Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Return

I’m getting older and have never been full of energy in the first place. I should have known better than to get a high energy dog. But I did and almost immediately regretted it. We have a fenced-in backyard and soon it was in a state of devastation. The weeping willow we had recently planted was soon only a sad broken stick stripped bare. And so I decided my high energy dog needed more exercise. When I was at home to keep an eye on him, I let Argos run free. However, the times I was not watching he chewed everything in sight--the cushions on the chairs, the chairs themselves, shoes left by the door, and, worst of all, our other outside dog Chico. Poor Chico limped after their encounters.

Our two cats and our two inside dogs cowered in terror whenever the door opened. It was a chore to put Argos back in the fenced-in area so the other animals could go out to do their business.

I didn’t want Argos to leave but when he chewed the screen off the enclosed back porch, I felt it would be for the best. I didn’t go outside when the man came to drive him away to his new home, about ten miles from where we live.

Chico missed him, regardless of his battle scars, and I did too. We repaired the screened-in back porch and life went on. I tucked my dog's memory away into a far corner of my mind. Months passed. One day, out of the blue, worry about Argos filled my thoughts. Was he happy and healthy? I kept my concerns to myself.

The next day, my husband Carl and I met and had lunch at a local restaurant. For some reason, Carl decided to drive down an unfamiliar road to me. To my surprise, he told me the man we had given Argos to lived on that road. I expressed my concerns about the dog’s welfare. Carl didn’t know the exact location. However the man had described his farm--fenced in with cows. We found a place but no sign of the man or Argos. Carl dropped me off at the church where I finished putting up a bulletin board. He went back to work.

I headed home and pulled into the drive. A dog with ribs showing was in our front yard--a very familiar looking dog. I stopped and let down the car’s window. The dog loped to me and put his big head through my window to give me a kiss.

It was Argos. He gulped down the food and water I gave him, and I called Carl to tell him the news, that Argos had crossed ten miles of back roads and fields to find his way home.

We got our prodigal dog a doghouse and bought him a thick cushiony pillow to go in it.

The next morning the shredded pillow’s insides blew in the wind. The screened-in back porch was back in a state of disrepair.

Some things never change. :)

2015-12-03 09.41.19.jpg

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Me, in a Video!

A Haiku Kind of Day

Playing catch up today with my haiku. Hope you enjoy!

Day 11: 

Warmth seeps--cold’s despite.
Lonely trees lean to touch a
Fleeing, fading light.

Day 12:

Destroying cyclone 
Rustles leaves who now speak of
loneliness, alone. ‪

Day 13:

Safety’s illusion.
Safety exists not here; only
Beyond reality.

Day 14:

A swirling golden
Spiral of mathematic
Sums--imprints of God.

Day 15:

Quench my thirst. Let thy
Searing fire seal my cold heart,
And destroy the cold.

Day 16:

Enraptured I sit
To listen to his stories
Persuading and dull.

Day 17:

Dense fog surrounds the
Dispersing light and hides its
Countenance slyly.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Giveaway: Thundersnow AudioBook

Thundersnow, In the Shadow of the Cedar, Book One, is now on audio and I have free copies to give away! If you'd like one, please go to my author page for Sheila Hollinghead and leave a comment. Or you can contact me directly at sheila hollinghead @ yahoo . com (NO SPACES). The first ten who contact me will receive a free copy! After you listen to Thundersnow, narrated by Sarah Rogers, please consider leaving a review. 

Sarah Rogers did a great job on the narration! I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Rootless Branch Title Change and Haiku

I have not yet begun the writing of Rootless Branch. I planned to begin yesterday but life interrupted me. 

My philosophy has been, for a few years now, not to let anything, except the direst of circumstances, get in the way of my writing--to place my writing on the front burner and let other things simmer in the background. 

Normally, even minor illnesses do not keep me from writing. Headache--keep going; arthritic pain--change position but keep writing; backache--grab the heating pad and keep writing.

It's so easy, at least for me, to let minor aches and pains keep me from accomplishing the things I need to. So, for the most part, I ignore them. For the last couple of weeks I've had a severe cold/sinus infection/(perhaps) bronchitis/crud. And I'm still struggling to recover. Physically I feel better but my mind hasn't decided that I feel well enough to dive into a book. 

