Fiddler’s Green: Memoir of an Ending

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I spent a number stressful days last week trying to write the last chapters of the next (and final) installment of the Fin’s Revolution tale: Fiddler’s Green. I’d put off those chapters for a long time because I needed to be patient and mull over Fin’s entire story and make sure that all the necessary events and emotions came together in just the right way.

After writing all day on Saturday, I laid awake until three or four in the morning with a whirl of descending character arcs and plot resolutions spinning through my head. When I woke at seven the next morning my brain still hadn’t stopped. So I got up, got dressed, shirked church and sat in the coffee shop writing. At about 3pm on Sunday, I wrote the final sentence of Fiddler’s Green.

An ending is a strange and delicate thing. In storytelling terms its importance is equaled only by its opposite: the beginning. The bits in the middle tend to be easier to shape because they’re open ended and the writer can, in some measure, both pre- and re- form them throughout the narrative.

Beginnings are all promise and adventure, a setting out toward lands unknown. They signify a contract between the writer and reader in which the writer suggests a journey and, tendering a currency of time and attention, the reader buys a ticket hoping to gain safe passage through the writer’s mind in hope of entertainment, or escape, or revelation.

But endings? Endings are final. After the last period, there’s nothing more to be said. All communication with the reader ceases. An ending might leave the reader angry or dissatisfied or, in the best cases, it can leave them moved to tears, or joy, or laughter. But laugh or cry, ending is a serious business.

Think about your favorite book. There’s a good chance that when you recall it, you recall the feeling you had in its moment of ending.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” -Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

“Yes, it is the dawn that has come. The titihoya wakes from sleep, and goes about its work of forlorn crying. The sun tips with light the mountains of Ingeli and East Griqualand. The great valley of the Umzimkulu is still in darkness, but the light will come there. Ndotsheni is still in darkness, but the light will come there also. For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing. But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.” -Alan Paton, Cry, The Beloved Country

Some natural tears they dropp’d, but wip’d them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide
They, hand in hand, with wand’ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.”
-John Milton, Paradise Lost

“Her eyes filled with tears that did not fall, but she said quietly, ‘I could die in peace, I think, if the world was beautiful. To know it’s being ruined is hard.’ […] She held out her hand to me. She gave me the smile that I had never seen and will not see again in this world, and it covered me all over with light.” -Wendell Berry, (book censored to prevent spoiler)

So Lyra and her daemon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.” Phillip Pullman, The Golden Compass

“And Julian’s soul is laughing now, as booming and boisterous as the thunder. And the Lord’s embrace is his golden rope. . .” -Walt Wangerin, Jr., Saint Julian

See what I mean? Each of those brief excerpts evoke their writers’ tales entirely. They stir up a swirl of emotions and I get misty-eyed and want to hold the book in my hand and smell it and smile. Each of these great endings has something in common: they convey not only a sense of resolution, but of continuance; they each imply, however subtly, that the story in some form goes on, or that we as readers, having spent our little time within the tale, are now drawn away, back to our own world, left to wonder at the mysteries still afoot in that other. This idea, that an ending can, or possibly should, imply a continuation or a new beginning, is important, I think. When done properly, it grants the book a sort of immortality because in the mind of the reader, the story has not ended but instead, continues into the distance. Certainly there are great books that end with finality but I wonder if they have the same endurance. To end well is a dire responsibility, it seems.

In discussions of writing, people frequently ask if I have an ending in mind when I begin a story or if, instead, I simply begin writing and allow the story to unfold naturally and lead me to the destination of its choosing. Of course there are as many approaches to the process as there are writers. When some begin they have no ending in mind, only a vague direction. Others script their story down to the smallest scene before they write a word of prose. Still others write non-linearly, penning scenes and passages in whatever order they come along, only later finding a way to put them together into a cogent whole. None of these methods are wrong. But I can tell you that for me, I need an ending before I begin. I need a target to shoot at. A scene to earn.

