Beginnings aren't really on my mind right now. I'm about two thirds of the way through the last book of the Lost Voices Trilogy, and it's turning out to be epic and long and a bit unwieldy. Still, in a few months I'll be wrapping up a project that's been with me for years now, and it's as if I were finishing a graduate degree in Mermaid Studies. Luce and Nausicaa and the rest will swim off, and I'll be left standing on the shore watching the vacant waves where they used to flash and dart in front of me. Then after a while I won't even see the waves anymore, but something else: a white house in the middle of a lawn, or a parking lot illuminated by a ring of burning skulls. (Wait, I'll say: Who paved over the ocean? What are those skulls doing there?)
And yes, of course, I'm looking forward to it. But also, given what I know about finishing novels, I'm anticipating a solid hit of grief when the time comes. In a way the great thing about doing a trilogy is that it lets you avoid coping with the ending--and I mean coping emotionally, not figuring out how it all goes down--for so much longer.
A few years ago I finished an as-yet-unpublished novel for adults, Umber. And when it was done I didn't feel the sense of joyful liberation and accomplishment one might expect. Instead I was rendered quite suddenly bereft, without the constant entrancing timbre of my characters' voices running through my brain, without the sense of them appended to my shoulders like a cascade of living shadows. I missed them almost unbearably. For a few months, unable to move on, I was consumed by fantasies about their lives after the point where the book ended. I became quite depressed.
Maybe finishing the Lost Voices books won't be as bad. I have a half-finished adult novel waiting for me to get back to it; I'll enter in again at the place where it broke off when the mermaids came and took me away. I can still feel the complex, slightly fretful patience of those other characters as they stand around with nothing to do, not getting any older, not knowing what their destinies will be.
Maybe there should always be another book, if not half-done then at least begun, waiting in this way. That way when the old characters pack up and leave, you can turn around and find yourself embraced by the friends who knew you'd be back any day to set their lives in motion once again.