ENDINGS: How do you take yours?

It’s often said that how your book opens can determine whether or not a reader will continue. With literally millions of stories to choose from, the importance of your First Chapter has gone to First Page has gone to First Paragraph, and has gone to (in some instances) First Sentence.

I think there’s validity in that opinion.

It’s also often said that how your book ends can determine whether or not a reader will want to continue reading your other titles.

I think that’s also true.

The Cliffhanger

I read a book that I enjoyed until I got to the ending where the author clearly left the story in cliffhanger mode so people would buy her next book. I was done and done and felt like I’d been scammed.

Does a cliffhanger ending work for some readers? Apparently.

The On and On

Like the adage of dropping into a scene for pacing (or having your story actually begin at Chapter Six because well, that’s where it begins), I think it’s equally important to know when your story is finished. Just because you love your characters doesn’t mean every reader is going to care about their new job (unless it relates to the story) or what they posted on Facebook, or anything else about their lives.

Some readers must like this though, because I’ve gotten called on my wrap-ups wrapping up before readers are ready.

The What What Huh

This is the ending that simply isn’t there. The reader creates their own.

Honestly, the only time this has worked for me is with PARANOIA by Joseph Finder. The story was so good that had he handed me an ending—whatever it was—I would’ve been disappointed.

The End

This is what I like and how I write. The major denouement has occurred. Tiny threads have been tied off. Holes have been buttoned and we can easily imagine what comes next.

We know all there is to know.

Time to close the cover and move on.

(Having said that, if I’ve done my job, bits of the story will continue to resonate long after the cover is closed.)


Okay, I just realized that my descriptive titles are totally biased. But this is my post and these are my current opinions. If you quote me, date me. I can be swayed.

How do you take your endings? While they are only a part of the whole, are they important enough to determine whether you’ll read more by an author?


It’s all better with friends.



Fifteen and Fearless: Writing Lessons From My Daughter

We’ve had the most lovely discussions lately regarding when we realized we wanted to be writers or when we knew what kind of children we were raising, all of which got me thinking about my own writing – and the lessons my daughter is teaching me. My husband and I have a daughter who, like most kids her age, is many things: teenager, equestrian, volleyball player, student – but most of all, she is a writer.

For as long as I can remember, she’s found enjoyment in the written word. There were never enough books to be read at bedtime, and every learning unit at school that involved writing was met with excitement. Songwriting, in particular, has been a passion for the past few years, and watching the progression of her skill is thrilling.

What I love most about my daughter’s writing, however, whether story or song or essay or poem, is that it’s fearless. Sure, she worries about grades and sometimes the feedback of her peers, but not in a way that prevents her from capturing her thoughts in writing and sharing them with others. There’s a joy and excitement that’s contagious when she comes running into whatever room her father or I are in to announce she’s finished a new song and is ready to perform it for us. Sometimes she’ll mention casually, “I’ve put something new up on Wattpad and received some comments” or “I’ve been doing some editing for a few people on Wattpad.”

It’s a bit of a mystery the source of this confidence, this willingness to put herself out there and accept or receive whatever may come from the experience; if we’re honest, teenagers are not always kind to one another, especially when you add the anonymity of the internet. And yet, she’s fearless. I suspect there’s a bit of a generational thing at play; after all, she’s never not known technology or social media, and this idea of posting personal thoughts to people one has never met is part of her generation’s normal. It’s bigger than that, however, as she’s equally willing to perform a new, barely rehearsed song she’s written at a school event.

The pleasure and joy she experiences through her writing, the way she uses it as an outlet for an overwhelm of emotion or as a means to process a situation or experience, her ability and willingness to share with others and receive feedback – it’s a powerful reminder that reading and writing can and should make us feel good, can help us navigate the complex, challenging, emotion-filled journey of life. And also that sometimes, perhaps more than sometimes, we as adults can overthink to the point that we remove the joy from the thing. (Me, yes, I mean me.)