I’ve known the ending of Fiddler’s Green for nearly a decade now. It was in my mind almost as soon as Fin Button’s character took shape and I don’t think it’s unfair to say that I wrote the books for the purpose of writing the ending, two novels for the sake of a couple of paragraphs. That might sound crazy but writers have rarely laid claim to an excess of sanity. I think every storyteller knows what I’m talking about. You have an image in your mind, or a scene, and it’s something beautiful and wondrous and the need to communicate that bright moment is what sets us in motion. We know we can’t simply tell people about it because out of context it’s meaningless and silly; so we create entire worlds to explain our dreams and visions, to make sense of them if we can.

I jotted down the ending to Fiddler’s Green several years ago and in the course of writing the books, I’ve gone back to peek at it often. It was like a treasure map that reminded me where I was going. Year after year, word after word, I followed it and after hundreds of thousands of steps, I arrived at the longed-for destination. But on arrival, I found out that it was surprisingly hard to stick the shovel in the ground and dig up the treasure I’d been chasing. So for a few months, I just stared at the spot on the ground, the big black X marking the spot. I walked around it and scratched my beard and I kicked the dirt awhile and I looked at it suspiciously from the corner of a narrowed eye. And then I took a deep breath and I sat down on a Sunday morning and dug.

I’m not a parent so I don’t know what it’s like to experience the birth of a child or to see that child strike out into the world to make his own way. But I wonder if that sort of triumphal advent isn’t, in some way, akin to finishing a book. It’s an emotional business I can tell you. You live with a set of characters and their struggles for so long that when the time comes and you tell them goodbye, the experience is truly a kind of grief.

I’m sure there are a few dozen people in Nashville chuckling and telling their friends about the guy they saw crying in the corner of the coffee shop on Sunday. The weight and finality of Fin’s last scene came down on me with such force that my chest was tight with it and my breath short. When the writing was done, I went home and paced my room for an hour with tears in my eyes trying to understand the strange emotional storm that ending the story had stirred. I still don’t fully understand it.

Don’t read this to mean that the ending is sad; I won’t spoil that revelation for you. The emotional impact didn’t come from the nature of the ending, you see. I’d known that all along. The impact came from the finality of it, the realization that I no longer needed the map, that I was no longer searching for the means to explain a decade-long dream. The contract entered into so long ago had been satisfied. The beginning had found its fulfillment in the end. It’s something of a holy communion, isn’t it? To create. To love one’s creation. To lead that creation through trial and grief and, at last, to come through the grand adventure and say, “It is finished.” Oh, what a holy image we bear. The creation creates and so by labor and great mystery, glimpses the endless love of the Creator.

So it’s done now. And I’m happy with it. Though the ultimate judgment lies with you, the reader, I think I’ve served the story well. I think Fin and her ragged cast have been honored and now that the writing is complete, I find that I’m humbled and incredibly grateful to have been entrusted with the gift of telling their stories. The book will be out December 7th, 2010. I hope you enjoy it. I hope you find that, in the end, it’s a story worth telling.

Profile photo of Pete Peterson

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


26 Comments

  1. Alyssa

    “Oh, what a holy image we bear. The creation creates and so by labor and great mystery, glimpses the endless love of the Creator.”

    I love that whole paragraph. I can’t even coherently respond at the moment beyond the word of Hugo Reyes: “Dude.”

    Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished. I can’t wait to get my hands on both of your books.

  2. Steve Fronk

    December 7th. I guess that means a re-reading of the Fiddler’s Gun will be scheduled into my November.

    Pete, I can’t thank you enough for sharing this wonderful story as well as the writing process.

    Godspeed!

  3. JJ

    Vague Fiddler’s Gun spoilers below:

    I remember through the Fiddler’s Gun. Nearing the end of the book I found myself nearly weeping at a certain event. I felt like I knew these characters, and the idea that one in particular would not be in the second book was a very sad moment. It was strange to grow so attached to a character only to realize I would never “see” them again. It broke my heart. I remember feeling a little angry at Pete for doing that.

