Monday, January 29, 2007

Comfy Slippers or Stiletto Heels?

This year I've been privileged to judge several contests: the Ritas, Daphne published, the Golden Heart and the Thrillers. As I sit here surrounded by entries, I realize that adds up to over 120 books I've read searching for excellence in fiction.

Did I find it? Yes, but it was few and far between. When I judge, I consider every book to be a perfect 10. Out of those 120 books how many ended up a perfect 10 by the time I finished them? Three. And how many 9's? Five.

I don't think I'm an overly-harsh judge. But maybe I've read too much? So many of the books blend together—flat, cardboard characters following clich├ęd, over done plots to the point where I have to double check my score sheet. Did I read this book already?

No, it's just like all the others is all…..

Many of these books are by multiple published best selling authors. Some broke new ground with their early books but now continue to follow in their own footsteps.

I can understand that—if you find what works for you and have a large following of fans wanting you to do the same old thing and paying you lots of money for it, who could resist?

And, many readers DO want the "same thing, just different". They demand it, complaining if "their" author tries a new direction. They like having expectations fulfilled, rather than being surprised. Reading is a comfortable escape for them, not a challenge or adventure.

I confess, I'm more of a thrill-seeker when I choose my books. Maybe because I now have so little time to read, every book I do finish must promise something new and exciting. Many don't deliver on their initial promise and end up being unfinished, but that's fodder for another post!

I think there's a time and place for both kinds of books. And bravo to everyone who is reading instead of watching TV or living their lives on-line!!

But as a writer, it's scary to think about. Your gut tells you to go one way, your brain tells you to stick to "what works", your heart wants to head in a totally other direction…what to do?

So, I'll ask all you readers out there. What do you want from a book? A comfortable, familiar sweater that you know will fit perfectly? Or a snazzy, new dress that may itch at first but gives you that feeling of ohlala?

Thanks for reading!


Samantha Hunter said...

I can go either way. I took a chance last fall on Maria Snyder's Poison Study, which was more fantasy than I usually read, and so it was completely new to me, and I loved it. However, I don't usually make that large of a leap often. Having loved her books, I still will not be a huge fantasy reader. I probably will, however, buy Snyder's books.

I will try something new on a friend's recommendation, but to be honest, with the cost of books, I like to get what I like. That doesn't mean I want cookie cutter stories -- even my favorite series and authors will annoy me if within their books there's no growth or change, but there's still something central about them that I enjoy and like to return to again and again.

So, most of the time, just like my clothes, I like comfortable and familiar. On the odd occassion, I will try something new, and enjoy it, hopefully.


CJ Lyons said...

Ahh...Sam, I think maybe you put your finger on it when you said that there was "something central" to your favorite books that made you return time and again.

I'd guess that would be the author's voice that carries you past those annoyances of similar plots, etc.


Allison Brennan said...

Very interesting post, CJ. As a reader, I like the same but different. I'd be upset if JD Robb, for example, did something completely different. Her books are comfort reads. I KNOW when I pick one up I'll like it and not put it down until it's done. Yet, I love it when authors do something different, like John Sandford's new book which is different from his Davenport series, or Tess Gerritsen who dipped into the supernatural a bit with THE MEPHISTO CLUB. Like you said, it's all about VOICE and their VOICE didn't change even though their stories took slightly new directions.

However, I do get irritated when an author goes so far in another direction . . . I'm not talking switching genres, but completely destroying my expectations, and not in a good way.

As an author, however, I understand how hard it can be to go off in different directions. Readers HAVE expectations, and they expect more of what they come to expect from readers. As an author becomes branded, they have responsibility to live up to that brand. If Nora Roberts didn't give a happily-ever-after in one of her hooks, her fans would be sorely disappointed. She can write futuristics, but in the end, people depend on her for the story and HEA and characters. Roarke and Eve, for example, can't get divorced or cheat on each other . . . that would destroy the series. They CAN fight and have a rocky road.

I've thought about this alot, and consider myself fortunately that I'm still new enough that I can experiment a little, but at the same time, my voice is what it is. I write dark and I don't think I could change if I wanted to.