simile that so perfectly captures the emotion of the passage that it feels like the writer taking a well-deserved bow.

one of my favorite closers is this simple line of dialogue from h.g. parry’s the unlikely escape of uriah heep:

“I think,” Charley said slowly, “that’s the cry of a gigantic hound.”

it would be unremarkable if it weren’t for all the things the reader already knows. we already know charley is a professor of victorian literature. we already know he can summon characters out of books. we know, therefore, exactly which gigantic hound is crying in the night, and a shiver of nostalgic fear runs up our spines.

it works, too, because it so perfectly suits the book. it’s fun and exciting and unashamedly referential, in love with the relationship between text and reader. and that, maybe, is the thing that makes a closer feel just right to me:that it fits the tone and style and heart of the book it’s in. it tells me what kind of story this is, and how i’m going to feel when it’s over.

marilynne robinson’s closers are often unsettling, piercing in some way i can’t articulate, just like her books. early on in housekeeping a scene ends:

“It was so very long since the dark had swum in her hair, and there was nothing more to dream of, but often she almost slipped through any door i saw from the side of my eye, and it was she, and not changed, not perished. she was music i no longer heard, that rang in my mind, itself and nothing else, lost to all sense, but not perished, not perished.”

this book, it says, is cold and strange. it will leave an ache in your chest, as if you, too, are a wild orphan thing.

or think of the final moments of the first episode of fleabag’s second season. “the priest was quite hot,” claire observes abruptly, and fleabag says, “so hot.” then she smiles her trademark smile straight at the camera, the one that promises fuckery and trouble and bad decisions, and in those few seconds we know she’s going to spend season 2 in disastrous pursuit of a hot priest.

all this newsletter needs now is a good closer. a line that summarizes but doesn’t repeat, that leaves you thinking, huh! how insightful!! but instead--because the kids are getting restless and it’s pancake day and i’m a fundamentally lazy person--i’ll let it hang, like the abrupt end of a list. i never said i was good at them.

further reading

  • i was recently a guest on How Writers Write, a podcast about….how...writers….write. it was a bunch of fun and we talked about why historians and authors are both so interested in agency.

  • plain bad heroines is ALSO a kindle deal today!!! if you haven’t heard me talk about this book you haven’t been near me recently, which is smart. it’s probably my favorite book of 2020--read lee mandelo’s review if you doubt my word, which you should!

  • the year of the witching is ALSOOOO on sale today, a book which has the exact vibe of The VVitch!!! i loved it/was terrified by it!!

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