The Last Line. How to End a Story.
with Kathleen Kaska
AP: Give a brief explanation of how you know when the end is written? Is it instinct? Is it planned? Any advice to writers on ending a story?
KK: The murder’s been solved, loose ends have been tied up, but my protagonist, Sydney Lockhart’s life goes on, so I leave my readers with a bit of a cliff hanger for the next installment or a joke for them to contemplate.
It’s usually not planned. I let my characters lead me.
My advice to writers is to do what feels right, whether you’re a planner or a pantser.
AP: Give us the last line from one of your books, don't need to say which one, and a little about how you knew it was the last line?
KK: In my first mystery, Murder at the Arlington, Sydney encounters Ralph Dixon, a detective with the Hot Springs Police Department. There’s an instance attraction between them, but Sydney is determined to stay free and single. Also in the story, Sydney receives several annoying phone calls from her crazy parents. At the conclusion, Sydney is back home, working on her story (she’s a reporter). Here’s the ending.
The phone rang, jarring me out of my ruminations.
Mealworm’s [the cat] tail twitched. She shot an irritating look at the phone, then turned her attention back to the feeder. I looked down at Monroe, who was whimpering because of a doggy dream, which caused her to drool on my slipper.
The clock chimed ten.
“Who’d be calling at this hour?” I asked Mealworm. She knew the call wasn’t for her, so she ignored my question. It could be my mother calling to thank me for saving her marriage, or Red Newsome, inviting me to return to the Crooked J for an encore, or, maybe . . . Lieutenant Ralph Dixon. I wasn’t willing to take the chance.
Much to my cat’s annoyance, I just let the phone ring.
AP: Bonus: Tell us some of your favorite last lines in a book, include the title. And, maybe why it is a favorite.
KK: I’m hooked on Martha Grimes’ Emma Graham series. Here’s the ending of her first book, Cold Flat Junction:
I said, “I wish the past weren’t dead and gone; I wish things weren’t over.”
Dwayne smiles. “’The past ain’t dead; it ain’t even the past. Billy Faulkner.”
I thought for a moment, and then I smiled too. “This is my story, and it’s not over till I say it’s over. Emma Graham.”
I watched Dwayne’s real smoke and my pretend twine upward toward the gunmetal poacher’s moon.
It’s one of my favorites because there is something special going on between these two characters, Emma, age twelve and Dwayne, twenty-something. They are friends with future potential. I didn’t want the story to end.
Kathleen Kaska writes the award-winning Sydney Lockhart Mysteries set in the 1950s. Her first two books Murder at the Arlington and Murder at the Luther, were selected as bonus-books for the Pulpwood Queens Book Group, the largest book group in the country. The third book in the series, Murder at the Galvez, was released in 2012. She also writes the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes The Agatha Christie Triviography and Quiz Book, The Alfred Hitchcock Triviography and Quiz Book, and The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book. The Alfred Hitchcock and the Sherlock Holmes trivia books are finalists for the 2013 EPIC award in nonfiction Her nonfiction book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story.
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