Another One Bites the Dust

I finally got around to reading Festive in Death by JD Robb (the mystery-writing pseudonym of bestselling romance author Nora Roberts).

Festive in Death

This is the 39th book in the popular In Death futuristic mystery series, and perhaps that’s why this book is further proof that Robb/Roberts is losing her touch.

At first, I thought that I wasn’t that into the book because it was my first time reading an e-book on Google Play Books, instead of my usual Amazon Kindle app. Perhaps that was the reason I kept putting the tablet down while attempting to read this book: an unfamiliar e-book delivery system. But no; when I read another book via Google Play Books, I was able to stay engaged and had a hard time putting the e-book down. So the platform delivery was not the issue; the book content was.

I noticed that the quality of the In Death plots began to decline with Salvation in Death, book #27 in the series. At the time, I thought the book had a phoned-in quality, like Robb couldn’t be bothered to put forth her best efforts. Random reviews from different bookseller and fan sites showed that I wasn’t alone in my thinking; indeed, many were not pleased by the lack of her normal plot and character depth. She redeemed herself in subsequent books until she reached Indulgence in Death (book #31), which was a poor rehash of the plot of Seduction in Death (book #13). Again, all was decent until Calculated in Death (book #35, which was another poor rehash of the subplot of Born in Death, book # 23).

[yes, I’ve read the entire series from the very beginning, and have most of the books, so I can pinpoint a lot of these changes–so can a lot of other fans.]

There have long been rumors (since around the time of Indulgence in Death) that the In Death series/JD Robb books were being ghostwritten, rumors that Roberts/Robb vehemently denies. Yet continuity errors (character names, character backstories, noticeable difference in writing style from earlier books in the series, etc.) in latter books belie her denials. Given the state of the last three or so books, I’m leaning toward the ghostwriting school of thought for at least some of the books in the series.

Hey, I get it: Nora Roberts has  “written” forty of the JD Robb full-length novels (#40, Obsession in Death, comes out in 2015), plus short stories surrounding the main character, Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the New York Security and Police Department–all in addition to putting out her romance novels under her real name. Nora Roberts got her start, and made most of her money, writing in the romance genre (indeed, her full-length romances are almost instant bestsellers. She’s a very prolific writer who seems to churn out a new book once a month or so), and it can be argued that romances are her first writing love. That being said, it’s easy to see why she’d want to take a break as JD Robb and fall back on what made her famous. It happens.

I’ve seen other of my formerly favorite authors go down the same “phone it in” path: Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson are two of them. Patterson started the “ghostwriting via collaboration” trend that Higgins Clark is now picking up, as he turned his attention to Young Adult novels with his Maximum Ride series. Perhaps that’s what happens when you publish a certain number of books, or been in the writing and publishing game as long as they have:  you become numb, writing-wise. I’ve seen it in Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta novels; Terry Brooks‘s Dark Legacy of Shannara series (The Dark Legacy of Shannara: Witch Wraith: what was that?!); and both Brenda Jackson‘s Madaris and Westmoreland romance series, as well.  For all of these authors (who are pretty prolific), I stopped reading them on a regular basis years ago because the spark that fueled their first twenty, thirty, forty books had gone dim. I no longer enjoyed their newer offerings and found myself reading their older works (and enjoying them more). Robb/Roberts has now been added to the list.

This is one of my fears as an author: writing so much that I will grow weary of my craft, and start turning out subpar stories just to say I published another book; or worse, hire someone to do most of the heavy lifting and rubber-stamp my name in order to retain and maintain my fan base. I’m not at that level yet, but given the amount of mental energy that goes into writing and publishing a book, I can see where the aforementioned authors are coming from. As Whitney Houston once sang, it’s not right, but it’s okay.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Doubt

I’m re-reading Zero Day by David Baldacci, which is the introduction of his John Puller character. As I get into the story, one overwhelming thought continues to loom:

Why can’t I write like this?

My next Bastille novel is not progressing as I’d like, though I am loathe to admit it. I can tell because I’m finding too many other distractions. When a book is flowing for me, I focus on it and little can detract me from getting the words on the pages. Nowadays? I’m obsessing over tracing my family tree and going through boxes of old books, and thinking about whipping up a homemade batch of eggnog (’tis the season!). This effortless distraction is a clear sign that all is not well in the Tiffverse.

Why can’t I write like Baldacci?

I’m in awe of the way his words flow across the page, how he brings John Puller (and even Puller’s cat, named AWOL) to life, how even the scenery of the book leaps off the page. And I wonder how I can get to that level, or even a fraction of it, within the next month or so. Granted, Baldacci has been writing for almost half of my lifetime, and has many more books published to his credit. I’m a rookie author, he’s a veteran, and thus I should not really expect myself to be on his level right now. But I’m an overachiever, so of course I expect that of myself. 😀 Seriously, I don’t know how to be a rookie because I’m used to being around veterans. That being said…

Why can’t I write like that?

