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?







Welcome Guest Blogger, Rosie Genova!

rosiegenovaJessie: Today the Wickeds are delighted to welcome Rosie Genova to the blog. One of the wonderful things about the mystery writing community is the population. You meet so many interesting people online and they tend to be great to get to know. That’s just what happened in this case. Rosie and I shared a release date for our “First in a New Series” books that came out in October. With one thing and another we got to chatting online and now, here she is ready to share her take on a controversial subject.

Busmans-HoneymoonThe tagline on my website reads “Cozy mysteries. .  .with romantic interruptions,” a phrase I lifted from Dorothy Sayers, who touted Busman’s Honeymoon as “a love story with detective interruptions.” Early in Sayers’ career, she derided mysteries that included any romance at all. But once she introduced Harriet Vane—a character some say is a stand-in for Sayers herself—to the suave Lord Peter Wimsey, all bets were off. And while I am a huge admirer of Sayers’ plotting skills and elegant turns of phrase, it was the love story between Harriet and Peter that first brought me to Sayers’s work and kept me reading and re-reading the novels. Even now, I avidly follow the love story of Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James in Deborah Crombie’s works, as well as poor Thomas Lynley’s tragic romantic life in Elizabeth George’s books. (And still holding out for Havers to get her man someday!)

But the presence of romantic subplots in mysteries can be a polarizing topic. In what is a vicariously wishful move on my part, in my debut novel, Murder and Marinara, I have provided not one, but two romantic interests for my main character, Victoria Rienzi. Since M and M is the first of a series, I am having a grand time setting up a triangle with Victoria, her ex-boyfriend and chef Tim Trouvare, and rough-around-the-edges New Orleans transplant Cal Lockhart. Some readers have commented positively on the presence of two hunky guys. But I have learned the hard way that not all cozy readers want a love story cluttering up their beloved genre.

marinaraAt my first Malice Domestic conference last year, I chatted eagerly with fans in the goody room, watching with an eagle eye for those who picked up my bookmarks and recipe cards. One lady struck up a conversation with me about the book, and when I mentioned there were two love interests, her expression changed from interest to disgust.

“Oh you mean your girl is like that Stephanie Plum,” she said, returning my bookmark to its place on the table. “I say pick one guy or the other and get on with it, lady!”

Ohhhhhkay, then.

On Goodreads and Amazon, where readers make no bones about their likes and dislikes, a few reviewers deducted stars because of the romantic triangle, and some didn’t like the idea of a love story appearing in a mystery at all. And while I respect those readers’ preferences, I will continue to give Victoria an ongoing romantic dilemma, and hell yes, she will be getting some well-deserved kisses in between solving murders. Because in the presence of death, there must always be life. And there’s nothing more life-affirming than love.

Author Bio: A Jersey girl born and bred, Rosie Genova left her heart at the shore, which serves as the setting for much of her work. Her new series, the Italian Kitchen Mysteries, is informed by her deep appreciation for good food, her pride in her heritage, and her love of classic mysteries from Nancy Drew to Miss Marple. Her debut novel, Murder and Marinara, was named a Best Cozy of 2013 by Suspense Magazine. An English teacher by day and novelist by night, Rosie also writes women’s fiction as Rosemary DiBattista.  She lives in central New Jersey with her husband and two of her three Jersey boys.   Goodreads link

Murder and Marinara: An Italian Kitchen Mystery (Book 1)

Jacket Copy:

Hit whodunit writer Victoria Rienzi is getting back to her roots by working at her family’s Italian restaurant. But now in between plating pasta and pouring vino, she’ll have to find the secret ingredient in a murder…. 

When Victoria takes a break from penning her popular mystery series and moves back to the Jersey shore, she imagines sun, sand, and scents of fresh basil and simmering marinara sauce at the family restaurant, the Casa Lido. But her nonna’s recipes aren’t the only things getting stirred up in this Italian kitchen.

Their small town is up in arms over plans to film a new reality TV show, and when Victoria serves the show’s pushy producer his last meal, the Casa Lido staff finds itself embroiled in a murder investigation. Victoria wants to find the real killer, but there are as many suspects as tomatoes in her nonna’s garden. Now she’ll have to heat up her sleuthing skills quickly…before someone else gets a plateful of murder.

Wicked Wednesday: The Passage of Time

Hi. Barb here. Wondering about the passage of time.