    I often feel like the stories continue on after they end. I’ve borrowed a joke from elsewhere about the TV show Lost continuing in another dimension. Even the Harry Potter universe. We get a glimpse of life after Voldemort in the epilogue, but we’re left with brief interactions between Harry, Ginny and their kids, Ron and Hermione and theirs, and the brief nod of acknowledgment of Draco Malfoy from platform 9 3/4 to his old schoolmates. Even after a 2nd reading ending a few weeks ago I thought, “I wonder what Harry’s kids are doing in school? Did they meet a bully like Harry and Ron did in Draco? Are Harry’s kids as famous as he was? The story didn’t end to me. I feel like it lives on in our imaginations. And I love that about good stories.

    So Pete, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the story ends for Fin. I’m also looking forward to getting multiple copies as gifts to share Fin’s story with others. And I look forward to imagining where the story is going after I read the final line and close the book. Thank you for giving us these characters and sharing their story with us. It’s been a joy getting to know them.

  4. Paula Shaw

    Pete, I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t love it! The gift of writing you possess is so beautiful that it really and truly gets into one’s heart and settles. I’m anxiously awaiting the time when I can read The Fiddler’s Green, and savor all of Fin’s story. Thanks for creating it, and thanks for being brave enough to share it with us! You Peterson brothers are one gifted lot, just let me say. God must be smiling from ear to ear, and I think that’s probably one of the biggest smiles ever! So, here’s to Fin, and Pete, and all you people who share your hearts here in the RR. I love to come and read and be a part of your lives in this way. Thank you!

    🙂

  5. Jonathan Rogers

    Great picture of what it’s like to finish a book. I love that phrase ‘a scene to earn.’ That’s a perfect way to put it.

    The ending you envisioned from the start–was it the exact same ending you had when you finished? Most of the stories I’ve written haven’t ended in quite the way I had pictured (though it’s usually in the same ballpark).

    And your insights about the way an author loves his or her characters…those are spot-on too. I shed a few tears my own self for Grady, the charlatan’s boy.

    Congratulations, Pete. I’m proud of you.

  6. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Beautiful. I cried when I finished my last book too. It’s such a fascinating psychological response to being deeply invested in make-believe. It’s the grownup equivalent of playing with G.I. Joe figures in the corner of your bedroom, and yet it stirs our deepest waters. The imagination is a powerful, spiritual thing. If you ever doubted that Story is the language of the soul, just hang out in the coffee shop where Pete writes and watch him blubber.

  7. Thomas

    Thank you, Pete, for sharing what it was like finishing Fiddler’s Green.

    Dec. 7th cannot get here fast enough. At least it gives me enough time to reread Fiddler’s Gun so I am prepared for the continued adventure of Fin and her motley crew.

    Thomas

  8. Ben Ward

    Thanks, Pete. (Funny… I almost typed “Peet”.)

    I was up until one this morning reading The Fiddler’s Gun and I’m thrilled that the wait for part deux will be months, not years.

  9. Leanore

    I love these writing insights, and my love affair with words has just been satisfied, teased, and tormented beyond bearing. I need to see what else you can do with words, Pete. When a child leaves home, he or she rips your heart and leaves it raw. You want to stay there in that room where that child lived, drawing lines in the dust that settles. It’s weeks and months before you really want to move forward. But there will be many bounce-backs, and other children who need you, and the stories go on. So grieve, as you must, but know that hole in your heart is being gouged out for bigger stories.

    I hope you don’t mind if I use your post to comment more broadly…I’m astounded by all the thought coming out of that Hutchmoot weekend, and the shaping of hearts and minds that’s happening here. It’s a perfect challenge, having something fresh to think about every day, My own thinking needs to be shaped for a new place I’m going to unexpectedly, so I’m glad there’s much going on here.

    A few rabbit trails:

    Andrew, your music settles in deeply with me. Is it possible to wear out a CD? I’ve played Resurrection Letters, Part II, a couple of hundred times, easily. It still scorches my heart. Some of the music on other albums is about places I’ve been, and it’s not always easy to listen. But I usually find I need to make that journey back, for what it reminds me of, and how it moves me forward.

    I love all you guitar boys, and women, but I love Ben Shive the best. He’s teaching me things I need to know.

