Mea Culpa, Mea Cliffhangers

I hear from readers who are confused or irritated by unresolved storylines in The Gilded Hour.  Specifically two storylines seem to raise the most questions.

  1. The Russo children (where was Tonino, and where is Vittorio?)
  2. The identity of the individuals who were responsible for the deaths of at least six women.

Here’s an email from Nancy. 

Dear Sara I just finished your new book the Gilded Hour. I have a question. On page 696,after looking for a killer through most of the other 695 pages Oscar says, no reasons to give up now, in reference to finding the killer. Then there is not another word in the remaining 36 pages about finding the killer. What???? Who was the killer??? It turned out to be a very disappointing read I must say.

I am hoping for a reply .

This next email is from Sandra, who is also curious, but in more general terms.

Hi Rosina/Sara

I have never written to an author before but I had to write you. I loved The Gilded Hour and was heartbroken to finish it. When I saw on your webpage that “a new series was launched” I assume that means you are going to write more. Whew! I just have to know what happens to all these people. I am in love with them and am imagining futures for each one of them. I want to read more about Anna & Jack, Sophie & Cap, Rosa & her siblings, Ned, Aunt Quinlan, Margaret, Elise. I feel like I know them now so want to follow their lives.

My first thought:  It’s really uplifting to hear from readers, even when they are irritated. It means the story got under that reader’s skin. My second thought: I hate disappointing readers.   Then back to the first thought: These are people who have read the book I wrote and felt strongly enough about it to write to me. That’s good. That’s what I focus on. 

There are only a few things I can say to this kind of letter from a reader: I’m sorry that the story didn’t work for you, and/or:   I’m writing as fast as I can, and I hope that the next novel will both answer your questions, and be worth the wait.

But there’s also one thing I need to say about the nature of storytelling.  As I see it, good storytelling never tells it all.  A well done novel  leaves questions open to be considered and answered by the reader.   So it is true that you haven’t heard in detail about what Tonino went through, and you don’t know where Vittorio is; his adoptive family is gone. You may never know some of those things; in the end they may be for you to decide.

The question about the murders is, of course, far more pressing. Some people raced through the last part of the book because they just had to know who was responsible … And then were disappointed.  Really disappointed. One star irritated.  [Edited to note that this question comes up in the comments, below.] An old friend pointed something out to me that I hadn’t considered: in the mystery genre, it’s pretty much expected that you’ll know who the guilty party is by the end.  I don’t read much mystery, or I would have realized that.  If I had been aware of that expectation, I’m not sure what I would have done differently.

Could I have written a better novel? Certainly.  I doubt there has ever been a novelist who is totally satisfied with a piece of work.  I know a writer with a t-shirt that reads IT’S ALL A DRAFT UNTIL YOU DIE.   It’s the nature of the beast, and still:  I don’t like disappointing readers, and I do hope that when the next book comes out, those I’ve irritated or frustrated will find that the answers they were expecting really were worth the wait. In the meantime, there are a lot of documents about the murders dragged from the archives of the police department, sitting over there at The Gilded Hour  site. You might well figure out the answer to this question on your own. 

18 Replies to “Mea Culpa, Mea Cliffhangers”

  1. OK, I’ll put in my two cents. I think people might be very curious to know what happened to Vittorio, how did he get lost and what caused him to be so traumatized that he can no longer communicate.

    The second storyline you’ve covered and you’re right I believe people want to know who the murderer is.

    The third storyline could be two things IMO, where is Tonino now and will they be able to get him back OR when or if Sophie and Cap will be coming back to America. Plus we still don’t know what happened to Sophie during the Civil War whereas we did find out about Anna’s history with her parents and brother.

    Sorry you’re getting all that flak but the Wilderness novels were a series and certainly plot lines were left hanging there as well.

  2. Firstly, anyone with reading comprehension, experience with your historical fiction and a dose of common sense should have realized: this is a series.
    I do believe you said that more than once, before it was released.

    As for Vittorio, I assumed anything unresolved would happen in the next book. I do want to know where he is but I also realize that might always be a mystery. I mean, they can’t splash his face in the papers, can they?

    The abortionist serial killer is obviously going to be a plot point in the next book.

    I think what happens to Sophie is the third. Again, plot point for future books.

    I haven’t had tea, so I’m most likely being snarky. I’ll go drink some now.

  3. I am trying to reply on your website blog, but I have to login and I do not remember my password and am not allowed to reset it for some reason.

    So here are my responses to your questions: 1. Yes, the storyline on Vittorio appeared unfinished for me. I had two thoughts on this, either we may never know or it would be resolved in the next book. Having a step-father who found out he was adopted at age 64, then tried to find his birth family without success, I was ok with not knowing.

    2. Yes, another storyline unfinished for the murders, while somewhat frustrating, leaves me looking forward to the next book in the series, which I will purchase as soon as it comes out!

    I am interested in what happened to Sophie & Cap while they are in Europe, so that is the third one for me, along with a hint of Anna being pregnant.

    You are a wonderful historical storyteller. So stop worrying about what we all are thinking! Get on with writing the next book in the series, we all are waiting for that you do best.