Four of the Wickeds are writing the third book in their series. And Sherry just handed in her first (Yay!). So I’m wondering how the Wickeds are handling the passage of time in their series. Clammed Up, the first book in my Maine Clambake Mystery series takes place on the first day of Clambake season in the “undefined now.” (Actually, if you checked the moonrise and tides tables they would jibe with 2012 when I wrote it.) Boiled Over, the second book takes place in mid-August of the same year, the height of the season, and Mussled Out, the third, on Columbus Day weekend as the clambake shuts down.

calendar flippingBut what happens if I’m lucky enough to get the series renewed? Do I “gently” move the next set of books forward to 2015 or so? Authors of long-running series (okay, I wish!) handle time differently. Sue Grafton has famously kept Kinsey Milhone in the 80s. Ruth Rendell has slowed down time, so her Inspector Wexford, who was 52 in “From Doon with Death,” in 1964 finally retired from police work in “The Vault” in 2012.

Wickeds, have you thought about how you’ll handle the passage of time in your series? How do you like to see it handled as readers?

Liz: Lots to think about with this question, Barb! In my first book, Kneading to Die, the story opens in present day, summer time. The second book, A Biscuit, A Casket, happens right around Halloween (my favorite time of year!). I struggled a little bit with the setting for the third book. I’m not a huge fan of winter and I thought it might be tough to have things happening on the town green if it was buried in snow. But since it’s a New England setting, I thought it might be odd to have them skip winter altogether. So I compromised and set it in February, hoping we’d hit only the tail end of bad weather.

If, as Barb says, I’m lucky enough to have the series renewed, I think I’ll continue on the path of each season. One of the things readers seem to love about New England is the change of seasons, and with different weather comes different challenges and situations for the characters. Stan is in her mid-thirties, so she’s got plenty of time!

2010-09-15 06.19.10

Farm to Table dinner at Cider Hill Farm ( cooked by Phat Cats Bistro (, both in Amesbury, Mass.

Edith: Great questions, Barb! I’m marching through the seasons in my Local Foods mystery series, too. A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die opened at the start of the farming season in New England, on June 1. ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part starts at a fall farm-to-table dinner. Farmed and Dangerous, which I’m writing now, takes place in snowy January. I love using the feelings of the different seasons. And farmers, of course, are very attuned to the changes in not only temperature but also day length and the slant of the light. I’d love to see my contract renewed, and think a spring book with Cam frantically trying to nurture seedlings and getting the early tilling done would be a natural.

But the other question about the passage of book time versus real time — that’s tricky. Sure, I set Book One in 2012. So in book time, Book Three takes place seven months after Book One, but will release two years later. I suppose we can ignore real time until some major technological or news event changes the way people live their lives. For farmer Cam, maybe genetically modified seeds will be outlawed, or non-organic produce will be made illegal. Okay, don’t all laugh at once. She’s also a former software engineer, though, so there might be a leap in some kind of software that assists growers. In that case, I’d have to catch her up with the present. I am pretty careful not to tie anything very closely to real events, so the time setting is pretty fuzzy, given that there are cell phones, web sites, and texting.

Barb: I have to admit, as a reader, I love it when series “skip” some time and something significant–a death, a retirement, a promotion, a divorce, a birth–happens off stage and the series characters are dealing with it as you start the new book.

Jessie: I’m moving slowly in my Sugar Grove series. Drizzled with Death takes place in late November and Maple Mayhem is set in January. While I realize that adds up to a high body count for a small town I enjoy allowing relationships to unfold slowly. If I jump ahead in time too much that can’t happen. It is funny though that it makes more sense to me for bodies to crop up here, there and everywhere than it does for my characters to form attachments quickly or resolve difficulties in their personal lives at a fast clip.

Julie: This is such a great question. I am not just a cozy writer, I am a cozy reader. I find that I am OK with seasons passing, but I don’t like to get stuck in a year. And with technology you have to be SO careful, because it can/does date you. I have a few manuscripts that live in a drawer. One was dependent on floppy disks and having to buy a program in order to break a code. Hello? Between the internet and flash drives (never mind DropBox), the tension no longer works. It is like cozies work in a magical reality, where everyone stays the same age but keeps going through seasons, but I am OK with that.

Sherry: I just sent in the first of my Sarah Winston Garage Sale Series, Tagged for Death. It is set in April. The third is set in the winter so number two will be set sometime in the mid to late summer. I have to figure out exactly when soon. I mention Facebook in my novel which will date it at some point, however if people are reading it that long after publication I will be very grateful. I like how Janet Evanovich has handled time in her Stephanie Plum series. Stephanie remains about the same age in all the books, but as times and technology changes so does Stephanie. I wish I could remember the name of the author I saw  several years ago at the National Book Festival who said he wished he’d aged as well as his series character.

Readers: How to do you like to see time handled?