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?







Endings and Beginnings

By Liz, still recovering from a wonderful Crime Bake weekend!

By now you’ve all heard (if you weren’t there to experience it firsthand) how cool this year’s New England Crime Bake Conference was, as always. For me, Crime Bake weekend is motivating, inspiring, and full of reconnections and gratitude at how lucky I am not only to be living my dreams, but to be living them as part of a wonderful community—both my immediate community, the Wicked Cozies, and the extended Sisters in Crime community. I always get a little sappy and sentimental after Crime Bake, so please indulge me.

My birthday is coming up at the end of November.  A couple of years ago a friend gave me a “Happy New Year” card to celebrate the occasion. She told me she thought of birthdays that way—as the beginning of one’s own personal new year, the time to reflect on both the challenges and blessings from the past year, acknowledge them, learn from them and start fresh. I thought it was a brilliant sentiment. However, I can’t think of a year when it will be more true than this one as I’m closing some chapters and preparing to enter some new ones.

Spending time with the Wickeds this weekend also reminded me how important these ladies are in every chapter of my life. So I thought I’d tell you about what’s been going on lately, and how many trips the Wicked lifeboat has taken on my behalf.

In my writing life: Many of you are aware that I have a second series underway with St. Martin’s. The first book has gone through a few iterations, and I’m currently working on major revisions. Unfortunately, this converged with a lot of other things, and the revisions suddenly seemed so daunting. One particularly bad weekend, Barb talked me off the ledge then offered some stellar advice on untangling my plot and moving it forward. Then Sherry, as always, offered her expert editing opinions. And lo and behold, I was back on track.

In my personal life: Some of you know I lost my father last month, which was a very difficult situation for reasons aside from the obvious. Suffice it to say getting through that event would have been much harder without a little help from my friends. Seeing Edith and Julie in person was wonderful. And Jessie’s perspective about things is always unique and thought-provoking, and makes for wonderful conversations.

In my day job life: In the midst of all of the above, I was blessed to have received a wonderful opportunity for a new day job. That opportunity, however, was a long process. My tolerant Wickeds were there to cheer me on, commiserate with me, and keep me focused on the outcome. And it came!

So what’s my point? These ladies are way more than blog mates. They are wicked good friends.  And I’m so blessed to be part of this group, no matter what the next chapter holds.


Readers, new chapters in your lives? How do you navigate?

Second Time Around

My second book launch — I can’t believe it’s here! At our Wicked Cozy retreat the second week of June, Barbara Ross said something like “You do realize your second book is coming out soon. I think you’re in denial.”

longestyardsaleDenial is a wonderful place to live in (I probably live there more than I should) and I went through a thousand excuses in my head. I was in the throes of writing and editing book three of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series, I edited three other books (such fun and boy do you all have some good reads ahead of you), I was nominated for an Agatha Award (joyous news but very distracting — if any of you saw me wandering around with a glazed look you now know why), the actual launch party isn’t until July 18th (Barnes and Noble in Fairfax, Virginia from 1- 3 with Maya Corrigan — stop by if you can) and July 18th seemed like it was a long way away at the time. Okay, okay I’ll stop with the excuses and just admit Barbara was right.

IMG_4532As soon as I returned home from the retreat I made arrangements to meet with my publicist aka great friend Mary Titone. We agreed to meet the following morning for one of our high power sessions aka breakfast out somewhere. For our first meeting before the launch of Tagged for Death, Mary brought special pens, I brought new tablets. This time we just pulled out our phones. Mary plunged into planning mode, wrote and sent press releases, and contacted stores and organizations for appearances. Everyone should have a friend like Mary.

IMG_4534IMG_4531And here I am in the midst of launch week — denial or not the book is out but I’m a little more relaxed about the process. Last time I was terrified to get a bad review. Now I chant something my daughter paraphrased from someone: You can be the sweetest, juiciest peach in the whole world and there’s still going to be someone that hates peaches. (If you ever see me muttering “Not everyone likes peaches, not everyone likes peaches” you’ll know why!) I still don’t like to get bad reviews but if they are fair and accurate you have to live with them. This time I’m not obsessively checking my Goodreads reviews and Amazon ranking — yes I’m still checking them but not obsessively. (I swear it’s not obsessive — but I’ll be right back I need to go check…never mind.)

Before I wrap this up. There are a few people I need to thank. First my fabulous Wicked Cozy sisters and Wicked accomplices. Thank you for always, always being there for me! As I said the other day, without you I’d feel like a lone rower without oars on a stormy sea.

