Cliffhangers — A Love Hate Relationship

By Sherry enjoying unusually nice summer days for August in Northern Virginia

Almost everyone my age will remember the summer of “Who Shot JR” from the TV show Dallas. JR (a nasty, manipulative man) is shot, but the audience doesn’t see the killer and had to wait until the fall to find the answer. I don’t even remember who the killer was, but I do remember all the speculation.

The first cliffhanger I remember in fiction was in a Janet Evanovich novel High Five. At the end of the book Stephanie Plum calls a man and asks him to come over. He shows up, but we don’t know if it’s Joe or Ranger. I remember getting to the end and having mixed emotions about having to wait a year to find out. You can bet I bought the next book in the series as soon as it was published.

Shows from Game of Thrones to The Walking Dead to Friends to Downton Abbey have ended seasons with cliffhangers. And authors such as Susan Collins (Hunger Games series), Stephan King (Dark Tower series — readers had to wait six years for the next book), and J.K. Rowling have all ended books at a suspenseful moment.

There is some disagreement about what a cliffhanger is. Some people think it’s any ending that leaves an unanswered question which means books like Gone with the Wind, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Gone Girl are books with cliffhanger endings. To me those endings seemed more ambiguous than cliffhanger. While researching cliffhangers I came across a Pub Crawl blog by Erin Bowman. You can read the full blog here. She makes a distinction between hooks and cliffhangers. It resonated with me.

One of the reasons cliffhangers are on my mind is because of how my fourth book, A Good Day to Buy, ends. The reaction to the ending has been interesting. People either enjoyed it or hated it – there doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground. I wrapped up the crime, but I didn’t wrap up Sarah’s relationship woes. When I started writing the book it wasn’t with the idea of ending it with a hook big or small. It just came about naturally as I wrote the book. Sarah has a big life decision to make. I didn’t have room for another 20,000 words to resolve it. And I’m not sure seeing every little details of her though process/angst would make for interesting reading.

People are passionate about the topic. If you search “cliffhangers” you find lists of books and TV shows. One list on Goodreads is: Ending That Make You Want To Scream.

Novelist Charles Reade said, “Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em wait.”

Readers: How do you feel about cliffhangers or hooks at the end of a book? Have you ever used one in your writing? How did readers react?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking about Thinking Scenes

By Sherry — I’m enjoying a cool day before the heat hits again

I confess my WIP (work in progress) is a bit of a mess. No, it is a mess. It’s due in to my freelance editor, Barb Goffman, on Sunday. Even scarier it’s due to my Kensington editor on August first. It’s the sixth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries. I’ve been thinking (maybe overthinking) a lot about writing which may be part of the reason for the mess. I recently wrote about trying to improve my writing. You can find that blog post here.

Part of my problem is I had a deep emotional connection to A Good Day To Buy (number four in the series). Number five, I Know What You Bid Last Summer, felt a bit lighter to me. It has a lot of crazy, complex relationships that can occur in small towns where people sometimes know each other to well or think they do. And I love the subplots – I had so much fun writing them. Book five also answers some questions readers have been wondering about. But after A Good Day, it didn’t seem to have the same depth to me. Maybe I’m crazy saying all of this out loud. Maybe I’m tilting the reader pool to not like the book. So don’t get me wrong, I like the book, I just had a different emotional connection to it.

That brings me back to my WIP. I was having the same problem of connecting with the manuscript on an emotional level. Then combine that with some obsessive thinking about writing  and it wasn’t pretty. One of the things that’s been on my mind is black moments and I wrote a recent blog about that for Miss Demeanors. You can read it here.

I moved on from worrying about black moments to worrying about what I call “thinking scenes”. (I feel like these scenes are different than inner dialogue, although inner dialogue can be part of thinking scenes.) Then another thought struck me — aren’t thinking scenes the opposite of show don’t tell? Ugh. In a mystery it is almost unavoidable to not have the protagonist trying to put the pieces of a mystery together. So then I started pondering ways to do that.

A protagonist thinking…

One way is to have your character sitting on the couch, driving down the road, or walking some place thinking about what they know and what connections there might be.

Another, that I often see in mysteries, is having your character involved in some activity while they are trying to piece the puzzle of who dunnit together. For example Sarah could be refinishing a piece of furniture as she thinks about a murder.

