People are fascinated that somebody who is a journalist can suddenly start making things up.
The cynic in me is just dying to comment, but never mind that. What I meant to blog about was this interesting answer to a question put to Ms. Quindlen in last week's Kansas City Star:
Do you like that as a novelist you can stay with your characters longer than you can as a journalist?
You’re with them longer, but the truth is in some ways you have a different obligation to them. When you stop writing about people you cover as a reporter, they’re left with their lives. When you stop writing about your characters, their lives cease. So you feel an obligation toward them as you’re writing because you’re keenly aware you’re going to put a period at the end of the sentence. People will ask, “What happened to Robert after Black and Blue,” and I say, “I left when you did.” But in the fast and dirty of journalism you walk away, and that has caused me more than a few pangs of guilt.”
People often ask me what happened to certain characters in my books after the stories ended. This baffles me. I'd like to follow Ms. Quindlen's lead and say, "I left when you did," but I'm afraid readers would find that a bit abrupt. So I usually make something up on the spot. Seriously.
Like most writers, I have trouble letting go of my characters when it's time to finish the book. If readers have a similar letting-go problem, I'm thrilled because that means I did my job and wrote some memorable characters.
When readers and my editor clamored for me to bring back a secondary character from my popular first book, Finding Hope, I held out for a while and then caved and wrote Tom Hartman's story. But as things turned out, my editor didn't want to buy it. I have explained that to a couple of hundred readers (no exaggeration), adding that I might one day rework that finished manuscript and try again to sell it. But at present I'm much more interested in other projects.
Maybe this will change as I continue to grow as a writer. But for now, my aim is to write stand-alone books that are over when they're over-- except for any daydreaming readers may care to indulge in regarding what might happen next. Yes, I realize that writers who hook readers on a series of books are ensuring great sales. But I don't like sequels and I especially don't like romance-novel series. If you want to see me yawn, offer me eight books containing the love stories of eight hunky brothers called something like The Westons of Renegade Ranch.
As a reader and a writer, I want a completely new experience from every novel. I want each book to lure me into a new world populated by characters I haven't met before. But that's my preference. What's yours?