Vicki Lane is the author of the just-released Under the Skin, the fifth of the Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries (Signs in the Blood, Art's Blood, Old Wounds, and Anthony-nominated In a Dark Season,) as well as of the stand alone The Day of Small Things. Vicki draws her inspiration from rural western NC where she and her family have lived on a mountainside farm since 1975. Visit Vicki at her daily blog, her website or go HERE to learn more about Under the Skin.
by Vicki Lane
When you’re writing a series, the temptation to end a book with a bit of a cliffhanger is almost overpowering. After all, you want the reader to look forward eagerly to the next book. Notice I said a bit of a cliff hanger. You also don’t want to alienate those readers. And though I grew up watching serialized movies at a local theater on Saturday mornings, I’ve resisted ending a book with Elizabeth tied to a railroad track as a train is bearing down on her. I’ve totally not left her tied up in a dark cellar with water pouring in and rising slowly. Nor have I abandoned her to the vile clutches of the Emperor Ming and his minions. (Flash Gordon was my favorite of said Saturday morning serials.)
That said, I admit to having ended several of my books with the suggestion of some challenge on the way and that’s seemed to work well. So I blithely closed In a Dark Season, my fourth Elizabeth Goodweather novel, with an unresolved thread – a puzzling message on the answering machine that suggested that Elizabeth’s lover might not be what he seemed.
There was no imminent danger – but a definite possibility thereof. And when the book ended, Elizabeth hadn’t even checked that answering machine so she was in the dark as to what the future might hold.
It didn’t seem too terrible to ask readers to wait a year. I had a new, two book contract and I’d already written the beginning and the end of Under the Skin, the book that would, for better or worse, explain that puzzling message.
Then my editor suggested that I write a spin-off /standalone. First. Before Book 5 of the Elizabeth series. I agreed and, as Dark Season was still in the editing process, I suggested that maybe I should go back and change that cliff hanging ending so that readers wouldn’t have to wait two years for a resolution.
“I like that ending,” was my editor’s reply. “They can wait.”
And wait, alas, is what they’ve had to do. Dark Season came out in 2008 and, whether because of, or in spite of the cliffhanger, was nominated for an Anthony. But the standalone took longer than a year to complete and it didn’t come out till 2010. Which pushed Under the Skin back to . . . well . . . now. And all these three years, I’ve had readers emailing or grabbing me in bookstores, just to let me know how impatient they were to find out about that dratted phone message.
“What,” I began to think, “if I’m hit by a car or a tree falls on me and I never finish that last book? All those nice folks waiting to find out what happened . . . and I do have that part written already…”
So I wrote a really touching blog post that included the resolution to the cliffhanger and put it in the drafts folder on Blogger. And I penned a note to my family, asking that in the event of my demise, they follow the directions to put up my farewell blog post.
The only thing was, I just never got around to telling anyone about this. It just felt a little . . . odd. I left the note under my mouse pad and pretty much forgot about it till I was in the airport, getting ready to fly to Bouchercon 2009.
As I sat in the waiting room, I suddenly remembered that note. What if the plane crashed? How long would it take my family to clean out my work room and come across that touching note?
I decided I needed to tell someone and not wanting to worry anyone in my family – who would likely laugh at my silliness -- I decided to call my agent.
Ann picked up at once and I launched into my explanation of how, in the event of disaster befalling me, she should call my family, tell them where to find the note, and ask them to post the resolution to the cliffhanger.
When I finally finished talking, there was a silence -- a very long silence. Then Ann spoke.
“That’s the weirdest damn phone call I’ve ever gotten,” she said.
Then, without missing a beat, “Do you want me to wait till after the funeral?”
Obviously, the plane didn’t fall down and at long last, the book is out. I’m happy to say I’ve erased that blog post and thrown away the touching note. But I’ll think long and hard before writing another cliffhanger.