Happy Ending

I just finished the last scene in my novel. The book is far from finished, but the end is in sight, and it’s happy. Now I have to connect it to all the other stuff that arose over the last year and more, from that day my wife and I were celebrating her birthday in London, and we ordered room service.

I had been raised to never, ever do that. It was a sin so expensive that it was almost on par with paying full retail. My father, who grew up in the Great Depression and favored motels when we took long car trips to Florida and Canada, loved a bargain, and was eager to use every coupon in the newspaper, or go to someone he knew “in the business” before buying anything. Why order room service, most of the time, you could walk across the street, or go for a short drive and find a place open all night, for about half the price you’d be charged by a hotel, for food that was cold when it arrived at your door, and then, have to leave a tip?

After a long, but uneventful transcontinental flight, I suggested that, instead of taking the fast train and a cab to the hotel, we take the London Underground, my chosen mode of transport when I was last in London. The ride was very long, providing peculiar glimpses of a densely built urban sprawl. When we left at the station I calculated to be closest to the hotel, it started to rain.

Rain in London is characteristic, atmospheric, predictable and, if you’re in the right mood and have the rain gear, a little bit of splishy splashy fun. After so much jet lag, it wasn’t remotely enjoyable to huddle under an umbrella that was too small, get wet and not know that you have to go down a narrow little street from The Strand to find the lobby of the Savoy, a hotel I chose because it was among the most famous in the city, I wanted to have a drink with my wife in the American Bar, and…I got a reasonably good deal on the room.

Yes, at times I am my father’s son.

What a nice room it was! Not only did we have his and hers bathrobes, but slippers and a bed so comfortable that we went right to sleep, waking up, as jet lagged people always do, at a time when restaurants are closing and who wants to go out anyway?

So we ordered room service: we decided to split a turkey club and a cheese plate. I asked if I could have my favorite cheese, cheshire. Though the hotel did not normally serve that cheese, they promised to find some at 11:30 p.m.

The food was delightful and  came on a shiny cart, with beautiful presentation. Yes, it cost too much, but we enjoyed ourselves so much, and I began thinking of a hotel whose room service was so well prepared that people check into it, just to order the food.

As readers of this blog know, I write slowly, fretfully and doubtfully. I don’t jump eagerly into my work, as I once did. I brood. I mull. I waste time on trivial things. I play too much computer solitaire. Eventually, the words come.

And so the ending arrived, but not the relief of having finished, because there are many scenes left to write. I have learned to celebrate often, but, somehow, finishing a novel doesn’t feel as good as it once did, probably because of how much difference it DOESN’T make to everyone but me.

Once, when I finished writing a novel, I told my karate teacher. He said, “give me a down block.” People who knew me immediately said things like when is it coming out? I didn’t know. Unless your previous book sold well, or you’re already a celebrity so that the book is just another branded item to foist upon the fans, publishers tend to look at books that are merely the best you have ever done in your entire life as–risky business. Even if publishers have paid for the book (or a portion of it–your advance is doled out in fragments, the last on “publication,” which, in itself, is an incentive for the publisher to delay publication as long as possible). My conversations with my editor and agent were reserved. I was a factory that had manufactured a product that may, or may not, make money. They were in no hurry to move it to the marketplace.

By the box arrived I was wrestling with another manuscript, another “good idea” that, like every one that preceded it, inspired a difficult birth.

My contract required the publisher to send me ten copies of my book. It did not specify when those books were to arrive. I didn’t know the book was “out” until I opened the box and held the topmost bound copy in my hands.

The cover illustration appeared cheaply done. The book was priced too high–the only way I’d pay that much money for a book was if I could get a discount! Knowing people in the business wasn’t going to help. The cheesy jacket copy had been written by someone who had not read the book. The author photo I’d paid for was cropped so small you could barely see it was me.

But it was my book and, for about two months, it was in some stores. A few stores invited me to do a signings. The reviews were mostly good. Some were very good. I got on a radio show and talked briefly about how much I wanted people to enjoy what I wrote.

I still do, though I have no idea who will read this one. I never do. And then, somehow, someone does and is kind enough to say to me that the book was worth reading.

And that is a happy ending.





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