Writing all this makes me realize why sidekicks are so popular. The sidekick allows the protagonist to talk it out. The sidekick can point out flaws in the protagonist’s logic or point something out that sends the protagonist in a new direction. They could also cause the protagonist to doubt themselves.

I’ve used all three in different ways in different books. There are probably a gazillion other ways to handle thinking scenes, but these three seem to be the most common. And maybe the best solution is to weave the clues together so well that the protagonist doesn’t have to have a thinking scene and only needs an “aha” moment.

Back to my messy WIP. The good news is two days ago I came up with a subplot that speaks to me on an emotional level. Now I’m working hard to weave it in as an intricate part of the story. Wish me luck!

Readers: Do you like scenes where the protagonist is putting the pieces together? Writers: Do you have a way you like to handle these kind of scenes?

 

 

Better

By Sherry — wishing you all a lovely day

I’m still thinking about the release of A Good Day To Buy which came out last week. With every book that comes out I think, “the next book has to be better.” Most writers (at least I hope it isn’t only me) have a tiny voice in their heads telling us we are frauds, fakes, and phonies. It’s the voice I have to shove aside or I’d never write another word. Every time a book comes out I’m afraid I’ll see a comment that says, “It wasn’t as good as the last one.” Or everyone will be thinking, “well she had a good run.” Yes, my head can be a very scary place to live some days.

To counteract those voices I’ve been reading two books on writing. The first one is Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of The Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers by James W. Hall. Barbara Ross knew I was a Hall fan. She saw him speak in Key West, told him I was now published, and had him sign a copy for me.

Between 2000 and 2003 I lived in the panhandle of Florida. At the time Florida International University was running a fabulous writing conference there every fall. One year Hall (who writers thrillers) was one of the teachers and he was working on this book.

One of the things I’ve never forgotten was when he talked about what does make a book last through the years. He said people want to learn something and thought perhaps this might go back to our puritanical work ethic. Fast forward to the present and it’s made me wonder if that is one of the reason cozy mysteries are so popular. Not only do readers get to go an adventure and try to solve the mystery, but they learn something. It might be a new recipe, yard sale tip, knitting pattern, or craft – the variety is endless.

In Hit Lit, Hall says, “The fierce loyalty readers feel for a certain characters grows out of a shared connection with the character’s emotional journey.” That resonates with me, the books I love be they mysteries, thrillers, romances, or literary, are all about the characters. Everything else is icing on the cake.

The second book is The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write Beneath the Surface by Donald Maass. Author Leslie Budewitz mentioned it on Facebook – thank you, Leslie! Maass says, “What shapes us and gives our lives meaning are not the things that happen to us but their significance.” Down a few paragraphs he says, “We are stories. Plot happens outside but story happens inside. Readers won’t get the true story, though, unless you put it on the page—both the big meaning of small events and the overlooked implications of large plot turns.”

I work with Barb Goffman who is an independent editor. After I’ve written the first draft I send it off to her. The first book we worked together on was The Longest Yard Sale – there were many notes in that one that said, “What is Sarah thinking?” or “Let us see how Sarah reacts.” I’ve had less of those comments as time has passed but it’s a valuable lesson in developing characters. It’s something I easily see in manuscripts when I edit but not always in my own.

It’s interesting that both Hall and Maass use some of the same authors as examples in their books like Stephen King and Harper Lee. I have hard copies of both books so I can mark them up, put in tabs, and refer back to passages. I’m only about a quarter of the way through each book, but I already know that they will make my writing better.

Readers: Is there an emotionally significant event in a book that has stuck with you? Please try to avoid spoilers — maybe mention a title or character that affected you. Writers: Do you have a favorite writing conference? I’d love to go to another great writing conference!

Wicked Wednesday- Heros

Jessie-In NH awash in anticpation of Malice Domestic!

Breaking news! Here are the winners of the books from yesterday’s drawing. It was such a great response that I drew a third winner! Keep an eye out for future giveaways! The winners are: Jill @Bonnjill, Sharon Forrest, and Stephanie Clark! Thanks to all of you who entered!

We continue to celebrate the release of Sherry’s latest book, A Good Day to Buy. 

