In Which I Start With Religion and Whining and Somehow Get Around to Genre Fiction In the End
I am a pretty indifferent Christian–the kind who’s not comfortable referring to myself that way. This morning I wanted to hide under the covers, but I made myself get up and go to church because I’d missed a couple of weeks and this is the first Sunday of Advent. As sometimes happens on these occasions, I heard words I really needed to hear. It’s because of such moments that I persist in my half-assed life of faith.
Advent is my favorite season of the church year. It is not the over-hyped, sugar-rush, what will I get? anticipation of the secular Christmas but a time for quiet, reflective waiting. Its theme is hope. I need both hope and quiet desperately at this time of year.
I am not fond of the pre-Christmas season, though I usually manage to enjoy Christmas itself (I love giving and cooking and music and the quiet time after Christmas when we read our new books and play our new games). It’s a busy time at work, even this year when I’m not teaching and don’t have mountains of grading. It’s hard to fit in time for Christmas shopping. I worry about making everyone happy. I hate crowds and busyness. I hate Christmas shopping. Even though I don’t do a lot of “Christmas” stuff–I’m not a baker; my kids are deprived of photos with Santa, trips on the Christmas train, etc; we decorate minimally and not until their dad’s mid-December birthday–I feel stressed to the limit. Possibly part of my stress comes from the feeling that I should be doing more of those things. I’m anxious and depressed and the exact opposite of waiting quietly in hope. Every year, I tell myself I’ll do better, and every year I don’t.
This year, my usual grumpy thoughts about all this connected up with my thoughts on the pace of romance publishing. I really liked Jessica’s post on what academic writers can learn from genre writers, and like her I have tremendous admiration for the work ethic and productivity of the writers I follow on Twitter. I’m on record as believing that writing fast doesn’t mean writing badly. But I do wonder at this brave new world where two books and a novella every year may be seen as a small output, and where a reader can worry on Twitter whether six months between books is too long and people might forget her favorite author.
At this time of year, I often think of Wordsworth’s sonnet that begins,
The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.
That’s what I worry about when writers are turning out so much so fast: the laying waste of their powers. I think a lot of writers can write two or three or even more really good romances a year for a while. But how long is that sustainable? We can all think of writers whose earlier books we loved, but who we now feel are “phoning it in” or writing pale, formulaic copies of those books. I want writers to be able to rest, recharge, and be inspired. I want them to be able to try new things. I think some writers need that time regularly, and everyone will eventually.
And as a reader, I feel overwhelmed by the flood. I don’t really want a new book every three or four (or maybe even six) months from the writers I like, because I like a lot of writers. It’s too much to keep up with. An author writes a trilogy I enjoy, I plan to read more of her, and before I know what’s happened she has six more books out. At a certain point, I feel so far “behind” I just give up reading her. I listened to the first of J.D. Robb’s In Death books and enjoyed it, but there are thirty-something books in that series! It makes me tired just to think of it. I never went back for more.
I honestly don’t know quite what I’m getting at here. I’m not every reader, though I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. And I certainly don’t blame romance writers for wanting to make a living from their writing or for doing what today’s market seems to require of them. I do think this is unsustainable over a long career, though, and that it’s not going to produce the best books we can get in the genre.
I’d rather have fewer good books than more good enough books. But publishing, certainly genre fiction publishing, is a secular Christmas world, not an Advent world, and I don’t think there’s anything any of us can do about that.