What Will Become of My Un-published / Un-finished Stories and Poems
By Jeff Salter
Topic: Most of us (writers) will depart this earth with several unfinished manuscripts. Have you ever thought of what might become of them? Will someone in your family pick them up and FINISH them? [as the estates of some famous authors have done]. Would you WANT anyone (family or otherwise) to finish writing those stories you envisioned and possibly outlined?
Folks, I’m not sure what I was thinking about when I suggested this detailed topic. And maybe that doesn’t even matter now. The thought that just now popped into my head is about Emily Dickinson, one of my all-time favorite American poets. By the time of her death – at age 56 (after an eccentric and reclusive life) – she’d published only a tiny handful (10) of her verse… leaving some 1800 other poems to languish. Her sister (Lavinia) discovered the invaluable cache after Emily’s demise.
It was some four years later (1890) that acquaintance M. L. Todd and poet friend T.W. Higginson published a heavily edited collection of selected Dickinson poems. If not for the later work of scholar Thomas H. Johnson (in 1955), perhaps we’d never have seen ALL of Emily’s work… nor would we have had access to her un-edited versions of those previously published pieces.
So why am I going on about Emily Dickinson?
Well, if not for her sister and two friends, “we” (the world) would very likely NOT have ever experienced Dickinson’s exquisite verse. And those 10 pieces that were published during her lifetime – in little-known journals – would hardly have survived (much less worked their way into the curricula of schools and colleges across the globe).
Now consider a very different example: the widely-published and best-selling Louis L’Amour, who released around 100 titles before his death (1988).
But L’Amour’s demise did NOT halt the production of additional titles. Since his death, L’Amour’s wife (Kathy) and children (Beau & Angelique) have released at least 19 additional books (mostly, I believe, collections of short stories). But notice this quote from the end of a typical L’Amour paperback about his wife and kids: they “carry the L’Amour tradition forward with new books written by the author during his lifetime…”
The obvious question – at least obvious to me – is whether those 19-plus additional books had been completely finished manuscripts at time of L’Amour’s demise… or whether his family members have picked up his incomplete stories and finished them. My own very strong hunch is that L’Amour left un-finished stories and – for reasons of legacy and sales – his family wanted to complete them and keep alive the “production” of their departed author.
What about me?
From those two extremes – basically un-published Dickinson and internationally best-selling L’Amour – we see that each had family / friends who saw value in their writing and made the effort to bring it to light for the world’s readership.
As I post this blog, I’ve published 16 novels, 4 novellas, some 120 poems, a co-authored collection of short-stories, plus two co-authored non-fiction books… among other articles, reviews and photos. There’s another complete novel as yet un-published, plus a handful of un-published short stories, and at least 1200 more un-published poems.
Based on the number of un-finished manuscripts that I have now – at nearly age 70 – it’s almost certain that by the time of my own demise, I will leave behind an estimated 200 story concepts or “starts”, plus a few dozen stories with up to 5,000 words, a couple dozen with up to 10,000 words, and maybe another dozen with up to 15,000 words. That doesn’t count the dozen or so that already have as many as 35,000 words. And I have to wonder, what will become of all them?
In one sense, I hope (by the time of my departure) that my fiction readership (and sales) will have increased to the point that someone in the family will want to do “something” with that handful of fiction manuscripts that are drafted at least half-way. My wife would be the logical one to undertake such an effort, since she’s read each of my published fiction works and has assisted me in most. [In fact, for a few of my stories, my wife contributed significantly.] She has the talent, knows the territory (of blended genres) and would presumably have access to my files. I hope she will have the time, the energy, and the interest in doing so.
As we mortals approach the hereafter, however, I somehow doubt we’ll be focused much on our literary heritage. But I can well imagine it would bring a smile to my face to know that at least those few “mostly-finished” stories of mine… might have a slim opportunity to be completed, submitted, and (hopefully) released by one of my publishers.
What I have NOT covered, so far in this blog, are the many reams of correspondence that I’ll leave behind. Even assuming I have the time (and opportunity and focus) to aggressively weed through my filing cabinets and boxes of “papers”, there will still be many hundreds of significant letters, dream accounts, journals, memos, and miscellany. A fraction of those personal papers are – may I say, immodestly – items of literary merit and/or emotional beauty. My task will be to locate that fraction and make them accessible to my survivors, while segregating them from the other papers that were important to me (but would not likely mean much to anyone else).
Just as I should responsibly do with my non-literary belongings (before my demise), I owe it to my family to weed through my literary legacy.
[JLS # 515]