Some time ago when I was between writing projects, in a blog article, I wondered out loud where I left several characters. The two I used then were from a magazine short story that was published about two years ago. I submitted a draft from some exploratory writing for a possible future novel and the magazine ran it. The scene was from the Revolutionary War.
Living in Ringwood, I am aware of the strange historical connection among three places, four if you count West Point. They are Ringwood, Ho-ho-kus, and Tappan, New York. Ringwood was the home of Robert Erskine, Scot immigrant who took over management of the then world-famous ironworks. Soon after the war broke out, Erskine double-crossed his British investors and supplied the Revolutionary army with cannons, munitions, and was one of a few local ironworks to cast the giant iron chain that was stretched across the Hudson River to prevent the British traveling north. Running through town is the “Cannonball Trail” the Ho Chi Minh trail from Ringwood to West Point, the secret munitions highway supplying the army.
Robert Erskine was not only a close friend of George and Martha Washington, he was one of the general’s secret agents who also worked on the logistics of moving the army and most likely his reports passed from Washington to General Henry Knox, Revolutionary army quartermaster.
Benedict Arnold fled from the Hermitage in Ho-ho-kus where he was staying when Major John André was captured carrying plans of Arnold’s to hand over West Point. He was tried and hanged in Tappan, New York. Washington wanted to make an example of him because, earlier, the British insisted on hanging Nathan Hale instead of exchanging him. André was higher ranking, more popular, accomplished and the British master spy for New York. The very day André was hanged,
Washington was at Robert Erskine’s deathbed. Erskine was dying of pneumonia he caught, riding on a rainy day.
I’m willing to guess short stories lend themselves to leaving characters out there walking around and doing what they do. Even in a finished novel, the story ends but presumably the lives of the characters go on doing something other than getting themselves into the predicament that your novel resolved. And since I write fiction and nonfiction, a supposedly career no-no, I have an almost unlimited amount of wanderers out there.
The thing is, they might be done in your short story or expository writing but, in the back of your brain, they are still doing all sorts of stuff. Your brain’s subconscious occasionally breaks into the conscious with a request to find them or wonder where are they?
A quick and incomplete roll call of my guys is hilarious. They are spread out everywhere. I have guys on horseback returning from Ho-ho-kus, I have two young newlyweds waiting for their home to be built, an entertainer in a bar watching his guitar career slip away, five guys in a rock and roll band traveling across China on their way to the Chinese version of Woodstock, two Princeton researchers trying to figure out the handwriting, possibly Erskine’s, written on some letters they found in a trunk lid, and several grad students looking for the missing moon rocks brought back from the Apollo missions 11 and 17. What a collection.