    Right now I could comment on almost every post coming out of the RR. But that might be a bit too much of me. Instead, maybe I should just offer my bank account for a regular monthly draft from the Rabbit Room. Whatever’s new, or whatever you have sitting around that you want to send, I’ll probably be hugely okay with it.

  10. Robert Treskillard

    “You have an image in your mind, or a scene, and it’s something beautiful and wondrous and the need to communicate that bright moment is what sets us in motion.”

    Very true … one of the questions I like to ask an author is … did you ever cry writing a scene in your novel? I guess you just answered that question. The way I look at it, if a story has the power to move the author, then it will have the power to move me, the reader.

    Congrats, Pete.

  11. Janna

    I’m a little sad for you too, Pete. I can’t imagine getting to the end of a ten year project. I’m confident that you will have more though. Congratulations!!

  12. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Jonathan, good question. The final image remained almost totally intact but the tone did change somewhat. I also found myself surprised that certain things resolved in a way completely opposite of how I’d imagined them. It’s an amazing thing when your creation surprises you by exercising something that can only be described as its own ‘will’.

  13. Jonny

    Great post… I’ve felt that impact before, though probably to a lesser extent. Just goes to prove: the connections between creator and created are irrevicable and intense.
    Can’t wait till December 7 – I’m even more excited about book two now!

  14. EmJ

    Well said, Pete. I’ll echo the comments of several others and just say that this is, indeed, a beautiful statement. Clearly you invested your whole heart into the telling of the tale, and if that’s not serving the story, I don’t know what is. oh, to communicate the bright moment, the right words being all the more precious for how illusive they sometimes are. I commend you for having the courage to take the journey. Thanks for the good words.

    Oh, and I’m struck by the sudden onset of an expectation that this fall will be marked by a glorious journey into the world of Finn Button… and eager anticipation of the first week of December.

  15. Leigh McLeroy

    Madeleine L’Engle once spoke of a character presenting himself to her and essentially demanding entrance into her novel. It sounded strange at the time (since I don’t write fiction) but perhaps it is not. At any rate, congratulations, Pete, on reaching “the end.” I’ve cried finishing a book too, but again, as a writer of non-fiction, maybe those tears were only exhausted relief? Can’t wait to read the rest of Fin’s story.

  16. anne

    Thank you so much for sharing Fin’s story with us. I started reading Fiddler’s Gun right after Hutchmoot, once picked up I could hardly put it down. I flew through the first half of the book, anxious to get to know Fin and her journey. But as I approached the end, about 30 pages out, I stopped. I could not bear to finish. I wasn’t ready to be done. Even knowing I would have the great delight to continue with her adventures in The Fiddler’s Green, I was sad. Over the course of the last couple of weeks I read a page or two at a time, savoring each word. When the last sentence was read, I cried. A good cry, a hopeful cry. It is such an emotional journey for a reader, I cannot begin to comprehend the what it is like for the author. Thanks for a glimpse. Looking forward to December 7th.

  17. Susan D.

    Anne, I too was sad when I finished Fiddler’s Gun this week. I was not ready to part with the characters that I met. However, I was hopeful knowing that another installment was in the works. Now I have a date!

    Pete, I began The Fiddler’s Gun with the expectation of a good adventure read. However, I approached it more as an interlude between other works long on my to-read list. What I discovered was a depth to your writing and storytelling the went far beyond my expectations. The language was moving and descriptive. I was quickly transported to the Georgian landscape and even more so to the high seas. And I definitely bonded with Fin. Thank you for sharing the story of Phineas Button. I am looking forward to the continuation of her story. I must tell you that as I picked up my next read I was greatly disappointed. The content and language could not hold a candle to what I discovered in the Fiddler’s Gun. It should have been the interlude. Looking forward to Dec. 7th.

  18. Adam in Flanders

    Pete, you more than honoured your side of the contract with the first book, and I can’t wait for the second. Will you be offering opportunities to partner in teh production of this, as you did the first time?

    Adam

  19. Laura

    I love this post! My heart said, “Yes…the ending of Paradise Lost, and then I saw that you’d quoted it. Lovely, lovely — from a writer’s and a reader’s perspective. But then again, aren’t they one and the same?

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