Please Stop Writing!

By Cheever, Susan | Newsweek, April 4, 2011 | Go to article overview

Please Stop Writing!


Cheever, Susan, Newsweek


Byline: Susan Cheever

Why do even the best Novelists lose their literary magic after a few books?

Mysteries are my weakness. Hunky detectives, villainous officials, plot surprises going off like a string of firecrackers--all these are enough to make me forget that I am on an airplane going through turbulence or to keep me up all night. I discovered Lee Child one afternoon when I had a three-hour wait in Penn Station. Sitting on the dirty floor with Jack Reacher, I wished the delay had been longer. Finding a writer who does this for me is like falling in love, but here's the real mystery--why can't these guys keep it up after eight or nine books? Why do they all seem to run out of steam?

David Baldacci began Absolute Power with one of the best scenes I have ever read; now, 18 books and 15 years later, I don't even buy him in paperback. Even the classy Alan Furst just seemed to fade after book No. 10 into shorter, less interesting stories. Janet Evanovich locked herself into writing serial thrillers by using a number in each title--I stopped at Hard Eight. Sometimes it happens sooner. Stephenie Meyer's first novel, Twilight, was imaginative and compelling, but it was followed by three lesser accomplishments. Consider the wisdom of J. K. Rowling, who announced that she would write seven Harry Potter novels and then wrote seven Harry Potter novels -- so far.

Perhaps to keep this from happening, some writers like Michael Connelly write two or three series at once. In Connelly's The Fifth Witness, coming out in April, the detective Mickey Haller is as good as ever. No wonder; it's only his fifth book, although it is Connelly's 25th. Child has recently used Arthur Conan Doyle's faked-death gambit. "I must save my mind for better things," Doyle confided to his mother before writing the death of Holmes at the hands of the evil Professor Moriarty, "even if it means I must bury my pocketbook with him." But Holmes turned out--surprise--not to be dead when Doyle gave in to audience pressure for another book. Similarly, Jack Reacher was dramatically burned alive in Child's 14th book, 61 Hours. One reviewer speculated that if Reacher was really dead, the next death would be Child's publisher from a profit-squeeze-induced heart attack. …

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