    Merry Christmas,


  4. Shawn — as you see, by responding to the notification email, your comment was automatically added to the post. And many thanks for speaking up.

  5. I think I wrote on some post somewhere before that I didn’t mind that there was lack of story line resolution. But, I am very patient when it comes to resolving matters and also comfortable with uncertainty–I think those are now antiquated character traits—why wait for anything WHEN YOU CAN GOOGLE THE ANSWER RIGHT NOW!?

    I agree that the Cap/Sophie story might be the 3rd story line in question.

    Try not to worry about such criticism. Online forums disproportionately select for feedback from lonely/isolated souls who MUST vent all of their complaints and agita online as a modern means for working out their negative energy. (or possibly those who are procrastinating at work, ;)) I agree with the “just keep writing” advice above.

    1. It occurs to me finally that it is the Cap/Sophie storyline that some people consider ‘open’ — but I don’t think of it that way, because I know, based on research, that Cap’s health is not going to improve. He is close to the end of his life, and a miracle cure is not the kind of thing I would ever conjure up. It should have occurred to me that some people might be thinking that he could survive.

      1. I, personally, am not looking for survival but an accounting of how he meets his end and what happens to Sophie. I thought all that would come out as part of her healing process. So, again, things to be resolved in the next book.

          1. My lager point is, it’s a series. We should expect ongoing story lines, not whine about them not being wrapped up.

  6. I believe that it does both the author and the reader/listener a disservice when the Audible and Amazon description doesn’t mention that it is the first in a series. I’ve written them both.

    1. P.S. I wrote an Audible review not knowing it was the first in a series. I should have researched it beforehand and I apologize for that. I cannot remove the review but made up for it by writing one on Amazon. :)

      1. Karen — I do take your point, and I’m glad you’ve written to Amazon and Audible. The thing is, I have no control over this kind of decision. I’ve raised the problem to the publisher multiple times and they actually had a meeting about it, and decided that for marketing purposes it was better not to state up front that it’s the first in a series. I don’t agree, but again: this is an area where I have no say. The nature of publishing. Thank you for taking the time to write reviews, in both places. Much appreciated.

  7. I absolutely love reading your books. Each time you publish a new one in the series I re read from the beginning before I can read the new one. I also re read into the wilderness series again before I allowed myself to read The Gilded Hour. Even though this is a new series it does refer back to them. I will read again when your next in this series is published (very much looking forward to it). I never get fed up re reading them. I also spread the word about how fantastic your books are & have given several as presents. I never lend out these books as I don’t want to loose them & don’t want you to stop writing. I purchase first the book then the kindle so I can read them anywhere anytime. They are very hard to put down :-)

    1. Virex — You are very kind. Notes like this one from you are what keep me going when the going gets bumpy. As it often does with writing. Thank you for your support and for spreading the word.

  8. Amazing! And I am SO relieved that this is a series (didn’t know via Overdrive and then listened for 30+ hours to walk out into the living room nearly in tears!) I have a feeling it will be well worth the wait. I’m going to have to go back and read your other series. This one was so well written!

    1. Hi Cheebe — I’m glad you found this webpage. Yes, I am working on the sequel, though it’s slow going. Thanks for your support.

  9. Many crime stories are written in series and most of those contain what I call “evolving detectives.” That means that the detective changes over time either because he changes jobs (goes from police to PI) or he gets married or loses a wife, comes into money or loses a fortune, etc. Anne Perry is a good example. The point is no matter how much of the story is continuing, the current murder investigation is always wrapped up.

    Now I know you are not writing detective fiction, but perhaps for those who read widely, this is a particular expectation they have, i.e., that no matter what else is going on in the book, the crime investigation should be solved. That may be where some of the disappointment is coming from.

    I expect that the Sophie/Cap sojourn in Europe is the third story line that people were concerned about, but knowing this was to be a series I figured that was coming in the next book.

    Now for the poor baby. Rosa is never going to give up on her search for him. Perhaps he’ll reappear in book 4 … 5 … 6.

    Since I’ve only read the first book in the Wilderness series, I have been devouring the family tree and relationships on *The Guilded Hour* blog. I look forward over the course of this series to filling in all of the loose ends and, if my life permits, to use the time between these books to get caught up with the others.

    1. Hi Donna — I think you’ve hit on the underlying issue, something that never occurred to me. I still can’t do anything about it, but it gives me a way to talk about it when the subject comes up. Someone else said recently that when she was about 3/4 of the way through GH she realized that I was “setting up a mystery series” by gradually adding the standard stock characters. This actually made me laugh, because I can see how she came to that conclusion, but it was not done consciously. In fact, I don’t think I’m capable of writing a mystery series. It isn’t how my storytelling mind functions.

      The reason the storyline wasn’t tied up in the first book is simple: the responsible party isn’t yet finished, and will carry on until stopped. Maybe not in the same way, but there will be forward movement. But again, your insight makes it clear to me why this is a problem for some readers.

      Finally, I’m so glad to know that you’ve found the material on the website useful and interesting, and that I’ve engaged your curiosity.

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