Carolyn J. Rose emerged from the University of Arizona with a degree and a tan and stayed on for graduate school. Thanks to boredom and a public service announcement on late-night TV, she abandoned literary studies for two years with Volunteers in Service to America. From there she entered the land of TV news, spending twenty-five years as a researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor She’s now a high school substitute teacher, which led to her Subbing isn’t for Sissies mystery series. Learn more about her and her books at her website.
In Search of a Soft Farewell
Many readers have been left longing for more when a writer (Sue Grafton, for example) dies and a series comes to a sudden stop. Many TV viewers have been devastated when a series is cancelled by a network or a production company and ends without resolution or, worse yet, ends with a cliffhanger. You may have wondered, as I have, if writers had crafted more of the abandoned story. You may also have thought about trying to find those writers and slipping them a few bucks in exchange for summaries of those “missing” episodes.
With that in mind, as I labor through revisions of No Substitute for Matrimony, my task is to figure out how to let readers down gently. It’s the final book in the Subbing isn’t for Sissies series, so I need to tie up the loose ends of storylines and character arcs so nothing is left hanging. My goal is to leave characters poised to walk toward the horizon and the adventures they might have next.
It’s not easy.
But neither is getting a series—even an “accidental” series like mine—underway.
Crafting the “right” words to begin a story can be a torturous process. Unless an amazing first line has flashed into my mind, I take care of that pesky starting-off problem by writing “Something incredibly brilliant goes here,” drawing a line, and then launching my new project with the second sentence or paragraph. When the first draft is complete, I know more about plot and character and theme. I know how the story unfolds, and I know the “seeds” I should plant in the first few lines to engage readers.
The ending is a product of what I plant. It’s the ripe fruit at the end of the vine. It should be satisfying, and its taste should linger. But it should also leave a reader wanting more.
But what if there won’t be more?
That’s the question I’m asking myself as I complete the final adventures of substitute teacher Barbara Reed, her scruffy and entitled mutt Cheese Puff, her wealthy neighbor Muriel Ballantine, her fiancé Detective Dave Martin, and a host of others.
I’ve enjoyed writing the books in this series and I could probably write more. I’m in decent health (so far, but with COVID19 out there, who know?) and the characters have plenty of ideas about what could happen in a fourteenth book. I know this because they “speak” to me—mostly in the middle of the night. And no, I’m not worried about my mental health because I’ve talked with many other writers who experience the same thing. We can’t all be crazy, can we?
I’m ending the series for several reasons. First, the characters seem to be at good places in their lives, so I don’t feel guilty about leaving them.
Second, keeping track of all the tiny details of character and setting has become a chore. I confess! I created some of this hardship myself by neglecting to keep careful notes. (If you look up “slipshod” in the dictionary, you might find a picture of me.) My (self) defense is that when I wrote the first book, No Substitute for Murder, I had no idea I’d hear from so many readers who felt it should anchor a series.
Third, I think there’s a limit to how many murders and other crimes I can inflict on the fictional town of Reckless River, Washington. I don’t want readers to accuse me of having Cabot Cove Syndrome.
And fourth, I have ideas for other stories involving other characters.
I hope I’ll succeed in crafting a soft farewell at the conclusion of No Substitute for Matrimony. I hope I’ll be able to end the series by opening doors for characters instead of slamming doors on readers. Perhaps, when the book comes out in the fall, a few of you will let me know how I did.
No Substitute for Mimes
Subbing Isn’t for Sissies Mystery, Book 12
Suddenly, mimes seem to be everywhere in Reckless River, Washington. Their antics amuse residents at first. Then street theater gives way to street crime. Fast, organized, and armed with cream pies, mimes avoid capture. And they baffle police by delivering stolen items to the cop shop.
Barbara Reed suspects the thefts are designed to frustrate and misdirect authorities, increasing the success of a major heist. Crime reporter Stan Stewart agrees, but his investigation gets nowhere. Mimes aren’t talking.
Barb would like to help track facts, but she has a bad cold and a new assistant principal is making her subbing life miserable. On top of that, Mrs. Ballantine is pushing her to set a wedding date, and she’s been guilt-tripped into helping at an outdoor holiday market.
When mimes set their big plan in motion, Barb and her tiny mutt Cheese Puff are in exactly the wrong place. Or are they?