Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Curious Phenomenon of Career Suicide by Chronological Advancement

Like the title? Say it ten times fast and you might win a Buick! But, seriously, folks...

Three times in the past week this topic has emerged from the musty pile of pet peeves I keep under my bed with an assortment of dust kitties, manky socks, and dirty notes Ahmed has written me on Post-its.

What am I talking about?

The curious phenomenon that occurs when a romance novelist who is brilliant writes FORWARD in time til she jumps the shark.

Ok, you still don't know what I'm talking about. Stay with me, I'll walk you through it.

Often, great historical romance writers have broken my heart (and, according to my non-scientific girlfriend poll, many other hearts) by hooking me with great historicals, only to inch forward in chronological history with each consecutive novel they release. Dangling great plots and wonderful protagonists in front of loyal readers, they will very subtly, sneakily advance the setting a few decades here, a few centuries there. We follow. Of course we follow. It's like hooking a 50 dollar bill on the end of a fishing line and dragging it through a trailer park. Next thing you know we've left medieval England and we're wandering Civil War America. Cool! Then we sidle out west with the wagon trains, and get all pioneer. And, hey, look at this, a new title set at the turn of the last century!

Then it happens.

Hehe. What's this? * nervous chuckle* A contemporary mystery? That's cool, that's great! Neato, hehe. Hardcover? Oh. Err... Well, OK, cool, no problem, I LOVE her, she's worth it! So when are we going back to historicals?

What? Umm. What's that you say, there, author-I-worship? Hehe. * nervous chuckle* No more historicals? But, umm... the last three books you wrote were almost 25 bucks and they umm... well, you know I love you, but umm. Well, they sucked a little bit, didn't they? Hehe. Ok, ok, ok, you have kids, ok. Needed a break. Gotcha. Midlife crisis, maybe? But, umm... could you not SUCK anymore? No pressure, no offense. Loyal fan here, hehehe.

It isn't contemporary romance. I like all romance genres. Historical romance isn't even my favorite. It isn't writers straddling sub-genres. Some of my favorite authors (Sherrilyn Kenyon/Kinley MacGregor, Johanna Lindsay, Maggie Shayne, to name a few) write many different kinds of romance, set in many different times, worlds, places.

I can't really explain it. Something irreversibly damaging happens to writers who start out with historicals, move forward chronologically with subsequent books, and settle in the contemporary market. It kills careers. Well, no, it doesn't kill careers. It should kill careers, but it fizzles them, in stead, and kills the idealistic admiration of readers. Inevitably, these authors (some of the best) end up in the "what the hell happened to" category.

Oh, I know. I'm a bitch. But it's not just me. I've had the "what the hell happened to" conversation so many times I know it by heart.

And it all starts off with the seductive, lulling sense of well being as a writer we love explores new territory. Then it all goes to hell in a badly woven hand-basket with a moth-eaten tea towel and satanic, low-fat muffins. The kind that are all rubbery and utterly devoid of chocolate chips, walnuts, dried fruit, and other bloody necessary muffin stuff.

Blech.

Anyway, I refuse to list, here, on a public blog, the massive roll call of once-great women who have, sadly, fallen prey to career suicide by chronological advancement (or, as it is also known, literary jumping of the shark). I will, however, put forth this dire warning:

Write anything you want. Just scramble the historical order. Please!

TRUST ME.

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