As Sherry mentioned yesterday one of the themes of the book is heroes. In your opinion, what defines a hero and who are some of yours?

Edith: That’s a thought-provoking question. For me heroes are the quiet people working selflessly to help others. A woman in my town has been tireless in her efforts to run a food pantry and soup kitchen, which, sadly, more and more people need to use. Our local women’s crisis center has quietly helped many women extract themselves from abusive situations and find a better life for them and their children.  My late friend Richard was responsible for planting a thousand trees locally over a ten-year period, to both beautify and clean the air. Those are my heroes.

Barb: On the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, if you were a victim, and you survived the blast, you lived. This to me is the most extraordinary thing. I don’t mean to minimize in any way the challenges faced by the survivors, but the amazing work of the first responders on the the scene, the volunteers in the medical tents, the medical and non-medical personnel at the eight Boston hospitals where victims were taken, and the ordinary people on the street who ran toward the carnage instead of fleeing, still takes my breath away and makes me a weepy. Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” The helpers are my heroes.

Sherry: Wow, Barb! That is so beautifully said I think it’s a drop the mic moment! In A Good Day To Buy Sarah is called a hero and she doesn’t like it because she doesn’t feel like she is one. And maybe that is the strongest indication that you are a hero. Many of the people Barb mentioned would say they were just doing their job or that they were just doing what anyone would have. I think all of us have a bit of hero in us. It might not be something huge like saving someone’s life. Sometimes small things like listening to a friend or helping a neighbor are heroic.

Jessie: One of the things I believe defines a hero is a willingness to take on risk. For that reason immigrants are amongst my heroes. I am in awe of those who leave familiar lives, languages, customs and families to start lives in far away lands. No matter what motivates them to strike out I admire their grit and determination and am so grateful for the richness they add to all our lives.

Julie: I am having such challenges with this question! To me, heroes are folks who do something brave, not because they aren’t afraid, but despite the fact that they are afraid. Heroes aren’t athletes, or titans of Wall Street. Heroes are the folks Barb mentioned. Heroes are the folks our society holds in disdain who still leave the house every day, and try to live with dignity. Heroes are the folks who do what they can do to create the change they want to see in the world.

Liz: Wow, you guys have all said this so well. For the past seven years I’ve worked with Safe Futures, an organization that is working to end domestic violence, and every single one of the people involved there is a hero. They work tirelessly, they work endlessly and they put the survivors and those in need of help first, no matter what it takes. Someone who is that committed to a cause for good is truly a hero.

Readers: Who are your heroes?

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Dreams Do Come True — Thank You Kensington Publishing

Breaking news! Here are the winners of the books from yesterday’s drawing. It was such a great response that I drew a third winner! Keep an eye out for future giveaways! The winners are: Jill @Bonnjill, Sharon Forrest, and Stephanie Clark! Thanks to all of you who entered!

I’m so excited that my fourth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series, A Good Day to Buy, releases today. One of the themes in A Good Day to Buy is about who is a hero and what makes one.

I still have to pinch myself when I think about being published — that I’m writing book six as you read this. It makes me reflect on how it all happened and why. That story starts with Kensington Publishing. Here’s a little about them from their website:

Founded in 1974, Kensington Publishing Corp. is located in New York City and is known as “America’s Independent Publisher.” It remains a multi-generational family business, with Steven Zacharius succeeding his father as President and CEO, and Adam Zacharius as General Manager. From the time its very first book (Appointment in Dallas by Hugh McDonald), became a bestseller, Kensington has been known as an astute and determined David-vs.-Goliath publisher of titles in the full spectrum of categories, from fiction and romance to health and nonfiction. You can read more about Kensington on their website.

Gary goofing off at Bouchercon New Orleans 2016

Some of you have heard this story, but here is my tale of how the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series came to be. Once upon a time a heroic editor, Gary Goldstein, from the land of Kensington, came up with the idea for a cozy series with a garage sale theme. At the time Gary only had thriller and western authors in his castle and yet he went out seeking adventure in the world of cozies. His quest led him to an agent (John of Talbot), the agent went to Lady Barbara of Ross, and Barbara thought, “Sherry loves garage sales.” So it came to pass that the fair maiden Sherry (too much?) okay, just plain old Sherry wrote a proclamation (it was only a proposal but all of this still seems very fairy tale like to me) and Gary of Kensington said yes. Trumpets sounded (in my head), people danced with joy (well I did) and to this very day Sherry is Gary of Kensington’s only cozy writer.