I am beginning to wonder, especially in light of feedback on my first novel, The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille, if I am forcing myself to write in the romance genre; by that, I mean forcing myself to write within the carefully proscribed parameters/formula of the romance genre. Which would explain why I am having such a problem making progress on this installment of the Bastille Family Chronicles. My writing tends to naturally cross genres, so it’s difficult for me to stick to one or the other–which really irritates me when it comes time to classify my book for sales purposes (although at least most sellers offer the options of choosing different categories at once, so as not to pigeonhole in one genre). Still, I may be trying too hard to be one thing, instead of letting my writing be what it is. And that’s where I’m getting hung up.

That may be why I’m writing different books in different genres so early in my writing career; I don’t want to be pigeonholed, since the stories I write aren’t always about love and romance. My writing style is as eclectic as my reading selections, and I want to represent that to the fullest. I enjoy writing thrillers and suspenseful novels, and commercial fiction; more, dare I say, than writing romances. Then why am I writing romances? Simple: I like those too, and I read those, and that was the first book that I completed that was ready for publication. Plus, I’d already planned a six-book series around the Bastilles and their love lives. However, I am not solely or primarily defined as a romance author, as authors such as Nora Roberts or Brenda Jackson are.

Perhaps if I focus less on the “romance” label  (e.g., The Bastille Family Chronicles) and just write the story (e.g., A Bastille Family novel), it will take care of itself.

I will ponder that as I embark on yet another session of procrastination.

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What I’m Reading: Fantasy in Death by JD Robb (with video!)

I pulled out an oldie but goodie, as I work on a character for an upcoming Bastille Family novel.  It’s Fantasy in Death, by J.D. Robb (the pseudonym for bestselling romance author Nora Roberts).

Fantasy in  Death cover

I actually talk about it a bit here (it’s NOT a book review, per se):

Anyway, the story is set around 2060, and involves the death of one of the partners in an upstart video game company. It’s a classic locked-door mystery: the victim was alone in a locked room, playing a video game, and there were no signs or evidence of anyone else entering or leaving the room. So whodunit? The series protagonist, Lieutenant Eve Dallas, is very technology-challenged and has no idea how to navigate the very tech-heavy world of video games. She gets valuable assistance from her husband, Roarke, who is very skilled in his own right in the area of computers and technology, as well as the Electronic Detective Division of the New York Security and Police Department.

(Since this is over 40 years into the future, I’m hoping that a separate division that focuses on technology used in crimes becomes a reality).

The plot is pretty good, and there is an interesting twist at the end. This is one of my favorite books in the entire In Death series, of which I have every book so far (Fantasy in Death is the 31st book in the series, or something). I especially like the positive portrayal of female gamers (so refreshing in the wake of #gamergate) and the leap in applications of video games, virtual reality, and holograms.

The book came out in 2011, so it should be readily available at your local library, if you’re not inspired to purchase a copy for yourself. I do recommend it, as it is an entertaining read.

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Clarion Write-A-Thon: Day 3

Target goal: 25,000 words

Target daily goal: 775 words

Today’s word count: 775

Total words written: 1,971

One of the challenges I’ve found in writing sci fi/spec fic is making it futuristic, yet identifiable and understandable. This can run the gamut to the setting (e.g., New Earth as opposed to the current one; a planet similar to Earth;  or even a recognizable planet like Mars), to technology, to everyday units of time and measurement.

Some authors do it well. One is the late Anne McCaffrey in her Dragonriders of Pern series. The series is set on another planet that was colonized after Earth self-destructed due to technology and war, and its denizens live and survive in prehistoric conditions. Even though McCaffrey uses different names for commonplace items (e.g., “klah” for coffee, “sevenday” for week), her descriptions made her nomenclature easily recognizable.

Another author who is surprisingly good at bridging the gap between present and future is J.D. Robb, the pseudonym for bestselling romance author Nora Roberts. Her Eve Dallas series is obviously  set in the future (the series starts at 2058 A.D.) and includes plausible devices such as flying cars, completely automated kitchens, and combination wrist phones/computers (hello, Samsung Galaxy Gear).

Unfortunately, I am not (yet) in these ladies’ league.  My attempts to try and use futuristic yet identifiable jargon don’t work; my terms come off clumsy and cliched. I have to admit that I’m not THAT imaginative; words currently in use sound good to me, but someone else created them, and to use them would be lazy and uncreative. In the meantime, I’ll just stick with using commonplace words and let my readers figure it out. It’s easier for me to create the world and the plot of the story. I’m enjoying the worlds that I created, and I’m glad that I dug in the crates to realize that I had some worthwhile stuff that needs to be developed for future works.

See you tomorrow for Day 4. Thanks for stopping by.

 

 

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