We occasionally run posts from our wayback archives. This post from Jennifer Apodaca (Jennifer Lyon) was first published in May of 2006. We think it’s still a timely topic.
This is such an interesting question. It leads to some obvious points; do some prolific authors’ books seem like the same book over and over? It can happen. It’s really hard to make every book different, and some similarities will come through in every book. Those are usually part of the author’s “voice” and her style. An M.O. (Modus Operandi) if you will.
One of the most amazing “stretches” for an author that I’ve seen is Nora Roberts writing as JD Robb. Those books are totally different from her Nora Roberts books. The voice is edgier, the plots are grittier, and the suspense is darker. Amazing. Do I think she could have done that in the beginning of her career? Doubtful, although Nora Roberts truly has a “gift” in writing. She may not appeal to everyone, but the woman can tell a story.
So can Stephen King. And he has done some serious growth in his career. Off hand, I’d cite THE GREEN MILE as an example. Stephen King takes risks, and sometimes the reading public doesn’t like the result. But his books are rarely the same thing over and over. I believe he’s grown in his career and he has worked at growing. He tries new things. He doesn’t let fear or reader and publisher expectations keep him in a mold.
I’m not so sure the same could be said for John Grisham or James Patterson. I love some of John Grisham’s early works, but somewhere along the way I just plain old lost interest. That could just be a coincidence. I thought A TIME TO KILL was truly a compelling book. I stopped reading James Patterson when he stopped writing his own books. Enough said there.
There are many factors that can come into play here, branding, putting out several books a year, publishers demanding similar books, the author’s comfort zone, reader expectations…they affect how we write. I’ve known very good authors who had to fight, and fight hard, to expand and grow in their work.
We don’t have a lot of control over all the factors that come into play, but we can control our comfort zone. To grow, we have to push the barriers on what we “know” we can do. For instance, my mystery series has certain built-in parameters. Although I strove to find ways to challenge my writing and keep my characters fresh, by the fifth book, I knew I was pretty much in my comfort zone. To stretch a little I wrote a novella in third person (my mystery series is in first person). Then I wrote an entire book in third person (THE SEX ON THE BEACH BOOK CLUB) with much looser parameters. Trying new things is the only way I know to really flex and strain the writing muscle to see how much it can handle.
Growth does not happen in a vacuum. It’s impossible. We must feed the writing muscle to grow it. Get out from behind the computer and live a little. We need friends who support our dreams, hold our hand when the writing gets tough and slap us around when we doubt our ability.
While I don’t think volume absolutely equals growth, I do think we have to keep writing to grow. It might be uneven progress, sometimes we’ll have to compromise to meet a deadline (this is a business no matter how much we might like to romanticize it!), and sometimes outside forces will prevent us from stretching as much as we’d like. But I think every book gives us the opportunity to grow in some way. The trick is to be willing to take the risk, invest the time and effort, and believe in ourselves.
What about you? What authors do you think have really grown? And which ones write the same book over and over?
It’s my first trip and I’m not liking it much. In fact, I’m going a little crazy.
I wish I could blog about something happy and carefree but I’m harried and nervous and can’t sleep, can’t think of anything but the book and how much more I need to write and how little time I have to do it. I’ve lost all peripheral vision. I can only focus on one little page, nothing else.
I’ve lost track of what’s happening on all my favorite TV shows.
I can’t read anything new. I’ve taken to re-reading old favorite books because I already know what happens and don’t have to focus too much on the story.
And I’m living on TV dinners. That can’t be healthy.
I spend most of my time in sweatpants, a big old work shirt and comfortable shoes. It’s not a good look for me.
So why am I always smiling? 🙂
Since this column was originally posted in February 2009, Kate as gone on to publish over 20 books. You can get a complete list of her novels at Kate Carlisle Bibliography. Four of her newest titles are available below.
At the end of this month Iâ€™ll be attending my first Malice Domestic mystery conference in Arlington, Virginia. Iâ€™ve heard about the Malice conference for years and Iâ€™m very excited to be going with my first book out and available. Thereâ€™s a speed-dating-type event where authors switch from table to table to meet readers, and Iâ€™ll also be sitting on a panel called â€œI Hear Voices.â€ Iâ€™ll see my agent and also meet my editor for the first time so there will be a bit of business going on. And Saturday is the Agatha Awards ceremony so there should be some dressing up. Iâ€™ll be sure to report back on everything that happened!
What are you on the verge of doing? Have you ever been to a mystery conference? Yes? How about sharing some mystery conference tips? 🙂
Meanwhile, I want to jump on Maureen Childâ€™s bandwagon and shout out the news about the very fun new Silhouette Desire blog on eharlequin.com. Iâ€™m the newest author in the group and so far, weâ€™re having a blast! Come by and comment if you have a minute. We’re giving away prizes every day this month!
Kate Carlisle is the author of Homicide in Hardcover, the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association’s No. 1 paperback bestseller for February 2009.
Iâ€™m so worried about the economy!! Because, you know, who will buy my book if nobody has any money??? And Iâ€™m really nervous about all the bookstores closing! And what about Christmas? Should I spend any money?? How can I find the right present for my smart nephew? Iâ€™m not that smart!! And what about my mom? Sheâ€™s such a pain in theâ€”
AHEM! We interrupt this angsty blog â€¦
and those economic woes â€¦
and all those scary headlines â€¦
and the deadline frenzy â€¦
and the annoying hangover left over from the boring office party you were forced to attend â€¦
and the soul-sucking insanity of scouring the earth for every last good place to promote your book â€¦
and the perfectly reasonable fear of never selling another book, never, ever again in your entire life â€¦
and the head-scratching confusion of finding the perfect gift for that way-too-intelligent fourteen-year-old on your list â€¦
and the irrational need to spend more, more, more, just in case itâ€™s not enough, because let’s face it, it will never be enough â€¦
and the absolute knowledge that time will run out at the precise moment you remember something essential you forgot to buy â€¦
We interrupt all that stuff â€¦
… in order to take a deep breath … and wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a delightful Kwanzaa, and a wonderful New Year!
And may 2009 bring you all the joy and happiness and health and book sales and promotional opportunities you can handleâ€”and a soupcon more!