But an editor and a writer do not a book make. There are legions of people working behind the scenes at Kensington. The unsung heroes who make it all happen. I’ve only met a few of them and some only through email. Gary’s assistant Liz alerts me when my books are on sale or there are good reviews among many other things. Karen and Morgan in marketing send out ARCs, set up blog tours, get ads placed, set up events, and probably do a whole heck of a lot more that I don’t even know about.

I love the covers of my books. The Art Department took my idea of having an old fashioned looking tag on the cover and ran with it. They created something better than I could have imagined! There is always something on each cover that I wished I owned.

Someone writes the back cover copy and they are able to sum up my books in a few short words better than I ever could. Here’s the back cover copy of A Good Day To Buy:

HER BROTHER IS NO BARGAIN
When Sarah Winston’s estranged brother Luke shows up on her doorstep, asking her not to tell anyone he’s in town—especially her ex, the chief of police—the timing is strange, to say the least. Hours earlier, Sarah’s latest garage sale was taped off as a crime scene following the discovery of a murdered Vietnam vet and his gravely injured wife—her clients, the Spencers.
 
BUT IS HE A KILLER?
All Luke will tell Sarah is that he’s undercover, investigating a story. Before she can learn more, he vanishes as suddenly as he appeared. Rummaging through his things for a clue to his whereabouts, Sarah comes upon a list of veterans and realizes that to find her brother, she’ll have to figure out who killed Mr. Spencer. And all without telling her ex . . .

Then there are the copy editors who notice if Sarah hates broccoli on page 22 but is asking for a second helping on page 156. They push me to write a better book. There are typesetters, and people who send the proof pages – the last chance to find mistakes before the book is printed.

There are people in Sales and Sub Rights – there are probably departments I don’t even know about who all work hard to get my books out.

So thank you to everyone at Kensington – from top to bottom – who do your jobs, who helped make my dream come true.

To celebrate the release of A Good Day To Buy I’ll Give Away two books to someone who leaves a comment!

Readers: What dream has come true for you?

Oh, The Places I’ve Lived

By Sherry in Northern Virginia where it’s spring, summer, winter, summer, spring, winter depending on the day and/or hour

I’m looking forward to the release of A Good Day To Buy on April 25th! One of the subplots involves Stella Wild (Sarah’s opera singing landlady and friend) trying to rent out the apartment next to Sarah’s. It means Sarah and Stella run into some interesting characters and it reminded me of some of the places I’ve lived and the landlords I’ve had.

The first place I lived when I left home was a college dorm room at Truman State College in Kirksville, Missouri. Brewer Hall was old and now that I reflect set the tone for a lot of the places I’ve lived! The rooms were small and had old radiators that creaked, groaned, and banged at unexpected times. The saving grace was a bathroom between each two rooms. I never wanted to have to traipse down a hall to shower. And we had so much fun that it wiped out any negatives.

I lived a bunch of different places during my years in Kirksville. One was in the basement of a house owned by an 80 year old woman. Every time my roommate and I left the old woman would go down and poke around. We would pile stacks of sodas, paper towels, and other things against her entrance to try to keep her out. But we’d come home and the stuff would all be knocked over. We didn’t last long there.

One of my roommates

One summer a group of friends and I rented a house owned by a fraternity that was right next to their main house. We had a mushroom grow up through the tile in the bathroom one night. We kept track of who killed the most cockroaches and slugs. It was disgusting, but again a lot of fun.

I also rented a small three bedroom Craftsman style house with four friends. It had leaded glass windows and a window seat. The fact that it was two doors down from the fraternity house didn’t hurt either. But the basement flooded and it was full of things we didn’t have room for in our tiny rooms.

The first house I rented on my own was in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was an adorable little house owned by a guy in his thirties. It was heated by what he called a floor furnace which was a tiny little box of a thing. That didn’t concern me when I rented the house on a lovely summer day. The house was cute, in a neighborhood I loved called “The Avenues”, and close to work — although in Cheyenne no place was too far from work. But then winter hit. It was so cold in that house that the windows frosted over on the inside. I ended up hanging quilts over the windows to try to keep it warm.

