When an author “changes”

I’ve read a lot of fantasy. I have been a voracious reader of most any kind of words since first grade. I would go to the library and the bookstore and snatch most anything off the shelves that even looked like fantasy. And recently, some comments by readers of my new book have reminded me of an annoying problem I have experienced as a reader and I’m betting you have to.

My new novel, The Cipher, is a book that I consider to be much better than my previous books, for various reasons. But some of my readers disagree. At first I was taken aback to hear this. I mean, seriously? But then I remembered how, from when I started reading to today, there would be times that I’d be reading an author and just love her world, love his characters, love, love, love and never want to let those stories go. But series end (one prays they end) and then the writer moves on to another story. And what I was reminded of was that I too have experienced that annoyance and disappointment when the new books are not at all what I like. I don’t like these characters. I don’t like this world. I don’t like this story.

I wonder if it’s a case of a change of style? Of maybe it’s me associating the writer so closely with characters or worlds that I won’t let myself experience this new story? Or perhaps the books just aren’t as good. Or maybe it’s that my taste runs in a certain direction and the new books didn’t go there.

It’s quite a jump when a writer switches something major–like going from writing epic fantasy to urban fantasy. I’ve been told that most readers of urban fantasy don’t really read epic fantasy. I don’t know if that’s true. But I can see how if you like epic fantasy and the writers jumps elsewhere, you may not want to follow because you simply don’t like those kinds of stories.

That’s not what I did. This is a different kind of epic story than my previous, more traditional stories, but it is still epic fantasy. Dont’ get me wrong. I like my Path books. I like the characters and I’d love the chance to revisit them. But the Crosspointe books have got my attention in a headlock and aren’t letting go. And my editor doesn’t want anymore Path novels. So I’m writing what I’m writing. But instead of feeling hurt or rejected by the readers who feel this way, I really sympathize with the problem. And I hope The Black Ship is more satisfying. I know I can’t please all of the people all of the time, but I’d like to make my fans happy.

What about you? Have you loved an author and then been totally disappointed by the next series? Or maybe it’s the opposite. Have you hated an author and then come around when a new series comes out?

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  1. 1. SMD

    You know, to be honest, I rarely read fantasy series. I’m trying to thing, though, if there are any authors I’ve read that got worse or better for me.
    I know Tobias Buckell got a lot better in Ragamuffin than in Crystal Rain, but that’s because I tend to like science fiction that takes place in space. Both books were good though, but Ragamuffin was better.
    Actually, when I think about it, I’ve never really experience what you’re saying. Mostly it’s happened where I liked a newer series more than an older series. Generally I won’t read an author again if I start out with something I don’t like. Scott Westerfeld has the Midnighters, which was awesome, and then there was Peeps, which was even better. I’ve yet to read Uglies, but I plan to.
    I feel like I don’t have anything to add to this discussion then :S. The Cipher is supposed to be really good and I’m hearing a lot of great things. It’s on my ‘to read for review’ list. So perhaps all you’ve done is touched a different group of readers and some of your older readers just aren’t up for it this time around. New readers will come and replace the ones you might have lost.

  2. 2. Karen Wester Newton

    I think part of the problem is that it takes less energy to read a book than to write one. Like many people, I love Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, but I have to say that the last one I read didn’t have the same oomph. Her fantasy series, however, was bursting with energy. I think she just ran out of steam with Miles, but she still had plenty to say, and so she found another outlet. The more a reader loves a set of characters, the more they don’t want to admit that that can happen.

  3. 3. Ryan Williams

    If I like an author I tend to read everything that they write. I enjoy authors that stretch and try new things. Some of my favorite authors write in multiple genres.

  4. 4. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    SMD: I’m with you on Scott Westerfield and Uglies is excellent. I’ve not read the Midnighters though. I actually used Peeps in a class this last fall. I hope you do like The Cipher when you get to it. Let me know.

    Karen: I think that you’re right. And then too, it’s possible to outgrow a writer–the stories are too simple or the world too simple. I’ve had that happen. Or as a person you grow and change and the themes the author is dealing with or the characters don’t seem as interesting or relevant any more. But then again, for me, it can be mood. I’m just not getting into a book I know I’ve wanted to read. So I have to set it aside and try again later and see if I’m ready.

  5. 5. bob charters

    I suppose actors have the same problem as writers. Their face and voice become associated with a particular character or style, and they can’t break out because they’re too recognisable. I remember seeing Nimoy (Mr. Spok) hosting a talk show, probably trying very hard to live down his Mr. Spok image (or maybe he was just being himself), all smiles, making cheery un-Spok like quips. All I could think was, ‘Mr. Spok! Be real!’