As I mentioned the other day, I like to plan my story by dividing it into three sections. To simplify, I call these sections the beginning, the middle, and the end. (Profound, I know!) Once I put pen to paper (in actuality, fingers to keyboard), I strive to finish the entire section (say the beginning) in a writing sprint that usually lasts about a week, sometimes more depending on the final book length. So although I might feel well enough today, I suppose I fear I don't have the stamina to finish the entire section. Usually this first draft is 15,000 to 20,000 words. For this new series, I prefer keeping the first draft of each section under 15,000 words. I tend to write the exciting parts. leaving out description and transitional scenes on the first go round. Fewer words allows me to go back and flesh out the scenes and add new scenes where needed. 

We have been having rainy, dreary days for a while now. The sun is supposed to put in an appearance today and perhaps I'll feel better mentally.

Another thing I've been contemplating is the title of the book. "Rootless" sounds too much like "ruthless" to my ears. Perhaps it would be best for book 2 to be re-titled Grafted Branch and book 3 will stay Broken Branch. These first three books will make up one complete story, A Tree's Response, when I'm finished. 

This is a dilemma for me because I know readers see the book with a certain title and later the title changes, confusing them. I don't want to create confusion. I do a good enough job confusing myself! So now a change in title means a new book cover for book 2. Look for it soon--perhaps today.

I'm playing Haiku catch-up today. 

Day 8:
Sanitized to death.
For fear of death wash and scrub
Till nothing is left.

Day 9:
Hold in, hold on to
Unholdable scarlet wine.
Hold to nothingness.

Day 10:
Dragon breathes upon 
The night, warming the marrow 
of aching dull bones.

5:47 pm--Here's the cover for my work-in-progress with the new title, Grafted Branch

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Today's Haiku and New Audio Book and Paperback!

For those who like to hold a book with pages in their hands, Frail Branch is now available in paperback. Here's the link: Frail Branch

And for those who like to listen to books, Thundersnow is now in audio form, available here: Audio version of Thundersnow

My next book, Rootless Branch, is still in the "prep" stage, but I hope to begin the actual writing either tomorrow or Monday. 

Today's Haiku:

To swirl seeds and shells,
Hurricanes and galaxies,
With such perfect ease.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Historical Facts and Today's Haiku

                   Historical Facts, July 8th - 12th, 1946
Jul 8th - Baseball grants $5,000 minimum salary
Jul 9th - 13th All Star Baseball Game: AL wins 12-0 at Fenway Park, Boston
Jul 11th - Kingman Douglass ends term as deputy director of CIA
Jul 12th - Vance Dinges hits only Phillie pinch hit inside-the-park HR

Today's Haiku--Day 5

Searing pain swerves
life’s path, changing forever--
Changing lives, uprooting plans.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

My Office

I discussed my office, and I use the term loosely, yesterday. Offices of writers are of endless fascination to me--I suppose because of my own hunt for that elusive perfect one. I've tried in the past to create the perfect spot in which to write. Health issues make it difficult for me to sit or stand for long periods of time.

I think I've found something that works for me. Here are some pictures of the area I work in. 
Recently I've started  using two laptops--one for my online work and one I only use offline now.

Tables surround me--one large one and two small folding tables. I'm able to fit pretty much everything I need within arm's reach. As I mentioned yesterday, two blackboards adorn the walls. 

This gives you a better view than the picture I shared yesterday. It's great for keeping me straight on my timelines--most of the time! 

The smaller blackboard is used to write myself reminders. Yep ... format is still waiting for me. Maybe it'll get erased tomorrow. 
And so it's not a beautiful office but a functional one that serves me well. 

Haiku and Historical Facts and Fashion

The Southern Pines Mystery series begins in July of 1946. Many things of interest happened in that year that I thought worth sharing.

Historical Facts, July 1st - 6th, 1946

July 1st: US drops atom bomb on Bikini atoll
July 4th - Anti Jewish riots in Kielce Poland and 42 die
July 5th - Louis Reard's bikini swimsuit design debuts at Paris fashion show
July 6th - "St Louis Woman" closes at Martin Beck Theater NYC after 113 performances

Interestingly, Louis Reard named his swimsuit after the Bikini atoll. Not surprisingly, the bikini was a success at its debut, especially among the men. Read more about it here.

Most swimsuits in the 1940s looked like this: 

That's our history and fashion lesson for the day!

Haiku, Days 3 and 4

Day 3
Success or failure,
Release me from my comfort
To offer my life.

Day 4
To dream, to dream of
Solutions to one’s problems
To awake knowing.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What I Need When I Write (Need or Want?)

So the question has been asked--"Sheila, what do you need when you write?"