Readers: Where was the first place you lived after leaving home? Have you ever lived any place memorable or had a landlord who drove you crazy?

 

 

Wicked Wednesday: March Into Spring

Edith here, and it’s March! Not sure quite how that happened so fast this year, but let’s

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

March, from Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

march through our Wednesdays together this month. Today I want to know how each Wicked plans to march forward into spring. Many of us have been pretty much holed up during the winter, ignoring the weather and doing some concentrated writing. But spring will launch later this month. How do your work habits change in the spring? Do you get itching to plow both the ground and the fertile soil of your imagination? Do you start working out on your porch or taking more sunny plotting walks? What one step will you take differently this month?

Liz: I’m so excited it’s almost spring! The biggest difference this month for me? I’ll have turned my book in so won’t be working on a crazy deadline while trying to do a million other things! Seriously, this entire winter has been crazy and I’m not sorry to see it go (well, I’m never sorry to see winter go). But I think once I catch up on a few things, I’m going to get myself onto a more serious writing schedule. Probably early in the morning, maybe outside if I can manage it. I’ve let a lot of my routines go during a difficult few months, and need to get them back.

Edith: We’re all pulling for you, Liz! For me, I’m just looking forward to taking any steps. I’ve had a tough first month  post-knee surgery, and when I tried to do a slightly tiny bit longer slow walk on the weekend it really messed me up. But I find all the light in the sky, the sounds of birds again, and the crocuses and daffodils poking their green shoots up out of the cold ground inspiring and stimulating. I know I won’t be able to garden again until the weather really warms up, so I’m going to use that inspiration to finish a first draft this month, and hopefully be able to march lots better before April, too. I’m also, of course, marching toward my double release – When the Grits Hit the Fan on March 28, followed closely by Called to Justice on April 8!

hydrangesSherry: It’s been spring most of the winter here in Northern Virginia. My hydrangeas are leafing out, windows have been open, and I’ve spent a lot of time outside. I’m starting out March with my mom and family in Florida celebrating her 90th birthday today. After that I’ll be gearing up for the release of A Good Day To Buy (shameless self promotion warning — it’s available for pre-orders right now) on April 25th. It’s always an exciting and nerve-racking time!

Barb: Happy birthday to your mom, Sherry. She is one of the Wickeds’ most stalwart fans. Like Liz, I should be turning in my book soon, the sixth Maine Clambake Mystery, Stowed Away. Then, for some insane reason, this spring I’m doing eight appearances in five weeks. Four are conferences that require pre-registration: the Maine Crime Wave, Malice Domestic, Muse and the Marketplace, (where I’m teaching a class, Four Lies People Will Tell You about Marketing Your Novel ) and the Massachusetts Library Association Conference. Four are at bookstores. Various combinations of the Wickeds will be at all of the bookstore events, and we’ll all be together in Nashua, NH on April 19 and in Bethesda, MD the Thursday night before Malice. For those of you who are coming in early for the conference, we’d love to see you there! You can always find my events on my website here. It’s going to be a crazy spring, but I’m very much looking forward to it.

Jessie: Unlike the rest of you I have no plans. Living in northern New England teaches you that spring will break your heart. Just when the daffodils poke their heads up through cold cracks in the earth a foot of snow covers them and makes you wonder if you’ll see them again. So I don’t plan for spring; I prefer to sneak up on it when it isn’t looking. I ease out through the door on a sunny day and perch gingerly on the porch swing to eat my lunch in the warmth of a sunbeam and hope not to jinx things.  I peek at the lengthening days with the barest of glances so as not to scare them off. I whisper to my family the first time I notice there is no frost on the grass in the morning. I’ll make plans come summer.

Julie: This winter has let us taste spring a couple of times, and I am forever grateful for that. Last week it got close to 70. Delightful. Of course, here in New England once it hits 40 we take off our hats and scarves and unzip our coats. I have a lot to work on book wise, but can’t wait for windows to be open.

Readers: What changes for you with the onset of spring? How do you march differently?

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