This post originally ran in the Femme Fatales blog site.
As a crime fiction writer and reader, did a ripple of unease just go down your spine when you read the title of this post? What if every time you published a book, a renegade website released the first and last page of your story?
Last week, I was in a park with another mom as we watched our children play. We’d never met, and by way of introduction, she turned to me with a shy smile. “I’m a stay-at-home mom. How about you?”
As a freshly-minted debut author, I couldn’t stop the broad grin from spreading across my face. “I’m a writer.”
She gaped. “Cool. I’d love to read your book.” Then, she leaned over and whispered conspiratorially, “Gotta warn you, though. I always read the last page first.” She covered her lips with her fingers and tittered as if I would think this was adorable. I wanted to scream, “Noooooooo!”
I had an instant flashback to an encounter at a cocktail party last year. I’d taken a break from polishing final edits for the second book in my series to go out for the evening. The conversation turned to reading, and one of the partygoers announced that he had a foolproof technique for choosing which book to buy. He told us he strolled the aisles of his favorite bookstore, pulling novels from the shelves to read the first and last pages. I practically grabbed him by the lapels of his seersucker. Didn’t he understand that writers, especially mystery and thriller writers, spend months painstakingly crafting stories so readers enjoy rising tension and suspense until the end? Didn’t he know the whole point of getting on a roller coaster is to enjoy the heart-stopping ride before gliding smoothly back to the platform?
As a child, I had friends who always opened their Christmas presents ahead of time. They tiptoed under the tree in the dark of night, unwrapped their gifts, then carefully re-wrapped them. On Christmas morning, they had to feign surprise as they anticlimactically tugged the decorative edges of the paper apart to unveil – something they already knew they were getting. I could never relate to these kids, and tried to talk them out of ruining their own fun. Invariably, they shrugged. “I just want to know what’s in there. I can’t wait to find out.”
I have a sneaking suspicion the same kids are the ones who grow up to read the last page of a book first as adults. I was signing at the Tucson Festival of Books last weekend, and one of these miscreants came to my table. “Ooh,” she said, picking up my police procedural. “This one looks exciting.” She began flipping through it. My pulse kicked up as she scanned dangerously close to the last chapter. Then she said it. “I always read the last page first.”
It took every ounce of control I had not to yank the book out of her hands and staple the last pages together. Instead, I appealed to her to let the story unravel, assuring her there were many twists to keep her turning pages. Seeing her fingers trace along the edges of the final few pages, I pulled out my big guns. “There’s a reveal on the very last page. You wouldn’t want to spoil the fun, would you?” She bought the book, but I had the distinct impression she was headed around the corner and out of my eyeshot to peruse the end of the book in peace.
I pictured that same lady having a special night out with friends. Starting at the opera, she would stand up during the overture and shout at the conductor to skip straight to the grand finale. Later, she would go out for dinner at a fancy restaurant, order a six-course meal, and tell the waiter to bring her dessert first. While at the table, one of her friends would start to tell a joke, and she’d blurt out the punch line. Finally, when she got home alone with her husband, his plans for a leisurely night of seduction and romance would be shattered when she turned off the soft music and told him to “get on with it.”
To all my dessert-first-eating, early-gift-unwrapping, punch-line-blurting, last-page-reading, friends out there, I want to say: Relax and enjoy the ride! But I’m not the boss of you, so instead I’ll just ask WHY?