    I had the same experience watching Robin Williams in Jakob Liar. His face reminded me too much of the professor in Flubber, or the man behind Miss Doubtfire to believe he was really an inmate of the Warsaw Ghetto. I kept expecting his “Miss Doubtfire” mask to fall off and the other residents to realise who he really was.

    I suppose, actors and writers who want to try something different, have to go through the same thing and, in the end, just do it.

  6. 6. Skip

    I think the premier example of this in recent memory is Laurell K Hamilton. The early books in the Anita Blake series are fantastic. But by the seventh or eighth book in the series they were declining rapidly.

    I still bought them though, hoping that she’d realize the problem and fix things. There was history for that, the last couple of Robert Jordan novels in the Wheel of Time were much better than the 3-4 preceding them. But then I read a couple of blog postings from her, where she basically said she liked the new stuff better, thank you very much, and told those of her audience that disagreed to go away.

    So I did. And it’s hard to lose me as a customer. For completeness sake once I start on a series I tend to stick with it. As far as I can remember I can only think of one other author that did that for me, and that was Robin Hobb’s Assasins books. And in that case, it wasn’t that the books were bad – quite the opposite. They were well-written. I just realized that I hated all the characters, and couldn’t empasize with any of them. And life’s too short to read books you don’t enjoy. So I gave those away to a friend who did enjoy them, and he bought the one I hadn’t.

  7. 7. The Eeyore Librarian

    I think sometimes it’s also our age and time that changes us as readers. I used to think Mercedez Lackey was the greatest writer ever and that the Heralds of Valdemar were the best books ever written. But then that was when I was 13. Now I have the absolute hardest time reading anything she writes (and she writes A LOT). I’m not sure I’ve even tried to read anything she’s written in the past 10 years. When I married and became a mother I went through this huge ‘Oprah Book’ jag and couldn’t read any fantasy, just Oprah-y types of novels. Now I’ve swung back (to the dark side!) but many of the authors I’ve read before are still unreadable. I try really hard now not to start a series until it’s done (HP, Dark Tower). That way the author/series won’t sour with time cause that’s always a disappointment.

  8. 8. Stefan Fergus

    James Patterson’s changed. He’s also getting a lot more cheesy, schmaltzy and insufferably cute in his writing (“Step On A Crack”, with 10 kids, springs to mind). I love his Alex Cross series (I know, not SF or fantasy, but a notable example of changing styles), but everything else he’s done doesn’t cut the mustard!

    China Mieville’s improving, though. “Perdido Street Station” was very heavy going, but “The Scar” was excellently readable and vivid.

  9. 9. Alex

    I had exactly the same thing with the Anita Blake novels ! Where at first I was reading fantasy, I was suddenly reading chicklit novels. And drawing out a sexual scene so that it take up to 10 pages was a bit too much for me. So after buying another two books or so of the same, I moved on as well.

    When I was younger I would plunder the library as well, I remember reading the Lords of the Rings when I was 12 and again when I was 17 or so, and anything else I could get from a second-hand bookshop. Then I used to like fantasy, nowadays (I’m 39 now) I’m more into science-fiction. Terry Pratchett though, is always a favorite – I like the way he can open my eyes to the message he has in his books.

  10. 10. Stefan Fergus

    Yes, Terry Pratchett is a genius – his novels just keep getting better and better! Terrible, sad news about his Alzheimers, though. Wish him all the best.

  11. 11. Paul

    Laurell Hamilton’s novels have been mentioned– started off well, but as the series progressed, I lost my taste to read any more of them.

    The late Mr. Jordan’s series had the same effect on me–first novel okay, but it grew less satisfying with subsequent volumes.

    OTOH, other authors have gotten better as I’ve gone deeper. (Pratchett, Elizabeth Bear)

    I *want* authors to change and grow. I don’t want 10 volumes of the same story over and over with the same writing.

Author Information

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis has written the fantasy novel trilogy that includes Path of Fate, Path of Honor and Path of Blood. Path of Fate was nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Recently released was The Turning Tide, third in her Crosspointe Chronicles series (look also for The Cipher and The Black Ship). In October 2009, look for Bitter Night, a contemporary fantasy. Diana teaches in the English Department at the University of Montana Western, and is an avid lover of all things chocolate. Visit site.

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