Thank you bloggers who invite me to do guest posts and reviewers who take the time to read our books and review them. I’d would list you all by name but I’m so afraid I’d leave someone out accidentally that I’ll leave it at this.

And then a big thanks to my girlfriends who range from sorority sisters, to local friends, to writing friends, and my far flung friends from our days in the military. I don’t know how I was blessed with so many wonderful women in my life. You all make my days better and make me a better person. I learn so much from each of you.

And last my family — without you this dream wouldn’t have come true.

Wicked Wednesday: The Cam Flaherty Fan Club

On Wicked Wednesdays, we Wickeds weigh in on a subject. This week we are Til Dirt do us Part Covercelebrating the launch of ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part, the latest in the Local Foods mystery series. So the question is, what do we like about the protagonist of the series, Cam Flaherty?

Jessie: I like that Cam’s spunky and is not afraid to get her hands dirty both literally and figuratively. She works hard to grow her business and to build a community around it.

Liz: Cam’s a cool lady – she’s not afraid to take risks, she’s a fierce believer in local farms and local foods, and she’s dedicated to clean eating. She’s also got no fear – and I totally respect that!

Sherry: I love Cam because Edith’s passion for local foods and organic farms shines through Cam. Cam’s an introvert and has to challenge herself to face that issue so her farm will be a success. It adds another layer of depth to Edith’s books.

Barb: I like the challenge Edith has set for herself as a writer with Cam. Cam is an introvert and a computer programmer who’s lived most of her life in her head. In the Local Food Mysteries, Cam moves from the intellectual realm to the intensely physical, and from a solitary pursuit to one where she can only get by with a little help from her friends–she has to live in and rely on her community. In some ways it’s the ultimate fish out of water story, but in others, it’s a recognizable and believable journey.

Julie: I love that Cam is carrying the family tradition forward. She is farming her uncle’s land, and is determined to make a go of it. That says so much about her character, and it helps support her searches for justice.

MaxFarmerEdith: <Blowing kisses to my blogmates: mwah!> I created Cam twenty years ago when I was a farmer myself, and I wanted a protagonist who wasn’t anything like me. So she’s way taller, younger (so now she’s WAY younger), a geek good with numbers and data where I’m more of a story/words type, single, and an introvert. I have introverted aspects, but I also love being among people I know well, and am just a little bit famous for getting down on the dance floor.

And I think it’s very cool that others see parts of Cam, and Cam in the books, that I had no idea I was writing, or that emerged as part of the stories with no intention on my part.

Readers: What’s your view of this tall, somewhat awkward new farmer? How’s she been doing so far? Where would you like to see her going, in romance, in farming, in life?

The Value of One

By Edith

North of Boston

We sometimes think we need many. Lots of positive reviews. A big audience at a stack of cookiessigning. Dozens of interested buyers for your house or car. A plate full of cookies, a resume full of jobs, a shelf full of your own published books. At certain times of life, perhaps many suitors, many friends.

But what about just one? When our house in Ipswich was on the market over a year ago, and we didn’t get an offer from the first open house, Hugh remarked, “We only need one.” And then we got one great offer and accepted it.

I know someone who seemed to be without any close friends for a few years. Then he met a guy who he really clicked with. Now he has a best friend. And a close friend in the guy’s girlfriend. And met his own girlfriend through them, and then started making a few other good friends. But some people really only need one good friend.

The other night I went to a nearby library. They had invited me to be their guest author for their adult summer reading program. They had publicized it. I had pushed the word out. I arrived a few minutes early, set out my books, checked my prepared remarks. One woman sat at the end of the front row and we chatted for a few minutes.

The appointed start time came and went. Nobody else arrived. So I pulled up a chair across from the woman and we proceeded to have a very nice, very intimate chat about my books, the process of writing, her recent unemployment, and much more. After about 45 minutes our conversation seemed to be winding down, so I Edith Maxwell with her booksthanked her. She glanced over at my book display and asked if she could buy my books. Well, sure! She bought four.

It might seem a little pathetic that I could only attract one reader for my talk. But hey, I’m still a beginning author. I now have a new really big fan. The library knows I am reliable and agreeable. My name and my book were publicized all over town. True, it was only a fifteen-minute drive away (and they paid me). If I’d driven two hours to Connecticut or Maine for the same experience, I might be somewhat less agreeable about it. But even multi-published authors have been through these tiny-audience situations. We just keep going.

What about you? What were your times when one was enough, or maybe it wasn’t enough? Are there situations when one simply isn’t sufficient?