When “The Fellowship of the Ring” came out a few years ago, I was enthralled by the film.Â But as the lights cameÂ up in the movie theater, I began hearing some astonishing whines from someÂ people in the audience:
“What?Â THAT’S the end?Â What a load of crap!”
“There’s no ending!”
Then I got home and went onto Yahoo to post my glowing review of the film, and encounteredÂ comments from other moviegoers echoing what I’d heard in the theater.Â “He didn’t finish the story?!!”Â “This ending sucked!”Â
Were these people born stupid?Â Or were they justÂ raised that way?Â Â How could they not have understood that “Fellowship of the Ring” was the first installment of a TRILOGY?
I encounter the same sort of obliviousness all the time, from readers whoÂ complain that I left loose ends at the end of book X.Â Or they ask: how were they supposed to knowÂ the history behind Maura’s twisted family?Â Readers are mad, mad, mad when I don’t tie up every single niggling question or don’t resolve a dangling romance.Â Â Do they not understand the concept of a series?Â Â AreÂ all the conflicts in their own lives neatly resolved at the end of every day?
And just like in real life, when youÂ start readingÂ a series midway through, you can’t expect to have every event that’s happened in earlier episodes explained to you.Â You have to pick up what you can, and go from there.Â Or you go back and read the earlier books, to find out the back-story.Â That’s what happens when you meet a new love in your real life.Â Of course you don’t know everything about him, so you have toÂ ASK.Â You learn bits and pieces as you go along.Â You don’t mope and whine that you’re in the dark about his earlier life.Â You weren’tÂ present at his birth, so you have to play catch-up.
This is one of the dangers of writingÂ a mystery series.Â Â Of course you can’t explain everything that happened in the earlier five books.Â You can’t tie up all the loose ends andÂ you can’t resolve all the conflicts at the end of a single book.Â Once youÂ make everyone happy, the series is kaput.Â
Remember the TV show “Moonlighting”?Â Remember the romantic tension between Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd? I watched that show faithfully, swooning over every hungry look, every double entendre.Â But once those two consummated their lust, the series was over for me.
That’s why the “X-Files” was successful for so long.Â Mulder and Scully never did consummate their romance.Â I kept watching and waiting for it to happen.
That’s the secret of keeping a mystery series going: the conflicts never really resolve.Â A series is like real life.Â Your characters encounter problems in their lives.Â Sometimes they can solve them within the span of a book.Â Sometimes it takes several books.Â One of my sub-plots is the romance between Maura Isles and the Catholic priest, Daniel Brophy.Â They were introduced back in book #3, THE SINNER.Â But only in THE MEPHISTO CLUB (Book #6) does the romance progress to sex.Â And when the book’s over, you still don’t know whether they’re headed for happiness or doom.
I’ve gotten so many letters from readers telling me how unhappy they are that the loose ends weren’t tied up.Â “You call that an ending?” they complain.
All I can tell them is this: “It’s a series.Â It’s like real life.Â You have to stay tuned to find out what happens.”