To answer truthfully, this: 
I think the questioner probably wants a bit more detail. A writing implement is a necessity, but I do have a preferred brand. This is the pen that fits my hand and my needs best:
It's a Pilot G-2, 1.0, with a rubber grip. I do not write with a 0.7, or horrors!, a 0.5. Ew--the scratchiness instead of the nice glide, almost frictionless, of the pen against the paper, laying down a nice, thick word, so we don't have to squint to decipher it. 

But no, I do not write my books in the old-fashioned way. Instead I use this: 

This is my beloved Toshiba who has had a nasty infection. Hopefully, it (she? he?) is now cured. I'm still working on bringing my laptop back up to par but we'll get there eventually.

And although I use my laptop to type out my books, I still do the plotting and idea gathering the old-fashioned way with pen and notebook. I bought a bunch of small journals from the dollar store. Here are a few of them: 
Cute notebooks for only a few dollars! I jot down characters, scenes, inspirational quotes, prayers, timelines, along with anything else pertaining to the book. I've learned to have a notebook for the next book in the series while I work on my current work-in-progress. I'll often have ideas for the next book and can go ahead and jot them down before I forget.

Notice the labels in the middle notebook. The other day my husband took me on a dream shopping trip--into Office Depot! I had to reign in my impulse buying but still found some things I had to have. Here's a close-up of the labels:
 This is the notebook for Rootless Branch. You can see I already have a list of characters and scenes for Part One. It's a handy way of flipping to the right page of the notebook when I'm searching for something in particular. Here's a picture of the labels and you can see they're attached to paperclips! How cool is that? 
Also, while in Office Depot, I splurged on this multi-colored pen collection. Do I need it? Nah. Do I like it? You bet. 
These pens are good for underlining or highlighting something I think is of importance in my notebooks--not for writing! (I write with the Pilot G-2, 1.0, in case your forgot. :))

There are a few other things I find useful. I have two blackboards in my office, one large and one small. 
The large one is to work out complicated scenes or to keep my timeline straight. On the smaller one I jot down notes to myself. One note is there today--Format. I'm reminding myself that I must finish formatting Frail Branch for CreateSpace. 

So, what else do I need to write? I can think of one more thing. This is kind of an OCD or a ritual I do before I open my laptop to begin my day's work (and then several times a day thereafter). 
Oh, wait! One more thing--a place to sit. As I type these words, I'm in a rocker on my front porch, enjoying the breeze. Most of the time, I work inside and have a comfortable recliner--even if it is old and cat scratched. Here it is (don't be too envious!):

And I'm sure that's more than the questioner wanted to know. There is one more thing, but it almost goes without saying: 

Have a nice day!

Monday, November 2, 2015

NANO, Illness, Haiku, and Comfort Books

The other day I shared a quote on Facebook, and a friend said it was almost a haiku. I rewrote it as one and here it is:

Assaults on trees form
The knots of imperfection
Where beauty resides.

I'm not an expert on haiku. However, like most, my English teachers had us try our hand at these. Poetry has always spoken to me. As a lover of words, alliteration, symbolism, and rhythm and rhyme all please my ear. 

For those not familiar with haiku, from my understanding, there's a contrast between two opposing ideas. In the case above, the ugliness of the assaults resulting in the knots reveal beauty in the lumber. The form is simple: the first and last line contain five syllables and the middle line seven.

So, I had an idea. I thought I'd try my hand at writing some haiku for fun. Here's mine for today:

Green persimmons hide
Inside-out bitterness to
Teach abiding truths.

And on another note, NANO started yesterday. I'd planned to begin with the other 300,000 plus writers who are participating. There's something about knowing others are doing this that helps energize. Unfortunately I've been sick--going-to-bed-to-toss-and-turn-all-day-with-fever-hacking-cough-nausea sick. I am better and actually sitting up in my recliner! However, I'm still not ready to tackle any serious writing.

As y'all know, I've turned my focus slightly. I'm still writing historical fiction, set in the 1940s, but in the cozy mystery genre. The working out of the plot takes mental stamina that I'm still short on right now. This is not to say I won't do NANO--I'll just get a late start, maybe next week depending on how I progress.

