Sunday, October 4, 2009

Returning to a Story

by Libby Malin

One of my cousins recently informed me that my emails were showing up with all sorts of odd characters in them. For example, he said, he could see all the "carriage returns."

Carriage returns --wow, what an old term! I asked my twenty-something son if he knew what it meant. Yup. But did he know the origin of the word? Nope. So I explained to him how old manual typewriters had carriages which you smacked with your right hand to get to the next line.

We have an old Underwood sitting in a closet, in fact, a relic from our parents' days. It might be considered an antique now, I guess. Heck, even IBM Selectrics are probably considered antiques!

Speaking of electric typewriters, I'm a fan of the AMC series Mad Men, set in the Madison Avenue advertising world of the early 1960s. In one episode, the secretary Joan points out the electric typewriters to a new hire and says, "Try not to be overwhelmed by all this technology. It looks complicated, but the men who designed it made it simple enough for a woman to use."

As that bit of dialogue illustrates, Mad Men's writers nail the details in their piece of historical fiction--not just the details of setting and furnishings and clothing, but of attitudes.

One of Mad Men's story lines features a secretary, Peggy, who's managed to tap loudly enough on the glass ceiling to be promoted to copy writer, with her own office and secretary. Peggy's road is a bumpy one and, from week to week, you're never quite sure if she's going to be successful or . . . return to the lowly position from which she started, smacked down by the powerful men around her, even those, like the character Don Draper, who helped her move up.

I have fun envisioning the story I'd love to see play out with Peggy--where she rises all the way to the pinnacle of power within the ad business and gives those chauvinistic fellows around her a smack of her own.

Who knows where the Mad Men writers will take the character of Peggy? But thinking about her story made me think of other stories for which I wish an alternative ending could be fashioned.

Take Wuthering Heights, for example. I would have loved to have seen Heathcliffe get his comeuppance--maybe have Cathy ream him out when they finally meet again on the moors? ("Just what the heck did you think you were doing, Heathy, ruining all those lives? Ya think that makes you attractive to me, you big sod?")

When I was a freshman in high school, a gifted English teacher gave us the assignment of writing an ending all our own to John Steinbeck's The Pearl. Needless to say, most were happy endings. I think mine was a melodramatic story involving love and reconciliation. Whatever it was, I'm eternally grateful to that talented teacher for lighting a spark in me to write. I still remember the excitement I felt when working on that assignment.

As I've matured as a writer, I sometimes wish I could take my characters farther than the ending in my books. I like to wonder what happens to them. When I penned Fire Me, I even wrote an extra chapter featuring the hero and heroine several months after the main story took place --the extra chapter is available to readers who email me asking for it.

Are there any stories you've read or written that you'd enjoy returning to and fashioning a different ending for?


  1. Libby - that chapter you wrote? We need to get Sourcebooks to do e-versions of 2nd Epilogues - Avon did that for several of Julia Quinn's books and I bought them - I had to find out what happened to the Bridgertons after the stories. They were so much fun to read! And if SB doesn't do it, put it on your website.

  2. That's a neat idea, Judi. Thanks.

  3. Libby, I always wondered what Darcy was like before his father died, I wrote a contemporary version of Pride and Prejudice with a hit of Persuasion just to find out.

  4. Robin, you've reminded me of the wonderful Sourcebooks authors who've written Austen books, continuing those stories.

  5. It's happened to me, Libby and why I have so much trouble reading my older books.

    And I have my Correcting Selectric I used for several years before I bought a computer.

    I wrote my first two books on an IBM Executive typewriter!


  6. Fun about those carriage returns. All these words that our kids don't understand.

  7. Hey Libby!
    I read your book. You must have had a ball coming up with all those innovative ways to screw up. It cracked me up! Great job!

    My dad had an Underwood. He used to write a letter to his mother in West Virginia every Sunday night. His desk was on the other side of the wall from my closet, and he would rattle the doors whenever he was in there pecking away. And I can certainly testify to the fact that those carriage returns were pretty loud!

    The book I would like to give a different ending to would be Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. I always felt that if the heroine had gotten her courage up just a little sooner, she would have been able to keep Maxim AND Manderly! But, of course, that ending wouldn't have been nearly as dramatic as the original!

  8. My son says that he was born before cell phones were in use. So he tells me how old he already feels. LOL. Anyone know what an 8-track is?