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Dealing with complacency. Or, why I’ll get around to writing a funnier headline later

homer.jpgI was having lunch with friends, playing Suck/Doesn’t Suck. One of those useless things my friends do. (Like getting drunk and winding up naked and stuck in a kiddie-swing, but that’s another story).

The lunchtime consensus was that Richard Marx and Michael Bolton do indeed suck. But that the Kinks and Lyle Lovett don’t suck. There was debate about Cheap Trick, John Mayer and even Barry Manilow.

The real head-scratchers were Billy Joel and Sting. Incredible in the early years. But their last albums clearly plowing the soil of Suckville. We reasoned that when they were young, they were hungry troubadours, but once they "made it" they lost their anger. Lost their passion. Lost whatever it was that made their music worth listening to. (Damn you Betty Ford Clinic, damn you).

With that in mind, do you reckon (I just used the word reckon) that this happens to NYT bestselling authors? Do they get complacent? Is this why it takes Thomas Harris so long to write a follow-up book? And does Stephen King’s Cell have the sparkling edge of his earlier books––granted, he did more drugs than Courtney Love in his early days.

Do successful authors get complacent? Does your favorite author get better, or worse, as the books roll out? What about you?

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Reader Comments (7)

Or maybe it's like "hey, why put in the effort or try to write something different, this style/genre has made me lots and lots of money."

But in my bitter unpublished cynicism, I declare a lot of bestsellers to be crap that shouldn't have stayed drown in a slush pile.

*cough I'mTalkingToYouDanBrown cough*
April 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterC. Rooney
Hmmm. I overlooked the whole "stuck in a genre" thing. I'm sure that happens more than any of us realize. Though I'm also sure most writers would love to have that problem.
April 3, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjamie ford
Terry Pratchett is one author that seems to stay at the top of his game most of the time. And for musos, Tom Waits is possibly getting better than he already is!
April 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Hatadi
At a conference I attended this weekend, one of the editors said that some of this can be blamed on the "diva" ("divo" for men?) mentality. Once an author reaches a certain point the house doesn't want to edit them as much and/or the author thinks they are too good for editing. I know this is a little different that what you asked, but I think it applies. A little editing can go a long way.
April 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJaye Wells
Okay, first of all, Sting rules, he has always ruled, he will always rule, and that's all there is to it.

I admire Stephen King for his diversity. No really. After his earlier successes he could easily have drilled out the same novel over and over again, changing name of protagonist and very little else, like so many of the commercial set does. He didn't. It's true his style is often unmistakable but he tried some stuff that was different for him. He played with content (stuff without monsters, more literary stuff, fantasy) and form (long stuff, short stuff, interconnected novellas,scripts). He experimented with electronic media. And I don't know what you'd call that crap he pulled with Desperation and The Regulators. He continued to challenge himself, even when some of his audience hated it, which is a cool thing to do when you can afford it. Yes, he also wrote the one about the shitweasels, and he totally gets points off for that, but still.
April 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJen
i'm always comparing writers to musicians. there are similarities, but i've decided musicians lose it much more quickly and more often than writers. why? i haven't figured that out. musicians usually do their best work very early in their careers; writers tend to build over a period of time. but i have to say there's nothing more depressing than a rocker who used to be good but is now awful. :(
April 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteranne frasier
Interesting questions. I think it varies from author to author. I'm sure there is some level of complacency for every successful writer...at least the tendency to be complacent. As others have said, if you're making big sales with a particular genre then it's a scary thing to break out of that mold and try something different.

Two authors I've followed through the years are Dean Koontz and Stephen King. I think both of them rocked in their early years. And both of them hit a middle phase where they clearly were not nearly as inspired. During those years, I'd read their novels and think "been there, done that." In fact, I didn't buy either of their books for a good 7-10 years. I was that disappointed. Lately they've both picked it back up, though. At least for now they are back to their former glory.

And I'm with you on Billy Joel and Sting. Ugh.
April 5, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKarl

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