I switched to cozy mysteries because it's my favorite genre. When my brain is dead tired, I can read Agatha Christie--her best works because truly some of her books should never have been published. An Agatha Christie mystery is my go-to comfort book

Recently, a friend loaned me a few "The Cat Who" books by Lilian Jackson Braun. I finished the first and enjoyed it. Starting in on my second today--taking another sick day and searching for comfort where I can find it!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Rootless Branch--Seven Questions

This is the second book in A Tree's Response trilogy. The first book, Frail Branch, is available for purchase on Kindle.
1. What is the working title of your book?  Rootless Branch, A Tree's Response, Book 2 (Southern Pines Mystery) The title comes from a quote in Their Eyes Were Watching God--'You know, honey, us colored folks is branches without roots and that makes things come round in queer ways. You in particular. Ah was born back due in slavery so it wasn't for me to fulfill my dreams of whut a woman oughta be and to do . . . Ah wanted to preach a great sermon about colored women sittin' on high, but they wasn't no pulpit for me.'
(The former tittle was Mysterious Wisteria.)

2. Where did the idea come from for the book? I don't remember about this particular book. This series has been rattling around in my brain while I worked on my In the Shadow of the Cedar books. There is an Agatha Christie book that has a similar killer, but not the same setting, story line, or other characters. That may have been the germ of the idea.

In the case of the trilogy, A Tree's Response, of which this is part 2, I believe the story line came out of necessity. The thought process is something like--who will be murdered? If that person is the one murdered, why? Who would be the one most likely? It was (an overused word, but one that I think fits here) an organic process.
3. What genre does your book fall under? Cozy mystery although it is partly romance, partly Southern fiction, and maybe a few other things.

4. What's the synopsis of your book? 

A week after the murderer of Matthew Drake has been apprehended, a woman shows up at the estate, claiming to be Mildred Drake Denton, Matthew and Randall Drake's runaway sister. She carries a copy of Matthew Drake's will in hand, stating she is the sole heir. With her are her five young children, with strange names and stranger attitudes. Red Bud, Rose Petal, Mary Gold, and Wisteria May hold secrets that they do not themselves comprehend. The occupants of the house, including Zeke Hunter and Grace Phillips, are forced to vacate the premises. However, the next day Mildred is found dead, having tripped and fallen on the grounds near an abandoned well. Accidents do happen but the sheriff's department suspects murder. Mildred may have been killed by one of the people evicted from the estate. Or she may have stumbled onto one of Uncle Matthew's secrets. Or perhaps may have simply stumbled by her own clumsiness. Her children hold the answer to their mother's death, but they're not talking, except for Wisteria whose puzzling words may lead to her own demise.

5. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? If things continue on track, a month, although I've been gathering information for several months now.

6. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

A Bloodhound to Die For by Virginia Lanier 

7. When will your book be published? If all goes as planned, Rootless Branch will be published in February, 2016.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Thundersnow on Audio and Baby Hitler

The Thundersnow audio book has been in production for several months. Today is the day I submitted it for review! 

It takes ten to twelve days for approval and then it goes on sale. The Clothed in Thunder audio book is next up for production. 

Over on Twitter, Baby Hitler is trending. The New York Times polled its readers to see how many would go back in time to kill baby Hitler. Ultimately, 42 percent of readers said they would, 30 percent said they wouldn’t, and 28 percent said they weren’t sure. ~Salon

Some of the responses on Twitter are hilarious. 

And then this:

That was the question on my mind when I began the Moonbow series. If Hitler had been raised differently, what would have been the outcome? Which is stronger--nature or nurture?


However, along the way, my original question has faded away. The question I'm exploring now is whether parents who think their baby is Hitler's clone can forget the evil he committed in the past in order to love him as their own child. At this point of the story, it's unknown if the baby is Hitler. As a matter of fact, in Moonbow, DNA tests indicate that the child is not Hitler. 

Could you raise a clone of Hitler as your own child? Interesting question and not one easy to answer.

I plan to write the sequel to Moonbow soon. In the meantime, check it out on Amazon and see what you think! 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Writer's Block

Someone asked me the other day about writer's block. Perhaps it's something I used to struggle with but not anymore. I've learned not to stress if I reach a point in the story and I'm unsure how to proceed.

I've found if I relax, get away from the computer for a bit, my brain works through the solution. Even if it doesn't immediately, I can skip ahead to another scene, although I seldom do that now.

I've mentioned before how I've worked out the best writing plan for me. I write 20,000 words at a time--the beginning, the middle, and the end. I do not do a detailed outline but do know how I want each section to end and work toward that goal. I jot down scenes, as many as I can think of, before I begin writing. Until I get the beginning close to being coherent, I don't move on to the next part. 

