“If you want a happy ending you have to decide where to stop your story – Orson Welles”
I am slightly addicted to twists whether I’m writing a whodunit, a microstory, or any of the other ways in which I kowtow before my muse. The one on the drawing board has several twists. There’s one, though, which turns the whole story from a slightly OTT love story (the alert reader is already saying hang on just a minute) to a slightly creepy stalker story, to abrupt terror. In two paragraphs it goes from mildly steamy (and wildly romantic) to chilling, and I didn’t even plan it that way. I love it, though.
Hence the Orson Welles quote. I could literally stop the story at its happy point and leave most of its readers contented.
Not going to, though. The book in question (and I only say this because I am personally annoyed by dangling hints and coy half-references) is still in process, The Money Honey, and it’s odd in many ways.
Only once before have I had a young protagonist*, because I find mature characters much more intricate and interesting, but Miranda’s story starts when she’s around twenty, in 1996, and the reader follows her for the next twenty years.
She only came into existence because she’s a large part of the backstory for Seventeen Eighteen Past Lies Waiting, which is being published soon. I wrote her story separately, to get it clear in my head, and then I got engrossed in the challenges it presented. I hadn’t a clue who my target reader was, but sometimes books take on a life of their own and this is one.
There was tons of rewriting for Seventeen Eighteen, as it happened, but the beta readers who have now read both books were pretty positive in their feedback. However, the beta readers who only read Money Honey weren’t. They found the ending, with its sudden introduction of a bunch of amateur sleuths from the Lawns, thoroughly confusing.
By the time that feedback was trickling in, I quite liked my Money Honey but I could see their point, as a stand-alone book she would need an ending of her own. So I borrowed from a few other authors faced with similar situations, and Money Honey has three endings.
Miranda’s whole story is about the unorthodox choices she makes (the working title was Step By Step) so it felt right to let those readers who have engaged with her make the final choice for her. They will choose whether she calls an old friend for help, which is where Seventeen Eighteen came into the picture – or whether she tackles the situation herself, the way she’s always done – or whether the original storyline from Seventeen Eighteen holds true, but this time she and her son take on the challenge together.
No confusion there, then.
It really has been a very challenging book, I’ve put it aside at least five times and every time it has come yammering after me demanding attention. She’s so unlike any of my other characters, and so very in need of a happy ending.
And yes I know the other meaning of that phrase. In fact that’s why Money Honey is going out under the Clarissa name, not EJ Lamprey. Lots of happy endings, and never, it seems, one for her.
Seventeen Eighteen has finished its rewrites, gone off for editing, started its countdown, and will be out shortly. Oh, and one other oddity – they share the same cover photograph. Slightly different cropping, a lighting difference, but the same photograph. I’m not being cheap, I’m not even being Scottish and practical, I simply couldn’t decide which cover to use it on. It feels right to have it on both.
*Lucy, in Time Before Time, by Joanna Lamprey