The magic is in the fearlessness with which she pursues her writing, and the joy and release and community that the writing allows her to experience. Those things she can carry with her always, regardless of where her life journey takes her. (Besides, who can stay mad about a messy room when the teenager says, “I forgot to clean my room, but I finished a new song – want to hear it?!?”)

Finishing — 8 Little Questions

My previous post on Mysteristas was about abandoned projects, and as it turned out, several comments addressed the difficulty of finishing projects.  That made me wonder:  is there a difference between an abandoned project and an unfinished one?  

I think so.  And it’s more than a matter of semantics.  

Abandoning a project is like throwing it into a junkyard where some parts can be salvaged later.  Unfinished projects lose focus.  

We don’t toss out an unfinished project (let’s call it Murder in the Junkyard) if it has merit.  Merit determines whether or not this mess of a manuscript should be resurrected.  I’ve found that asking myself several hard questions really helps to finish a difficult project.  Starting with: 

 1.  Do I really care about this?  

We don’t have to know why, but if there’s a shred of passion about the project, then the next question becomes…

2.  Do I know what my protagonist wants, and why?  


The answer might not be on the page, but what the protagonist wants will determine the direction the story goes.  


There’s a bunch more questions to ask before tackling a revision, but that’s for another post.  Skipping ahead to the end, several more questions will help us finish this darned Junkyard project:  

3.  Are there logical obstacles keeping my protagonist from getting what she wants?  


4.  Does my protagonist use her special skills to overcome those obstacles?  (And by the way, what are those skills?)


5.  What has my protagonist learned by the end?  (If the answer is “nothing,” then remember that the writer is God.  What should my protagonist learn?  How has the character grown?  Even in a series, the character needs to change somewhat.)  


6.  What is the story question, and has it been resolved?  


7.  What outstanding questions are there? 


8.  Has the story fulfilled the promise made to the reader at the beginning?  


Once we figure out how to insert the scenes that will show the answers to such questions, then we can resurrect an abandoned project and finish it.  With a little passion!  

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: A Survey of Female Irish Crimewriters

Lying in Wait US coverIn honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I bring you my most recent discovery: a bevy of brilliant female Irish crime writers. Tana French is not alone. These women have a unique perspective on the dynamics and tensions ubiquitous during the late 20th century seismic cultural shifts in Ireland, and a talent for revealing the complicated workings of the mind.

Liz Nugent is the author of UNRAVELING OLIVER, LYING IN WAIT, and SKIN DEEP. These three powerful and creepy standalone psychological thrillers have won awards in Ireland both in paper and audio forms. Told from first person point-of-view, the characters are highly complex and believable. In each book, a murder is committed on the first page by the point-of-view character. The whydunit is the story. The author is the master of first lines:

“I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.” (UNRAVELING OLIVER).

My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.” (LYING IN WAIT).

“Once I had cleared the bottles away and washed the blood off the floor, I needed to get out of the flat.” (SKIN DEEP).

If you like traditional mystery check out Dervla McTiernan, the debut author of THE RUIN. A traditional police procedural with well-defined characters told in multiple third-person points-of-view. I may have developed a crush on the protagonist, DI Cormac Reilly, a big Irishman who loves his wife and cares about the people he meets. The author has a talent for escalating stakes organically and for such vivid storytelling that third person feels like first person.

Technically this next book is literature, but I liked it anyway. MILKMAN by Anna Burns won the 2018 Man Booker literary award. The narrator is a young woman living in a Northern Ireland in the 1970’s who is being stalked by the Milkman during a time when murder, suicide, assault, and other heinous acts were the unquestioned norm.

Are you a Mary Higgins Clark fan? Then you’ll love Jane Casey’s THE STRANGER YOU KNOW, the winner of the 2015 Mary Higgins Clark award. Maeve Kerrigan is a spunky and rogue police detective in London tasked with finding a brutal serial murderer of young women as she is experiencing problems of her own, not the last of which is that her partner, DCI Josh Derwent, is the prime suspect.