This first draft is only for getting down the story. Later I go back to add more description or other details. I also keep a notebook for each book I write and gather quotes, ideas, characters, names, etc. as I go along. 

It's always been amazing how many ideas jump out at me from movies, books, articles, or even everyday life when I write. I often wonder if it's because I'm looking for them or being led to them. Either way works. 

And I have to mention music. Music is a big part of summoning the writing muse. 

So, writer's block? What's that? :)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


I admit I'm a bit OCD about book titles. My OCDness manifests itself in this way: I like to keep the same word in the title of each book in a series. 

For example, In the Shadow of the Cedar series consists of four books, each with the word thunder in the title.

I have written the first book of another series and moon will be in the title of each book. As a matter of fact, Moonbow is not only the name of the first book but also the name of the entire series.

In my new series, Southern Pines Mysteries, I thought perhaps I would be content with using plant names or parts as titles. But my OCD self is not happy with that. Neither is my muse. In the past few days I've seen the word "branch" repeated several times in books I've read. 

Okay, I can take a hint--especially if it's my OCD self the muse is speaking to.

I am writing a trilogy, A Tree's Response, within the series. Frail Branch, published on October 10th, is the first book of the trilogy. The second book, previously Mysterious Wisteria, has been re-titled Rootless Branches. The third book, Twisted Roots, has now been re-titled Broken Branch

After the trilogy is finished, I'm not certain I'll continue with the branch theme although I've thought of more (or found more) such as Grafted Branch, Dead Branch, Root to Branch, Green Branch, Withering Branch, Blooming Branch, Flowering Branch, Doomed Branch, Burning Branch, and Budding Branch. Whew! That'll keep me busy if I write all those!

Here's my author page if you'd like to take a look at the thunder books: Sheila Hollinghead

Now if I could come up with future titles before publishing the first book of the series!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fading Thunder

Fading Thunder, Kindle version, is free on Amazon this weekend. 

Grab a copy before the price increases. 

Here's the blurb:

Sarah Jane Hutchinson dreams of her husband's return from World War II. His return is nothing like her dreams.

A series of accidents and illnesses have left her weary and stressed. Michael Hutchinson returns in time to see the latest accident that leaves their son scarred for life. He blames Laurie, Sarah Jane's cousin, for the mishap. Furthermore, Michael does not return alone. A vicious military dog is with him, threatening the safety of Sarah Jane and their three-year-old son.

And Marla Drake, Sarah Jane's best friend, hides secrets that not only threaten her own marriage to Dan but also cause accusations and heartache for Sarah Jane and Michael.

Does everyone lie? Is there no one to be trusted? As the thunder slowly fades, Sarah Jane discovers the truth where it has always been ... in the shadow of the cedar.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Frail Branch, A Tree's Response, Book 1 (Southern Pines Mystery)

Frail Branch, my first cozy mystery, has been published. It's available on Amazon, here. And this is the final cover:
The first three books of the Southern Pines Mysteries will form a trilogy, telling one story. Frail Branch leaves some unanswered questions. The next two books will tie up the loose ends, maybe not all since this is a continuing series. 

I've addressed this in a previous post about cliffhangers. Frail Branch is not a cliffhanger since the murder is solved. However, Frail Branch along with the next two books will make up a serial. The three books below are A Tree's Response serial that form one complete story. 

I changed the title of book one slightly to Frail Branch and updated the cover. I'll be updating the other covers also. The title for the serial comes from this quote:

"This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness." Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. "I often talk to this tree," she said to me. I was startled and didn't quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. "Yes." What did it say to her? She answered, "It said to me, 'I am here — I am here — I am life, eternal life.'" ~ Viktor Frankl

I've begun gathering information for Mysterious Wisteria and will soon have a rough plot. I plan to write the rough draft by the end of November and publish the book in January, 2016. I've written a blurb for it:

A week after the murderer of Matthew Drake has been apprehended, a woman shows up at the estate, claiming to be Mildred Drake Worthington, Matthew and Randall Drake's runaway sister. She carries a copy of Matthew Drake's will in hand, stating she is the sole heir. With her are her five young children, with strange names and stranger attitudes. Red Bud, Rose Petal, Mary Gold, and Wisteria May hold secrets that they do not themselves comprehend. The occupants of the house, including Zeke and Grace, are forced to vacate the premises. However, the next day Mildred is found dead, having tripped and fallen on the grounds near an abandoned well. Accidents do happen but the sheriff's department suspects murder. Mildred may have been killed by one of the people evicted from the estate. Or she may have stumbled onto one of Uncle Matthew's secrets. Or perhaps may have simply stumbled by her own clumsiness. Her children hold the answer to their mother's death, but they're not talking, except for Wisteria whose puzzling words may lead to her own demise.

