The End – Again?

All writers feel a certain sense of accomplishment when they get to write “The End” at the conclusion of a story, novella, or novel. That, of course, was what you were aiming for when you sat down to write in the first place, to finish, to bring the story to its logical conclusion, and send it off to your editor.

Today, December 1, 2020, marked the end of two projects, one that had occupied me since 2001 and the other for the last 30 days. The former is sad in some ways; the latter joyous.

Let me explain.

Self-Inflicted Wounds Trilogy

Some 19 years ago, a friend, who shall remain anonymous because said friend worked for a U.S. intelligence organization, said to me I should write a book about a series of political murders in the then-Yugoslavia. Said friend even suggested a title: Who is Killing the Friends of Slobodan Milosevic?

In a way, that was apt because the murder victims said friend referred to were, for the most part, connected in some way to the leader of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic. My research showed me the murders had started in the early 1990s but went largely unnoticed by the western press–even given the fact the police barely investigated them–until the very public murder of a renowned and notorious Serbian paramilitary commander, Arkan.

In fact, his murder in the lobby of a luxury hotel had already piqued my interest. As a student of Balkan history dismayed by the ethnic cleansing perpetrated there, I was aware of Arkan’s role in the civil wars and his ruthlessness. He was so beloved by Serb nationalists, even though he wasn’t technically Serbian, I was shocked he’d be murdered in the Serbian capital where he lived.

That was the year 2000, which was an election year in the United States. It ended up being an election year in Yugoslavia, after Milosevic had the constitution changed to favor his reelection and who moved up the elections to take advantage of that. The world expected the U.S. elections to go smoothly–they always did. The world expected that the Yugoslavian elections would be rigged–they always were.

The opposite turned out to be true, but that’s another story. Literally.

After researching what I could find on the infant Google and Yahoo! News, an idea formed. What if (a writer’s two favorite words) my two spies were sent to Yugoslavia to determine who was really behind the “Friends of Milosevic Murders” and to convince the reluctant opposition parties to front a candidate?

A perfect combination of my interest in Balkan history and politics anywhere.

What resulted was a lengthy rough draft, and once beta readers and an editor pointed out the large number of plot holes, it eventually became a trilogy entitled Self-Inflicted Wounds. The books were Welcome to Belgrade (1), Dangerous Truths (2), and And Justice for All (3). In some ways this trilogy was far more complicated plot-wise and story-wise than my previous series, A Perfect Hatred, because the Balkans are complicated and have been for centuries.

Within the context of those real murders, I let my imagination go a bit wild. The trilogy opens with Arkan’s murder and ends more than three years later with the discovery of the body of one of the best-known victims, a former president of Yugoslavia. In between there are shoot-outs, car chases, some sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, a gun battle in a church, and an election that threw out a dictator. All 20 years ago, remember.

With today’s release of book 3, And Justice for All, that part of my writing life comes to an end. And that made me sad, because as much as I’d devoted my time and energy to A Perfect Hatred, Self-Inflicted Wounds had come close to obsessing me. I liked the place where Mai and Alexei were in their personal and professional relationships, and I liked the dynamic between them in this series of books. I liked the antagonist, and I liked making that antagonist a woman who was the antithesis of Mai. I liked the secondary characters, and I truly didn’t want to leave the world I’d fabricated.

But it was time.

So seeing that concluding volume come out was bittersweet. I felt a definite sense of accomplishment, but I also felt nostalgic for that place, that time, and those characters.

Happy Book Birthday to And Justice for All and so long to the world of Self-Inflicted Wounds. Indeed, there is no longer Yugoslavia but lots of smaller countries and territories. There is no longer Milosevic; he died in a cell at the tribunal trying him for war crimes. So, yes, time for that part of my writing life to take a trip off into the sunset.

NaNoWriMo No. 13

I wrote a few weeks back of taking on National Novel Writing Month for the thirteenth time. The beginning wasn’t so auspicious. After spending some time outlining the project and making notes on my research in a Scrivener file, I managed to banish that file from existence. I’m not sure how, but I suspect it was more operator error than a glitch in the software or my computer.

What with lockdown/COVID news fatigue, I was sorely tempted to say, “Screw it, I can take a year off.” But as my NaNoWriMo writing buddies showed their prep on social media and my NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison duties loomed, I pushed myself to start over.

It was the hardest NaNoWriMo ever for me, harder even than the first, which happened when I was still working full time and was on travel for 13 out of 30 days. I finished and won that first year, but only because of a 10,000-plus words final weekend.

This year I had days where I didn’t meet the daily number of 1,667 words and other days when I barely eked out enough words to make that daily goal. A lot of things were going on: COVID cases in my area doubled over the month of November, and I stopped going out of the house again. A contentious election. Days lost overseeing virtual school when I was babysitting the grandkids.

For the first half of November I was “going through the motions,” but something kicked in mid-month. The writing became easier, I had my usual 3,000-plus-word days, and I hit 50,000 words on November 21. The other nine days I spent fleshing out chapters with additional scenes, and yesterday I typed “The End” on the rough draft of a novel with 61,835 words.

A start but a good one. Of course, I’m never happy with anything I’ve written even right up to its publication date. This project will get set aside and will live to be edited another day.

Some people think writers are a little crazy anyway, so feeling sad that something I worked on for two decades is concluded and published while feeling happy that the rough draft of a novel is finished is perfectly normal.