Claire McGowan’s THE KILLING HOUSE is the sixth and final installment of the Paula McGuire series. When an unidentified female body turns up in her old hometown, Ballyterrin, Northern Ireland, forensic psychologist Dr. McGuire returns with her three-year old daughter hoping to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance twenty years before.

In Claire Allan’s APPLE OF MY EYE, Nurse Eliana Hughes and her husband Martin lead a charmed life in Derry, Northern Ireland, and are expecting a baby girl in two months. This will be the first grandchild for Angela, Eliana’s mother. Meanwhile, some strange woman named Louise is plotting to kidnap a baby and raise it as her own. Slowly, Eliana’s life unravels, Angela becomes more possessive, and Louise carefully plots her crime. And then it gets really creepy.

If you’re an Agatha Christie fan (who isn’t?), you’ll love Jo Spain’s THE DARKEST PLACE: AN INSPECTOR TOM REYNOLDS MYSTERY. Tom’s been having problems on the force lately and as extra punishment, he is sent to an island off the coast of County Kerry to investigate a forty year old cold case in an asylum.

More  female Irish crime writers I’m looking forward to reading include Fiona Davis, Alex Barclay, Sinead Crowley, Sam Blake, Louise Phillips, Niamh O’Connor, Arlene Hunt, Andrea Carter, Andrea Mara, Cat Hogan, and Karen Gillece.

To Mysterista Readers: Have you read books by any of these authors? What did you Full Irish breakfastthink? Or, tell us what you’re planning for St. Patrick’s Day. I’m eating mass quantities myself. Pictured: Full Irish Breakfast including black pudding, baked beans, rashers, fried tomatoes, white pudding, and sausage. Not pictured: Irish soda bread. I’ll be eating that too.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Last week Becky Clark documented the hilarious comings and goings of her children and asked readers when we knew what kind of child we were raising. The answers were diverse, entertaining, and enlightening. When I attend book signings, I love to ask authors a similar question. (This is your chance to get your answer ready for when I ask YOU.)

“When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I get answers as diverse as Becky got with her “raising a kid” question. Many authors were readers first and writers later. Others had careers in related fields; for example, media, law enforcement, newspapers, or investigations, that provided stories that came to mind when someone said, “You should write a book about that.”  

I was always a reader. I came from a family of readers, my father read to me constantly. Now I read mysteries because he sowed the seeds of mystery right from the start. Even those Little Golden Books were transformed into mysteries as he read them. He did not read what was actually written on the pages; instead, he created a new story each time about the same pictures. The story was almost the printed-page story, but it was different, unexpected, surprising. He created the unanticipated, the mysterious, and the enigmatic when he read to me. He still does that with his grandkids.

When I was cleaning out some boxes of my old papers from high school, I found a couple of short stories that I wrote for a class, and one was  crime fiction,  (an on-purpose accident at a ski slope) and one was a “nail-biting” thriller, (astronaut taking a payoff from Russian deliver a U.S. spacecraft to them). I guess I have a consistent pattern of writing and reading. Thanks to my dad, I learned to start with the familiar but to expect the unanticipated, to anticipate the surprising, to look beyond the obvious, to never take the ending for granted, and to love mysteries.

Now, you have had lots of time to think … When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Why do you write crime fiction, mysteries, or thrillers instead of some other category?

Book Release: AS DIRECTED

Happy book birthday to our own Kathleen Valenti. The third book in her Maggie O’Malley series, As Directed, is now available!

About the book:

In the shadow of a past fraught with danger and tainted by loss, former pharmaceutical researcher Maggie O’Malley is rebuilding her life, trading test tubes for pill bottles as she embarks on a new career at the corner drugstore. But as she spreads her wings, things begin to go terribly wrong. A customer falls ill in the store. Followed by another. And then more. The specter of poisoning arises, conjuring old grudges, past sins, buried secrets and new suspicions from which no one is immune. As Maggie and her best friend Constantine begin to investigate, they discover that some of the deadliest doses come from the most unexpected places.

Pop the champage and throw the confetti. Congratulations!