Thursday, February 10, 2011

Peg Herring's Blog Crawl - "Losing the Spice"

Thanks to Lisa for hosting Peg’s Blog Crawl today! Here is yesterday’s post, “Names Into Words”.

The Perpetrator - Peg Herring writes historical and contemporary mysteries. She loves everything about publishing, even editing (most days). Peg’s historical series, The Simon and Elizabeth Mysteries, debuted last year to wonderful reviews. The second in the series will be available in November from Five Star.

The Presentation - Losing the Spice

To quote John Mellencamp, “Life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone.”

Sometimes series do the same thing. Television series often run out of good material, and it’s usually easy to see when that happens. There’s even a term for it: jumping the shark. It comes from an episode on “Happy Days” where Fonzie — well, jumps over a shark. On waterskis. The metaphor now applies to the moment in a TV program's history where the plot spins off into absurd storylines and unlikely actions.

It can happen in books, too, and most of us have given up on a series or a character that goes too far. As an author, I recognize that it is hard to keep writing fresh and interesting with repeating elements. As a reader, I tend to space out my favorite authors’ books so I don’t notice quite so much the fact that this one ALWAYS gets beaten bloody halfway through the book or this one ALWAYS has to deal with the same relative pulling some dopey trick.

Some writers come to despise their own characters. In an interview I heard a few years ago, Martha Grimes told of wanting to kill off Inspector Jury. She had new ideas she wanted to pursue, but of course her publisher would not hear of it. Profit is king at publishing houses, and readers apparently don’t think Richard Jury is done, even after twenty-two novels.

Some authors try to keep readers’ interest by putting their characters through unbelievable and often bizarre events. It may keep the series going, but it doesn’t work for me. As soon as the character isn’t likeable any more, as soon as I can’t accept what she has done or become, I look for new authors to read.

It might be that authors need to rest from their characters. With the demands of publishing, it’s harder for writers than for readers to “space out” their books, but working on something else between series entries could be restful. Steve Hamilton said a few years ago at a presentation that he might go back to Alex McKnight someday, but needed a break from him for a while. He’s done all right with his move in new directions, winning an Edgar nomination for his latest effort, The Lock Artist. Even if a writer is not sure the new work will be published, turning to something different for a while might give a fresh approach when he returns to his tried-and-true sellers.

Whether we call it “losing the spice” or “jumping the shark” writers know when they’ve lost interest in their characters. The question a writer must ask herself is, “Do I keep cranking them out, or do I take a chance and try something new?” For me, there has to be spice. If it isn’t fun to write, I won’t be writing it.

The Poser - Name three thriller protagonists who once served as government agents but don’t now.

The Prizes - Weekly prizes (your choice of The Dead Detective Agency in e- or print format) drawn from the names of those who comment on the blogs as we go. Comment once per day, but the first commenter each day gets entered twice in Saturday’s drawing!

The Pathway - The next entry and the answers/comments to the Poser will be up at Chris Redding's blog.

The Pitch - The Dead Detective Agency, first in The Dead Detective Mysteries, paranormal mystery. Tori Van Camp wakes in a stateroom on a cruise ship with no memory of booking a cruise, but she does have a vivid recollection of being shot in the chest. Determined to find out what happened and why, Tori enlists the help of an odd detective named Seamus. Together they embark on an investigation like nothing she’s ever experienced. Death is all around her, and unless they act quickly, two people she cares about are prime candidates for murder.

Read more about this book and the author or buy the book.

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