Friday, June 17, 2011

Does There Come a Time When an Auhor Should Stop Writing?

This question has been plaguing me for a few days now. I'm three quarters of the way through the fourth book in a series by an author I once would have quickly claimed as a favorite. But a couple of things have let me down.
First, let's focus on the book I'm reading before I recant my entire collection of her works. This series started out great, it was a New York Times bestseller, though this wasn't the first time she'd published these books. The first time around, many many years ago, apparently they didn't do so well. But that's kind of besides the point. I know this author is capable of great things, which obviously made her a multi-New York Times Bestseller. She had something that really spoke to people.
This book I'm reading now, its like the words and the story is there, but the spark, the passion behind it is missing. And quite truthfully, though she writes several different genres, all her books are starting to sound the same to me. Like, A plus B with a little of C, D and E. Viola! You have a book.
There's been more than a few times I've had to go back and re-read a sentence or paragraph because it'd been composed awkwardly or so convoluted I forgot what the original point at the beginning was.
I'm sorry, but to me, this just smacks of laziness, from everyone concerned. From the author, her agent, and editors at the publishing house. Yes, I know this author's name probably guarantees a squillion sales alone, but doesn't quality matter?
In the course of the story, the author touched on one of the secondary characters being gay. I have absolutely no problem with this. One of my favorite couples/stories ever is Suzanne Brockmann's Jules and Robin romance. It was just done so fabulously. I've read a few other authors with tough, gay characters, JR Ward notably being one of them. I don't want to call it a trend, gay romances are becoming more acceptable in mainstream fiction. I even have a vague notion I'd like to tackle on myself one day. Not because everyone else is doing is, but because of the difference, similarities and intricacies of bringing something like that successfully to the page. Except when I read the gay character in this book, it didn't feel authentic, it felt like a popularity grab. I don't know, maybe I'm just being too cynical and harsh these days.
Its getting to the point where I'm having second thoughts about buying any more of her books. And this is not the first time I've been stung by this author. There have been other books in other series that were written so badly, I had to wonder if it was even the same writer. There was one in particular that comes to mind, I never even finished it.
All of this brings to mind the future of my own career. I'd like to think that in ten or twenty or thirty years, if I write something sub-standard, something that is lazy or crap or just plain horrible, then there might be someone around with enough balls to tell me so. I don't care if my name on a book will mean an instant 500,000 copy sale, I want to know that my readers won't be left disgusted or disillusioned. Quite truthfully, I'd rather be making next to no money, but know that what I'm putting out is worth the time my readers put into it.
Right now, I have so many ideas and dreams and plans. But what happens when I reach the day when I've explored them all and achieved everything I set out to? I'm sure every writer dreams of eternity, that there won't come a day when they have nothing else to say. It could happen though. Will I be brave enough to put down my pen or stop bashing my keyboard? Because if the spark and passion is gone, is there any point pushing on? Readers can tell and readers can be ruthless. So do you risk the reputation you've made to try and hang on to your glory days? Or do you fade away with quiet dignity? Many authors have faded away with quiet dignity and we may not give them much more than a passing thought. It's the ones who destroy what they've built we remember long after the flames have subsided.
I don't know about anyone else, but I don't really want something like that to be my lasting legacy. I don't know what the future holds, I guess all we can do is the best with what we have to deal with.


Anonymous said...

The thought that used to keep me up nights was, "What if no one reads my work?" Now that that's no longer an issue, the new worry is: "If I start to suck, will I even know it?"
I suppose any author can become complacent if their name gets big enough. "Oh, well, I'm (fill in the blank); I can wipe my ass with a manuscript and it'll sell fifteen berjillion copies."
Those authors seem to me to have broken away from their roots and forgotten what it was like to be on pins and needles hoping that ANYONE would read what they wrote. They've forgotten who they are and are more interested in the Almighty Dollar than in the people who made them what they are: their fans.
The fact that you're thinking about this tells me that you're probably going to stand the test of time, because you'll remember this feeling long after most authors have forgotten it.
Great post, Jess!

Noelene said...

Jess, I hear where you're coming from. I think as long as an author loves the writing process and every aspect of it, we will continue to write. I've lost count of the times in a low writing time that I've thought of giving up but I simply can't. My life would be a big hollow void without it. So the urge and need to write is there.
As to the quality of what we produce? That's another story. ['scuse the pun] I think as the author concerned, his or her professional associates you would think should say something but clearly they haven't. For myself if I encounter an author's work that I have previously read and a new work disappoints, it's your right as the reader to vote with your money and not buy any more of their work.
As a case in point, one bestselling female Aussie author I feel is heading in the same direction. The plots are all the same, only the characters are different and it smacks of being blase and unprofessional. So I don't buy her books. Maybe she's burnt out and doesn't know it.
Who knows, but seems for some authors "...there comes a time..."
Great thought provoking post.

Efthalia said...

Firstly, great post and very thought provoking.

There are several things that stood out for me in your post. Instantly I could resonate with what you said about reaching disappointment in a favourite authors work. There is is nothing more displeasing than anticipating the release of favourite author only to find the entire experience deflating.
Realistically, I think authors burn out because of the added pressures to produce books quickly within short time frames. Funnily enough I had this discussion with my husband only just this evening. We spoke about how many books could you churn out in a year if you (excuse the colloquialism) went hammer and tong. Surprisingly the answer was six. Yep six books a year and editing as you go. The crucial severity of this is that the quality would not be adequate and therefore suffer. This opens the enormous chasm of losing your audience. I believe that's why you get as you mention "A plus B with a little C, D and E".
The second half of your post is really about what type of author do you want to be? Again I believe a successful author is a widely read and well respected author.
I was once told that I had to stick with one genre. Obviously this didn't and still doesn't sit well with my grey matter. I am of the opinion that we should pick something because we love to write about it rather than being told that we should.
Writing is about learning many areas in our industry and one life time is simply not enough. It's about learning the said rules and it's about breaking them. It is through this that new and innovate writers emerge.
So what kind of writers do we want to be? Definitely not the vanilla flavour ones.
Efthalia Pegios

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