 I am slightly nervous about this new genre. It's difficult to give enough information so that readers can unravel the crime while, at the same time, make it challenging for them to do so. Cozy mystery happens to be my favorite genre. I believe most cozy mystery fanatics are like me and love to solve the crime before the end of the book but feel cheated if the solution is too obvious. 

I hope I've succeeded in making this first mystery just right--not too easy to solve and yet not too difficult or impossible. 

I hope you enjoy the new series!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Blog Tour: Spotlight on Faith Blum

  Novella Blog Tour What could be better to do on a chilly evening than sit in front of a fire with a good book in your hands? Yes, I know that it’s August and in most places in the US especially it’s probably pretty warm. But, Fall is coming. And with Fall comes falling temperatures. So why not plan ahead for those chilly evenings? Lucky for you, today, we have just the thing for you. Faith Blum has written three novellas just the perfect length for a short read. They’re wholesome, clean, entertaining, romantic, and historical. Be sure to read to the end of this post to enter an fun giveaway and find out about the free book offer!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

And the Winners Are ...

And the winners are...

The Rafflcopter Giveaway is over. Thanks to all who entered! The winners of the bookmarks are:

 Yaritza S.

Barbara R. 
Heather L.
Mae C.
Christy M. is the winner of the mugs and Faith B. is the winner of the necklace!
Congratulations to all! 
The Goodreads Giveaway will end today and the winners announced soon. Stay Tuned!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Giveaway--All Four Paperbacks Plus+++

I'm having a Goodreadreads Giveaway--all four paperback books (see below)!

In conjunction with my Goodreads giveaway, enter the Rafflecopter above. Included in the giveaway:
Four to be given away!

I also have:
Writers love coffee, and I'm no exception! Enter and
you might win one of these mugs! 

And last but not least:
In Fading Thunder, Sarah Jane wanders outside to contemplate the wonders of God. This beautiful necklace shows a night scene with a moon, birds, and a tree. If you read my books (and I hope you do!), you'll discover that all three carry symbolic meaning.

Don't forget to click below to enter for a chance to win all four paperbacks, signed by me. Thanks for entering!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Thundersnow by Sheila Hollinghead


by Sheila Hollinghead

Giveaway ends August 01, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Can't Hold on Much Longer!!

Remember this from Between the Lions? This is a true cliffhanger. We do not know if someone is coming to Cliff Hanger's rescue or if he will meet his demise when he loses his grip. 

And we have this definition for cliffhanger from dictionary.reference: a situation of imminent disaster usually occurring at the end of each episode of a serialized film (or book).

If, at the end of the book, the characters are left in imminent danger, it's a cliffhanger. However, if the reader is simply left with unanswered questions, that technically is not a cliffhanger. 

To help understand this, first let's looks at the two types of books labeled series. In one type of series, say in the cozy mystery genre, the books have overlapping characters--the detective, his side-kick, and perhaps the police officers he/she works with. By the end of each book, the mystery is solved. If it's romance, the couple live happily ever after. In other words, the conflict in the fictional world has been resolved.

Nevertheless, loose ends may be left dangling. In the cozy mystery, perhaps there's a subplot, perhaps a romance budding between two minor characters. This may continue into the next mystery in the series. We see this in TV shows all the time. Think about Psych or The Mentalist. We normally do not get upset if everything is not neatly tied up at the end of each episode.   

That's what most of us think of when we hear the term series. There is, however, another type of series, often called the serial.The Harry Potter books and The Hunger Games are examples. The entire series tells the story. In the first book of The Hunger Games, Katniss has won, but the world is still left in conflict. The Capitol still maintains control. And you know what? It's not a cliffhanger. There's resolution of the main conflict, the game Katniss participated in. President Snow has not been dealt with, but this is not Katniss:

The same with Harry Potter. Voldemort is still at large but Harry is safe and sound (relatively speaking). 

Unanswered questions do not equal cliffhanger. It's that simple. 

This is Katniss, not hanging on a cliff. 

This, folks, is a cliffhanger! (And I remember being a little angry when I watched The Empire Strikes Back all those years ago. It was an eternity before The Return of the Jedi released.)

Cliffhangers do exist. Sometimes, however, the label is misapplied. Let's be careful to choose our words wisely!