Wednesday, August 23, 2006

It’s Not You, It’s Me…Maybe

Due to the comment and hit explosion that happened yesterday thanks to the linkage from Smart Bitches (which would have solidified my love for those women even if Candy hadn’t invoked the great and holy Sir Mix-a-lot with her entry), I got a lot of reassurance that I am not alone in my abusive authorial love and a lot of authors got beat down on. While the former was great, the latter aspect was semi-unintentional despite what my further commentary on Reader Loyalty may indicate. You see, Marta had a point when she said:

I think there's another way to look at this. Some writers have only one or a few terrific books in them. Harper Lee and John Kennedy Toole are examples. Do we think less of them because they only wrote one great book? Nope, we are grateful for that one novel. Other writers only have four or five or part of a series in them.Heck, that's an amazing accomplishment. To say that their newer writing is "irredeemable" is a harsh assessment.

Now, the Sophomore Blues/Slump explanation has been popping up recently in many different news venues in conjunction with the question of whether or not we would have wished for these authors to write more even if it couldn’t match their premiere works. As many of you have mentioned (both here and on the Smart Bitches thread), you would rather wait or have fond memories of an author rather than to read work that you consider “phoned in” (unless you are Raine, who needs someone to hook her up with a medium so she can get Nathaniel Hawthorne to cough up a few more stories, or someone who can fake his style well enough that we have something to base next year’s literary scandal on. Long lost Hawthorne works, anyone?). Still, despite this “phoning in” aspect, many of you continue to buy, follow a series in paperback, or at least linger over the newest title by an old favorite. In my own store I’ve had many a customer practically yelling their frustrations at a novel one minute (because it is completely acceptable to talk to a book like it’s a person), only to plunk down thirty bucks for it the next. Because they paid the money, they feel it is perfectly fine to complain that the book has let them down.

But what about when you, as the reader, have changed? In her comment, Marta also says:

The writer/reader relationship is two-way. Not only does the writer progress, but the reader goes through things that change our perception of a novel. I read Bridehead Revisited when I was young and read it again more recently. It was a different book to me (though still marvelous).

Our personalities are an amalgam of different experiences and backgrounds, and no two people are going to approach a book the same. There will be books that we read and enjoy because of this, and others we will hate simply because of a certain plot aspect that we don’t agree with. We can’t expect that our favorite author should mirror us in our growth, nor that a book will look or feel the same way after several years of distance. To further complicate the matter, our emotions when we read the book the first time might be heightened due to a traumatic event or stress, adding another aspect to the reading experience. It’s like having the munchies due to smoking pot; everything you eat under the influence is just the BEST. THING. EVER, but when you revisit the same flavors while drug-free they taste and feel completely different. Does this mean that they are worse? No, simply that the change in the environment and in your emotions cannot create the same affect.

(Not that I would know anything about drugs. Nope. I’m pure, mama, I swear.)

This divergent growth from your author love does not necessarily explain the Disappointed Potential Redux (DPR) that I explained yesterday. DPR is most common in series that strike the reader as having gone on too long, or entered into the realm of repetition, something Wry Hag at Smart Bitches blamed the editors and publishers for:

the same old same-old assembly line running. They’re the ones who, once an author becomes a cash cow, refuse to say, “Listen up, Steve. You’re beginning to plagiarize from yourself. That means you’re pushing my yawn button. Plus, this fucker is so rambling and discursive it makes Gulliver look provincial. Shave off two-thirds of that rancid fat, and we might just have us a digestible hunk of meat here.

Again, it’s an opinion shared by many a reader at my store and one that from the readers end is hard to argue against. But as an editor of a series, you have to figure in some ways they are held captive. It is the author who has the overarching themes and plot planned out in their heads and it is the author who knows (supposedly) each step along the way. If that author says that the repetition is necessary then who is the editor to argue. This might be a simplification of the situation or way off base, I don’t know. I just tend to steer clear of most series because I’ve been disappointed so much in the past. Anything that extends beyond four books usually doesn’t even get picked up.

Unfortunately this means that I miss out on a lot of great books, and I know that. Just like I might miss out on some great titles because an author to me is hit or miss and I’m tired of looking for the hits. With so many books out there to choose from, a reader can afford to drop one author for another, meanwhile an author can forever lose a reader with one “bad” book. Whether book is considered bad by all, or just that reader who’s moved on is (I would like to believe) a measure of the writing and the caliber of the story…or whether or not drugs were involved in any way.


Annie Dean said...

Yes, it's true that personal changes / growth could alter the way a reader sees an author. Very thought-provoking post.

Okay, I'm sold. I am totally linking to this blog. It's as good as Smart Bitches.

Indigo Editing, LLC said...

Good stuff! Check out my blog too, There are some awesome events coming up!

Marta said...

I'm remembering Cheri and The Last of Cheri by Collette. Spoiled, beautiful Fred, aka, Cheri, has a mad affair with older, experienced courtesan Lea. In The Last of Cheri, he seeks her out, expecting her to live up to his fantasies. He discovers that she has matured in a way that is not to his liking.

He tells her, "I loved you above all other women. You're finished now, you have found your consolation -- and what a disgrace that is!"

Kendall said...

I've heard too many SF/F authors say their editor (or agent, or editor+agent) is pushing them to write more books in series xyz, or more books like their previous xyz books. I'm sure each case is a somewhat different, e.g., "series (or book type) x sold tons better than y, so...." -- argh! But I loved x! ;-) Despite this (and my own genre preferences), I get the impression editors and/or agents limit their authors too much sometimes. But then I see authors like Elizabeth Bear & Charles Stross writing SF and F, and I smile -- okay, a little variation's still allowed. Whew! ;-)

Now if we could just get publishers to let those-of-us-who-want-to-know know about author name changes....