I wanted to continue the thoughts from yesterday on what makes a good author, this time addressing the issue of staying power. And maybe this is actually a post about what makes an author great instead of just good.
I know as a reader there are certain authors that I can always trust to deliver. They write often enough to stay in my mind, they write the types of things I like to read, but yet they’re always coming up with something new, so it’s not like I’m reading the same book over and over again.
I remember about a decade ago, picking up a book by a well-published fantasy author. I read the first book, liked it, and thought “this is great, I now have another fifteen books I can read by this guy.” But the next book I picked up was the same plot as the first book. The main character was a boy instead of a girl and other details were different, but the character went through the exact same internal struggle as in the first book. I put down that book and never looked at anything by him again. (Readers are judgmental that way…)
On the flip side of that would be someone like Marion Zimmer Bradley. I just went to her website and I think I’ve read at least thirty-five books by her in at least four different “worlds,” enjoyed them all, and never felt like I was being told the same story, but always knew that I was reading a MZB book.
Or Isaac Asimov. I just looked at his website and it turns out I haven’t read all of his books (fiction that is, the man wrote over five hundred books), but I have read at least a dozen of them set in a few different series or story arcs. And again, I know that if I pick up one of his books I’m going to enjoy it. And I still to this day ponder psychohistory even though it’s been many years since I read any of the Foundation books.
So, in my opinion, MZB and Asimov are both great authors. They could have written a story about anything and I would’ve followed them there. And they had enough on the surface and under the surface to engage me regardless of the age I was when I read a particular story.
You’ll note that both of my examples are, sadly, deceased. And that’s because I think until you get to the end and look back at an author’s oeuvre* that you can’t tell whether they are a great author or not. I think you know long before the end if they’re good, but not if they’re great.
As someone who is trying to find my way with this writing thing, I am in awe of authors who can deliver good stories year after year and who can somehow remain true to their voice while delivering something sufficiently new and different each time. That to me makes a good author (as opposed to someone who wrote a really good or great book).
* I tried to use oeuvre on the LSAT essay and could not for the life of me remember how it was spelled. So, if you look at the essay I wrote you see all of these crossed out spellings of oeuvre and then I just used “body of work”. But I finally found somewhere to use it. Ha!