Friday, July 13, 2007

Jumping The Shark

Daniel Radcliffe says "What everybody would love to see is me having ditched school and then just going wild… That's what I'm determined not to give them."

The Harry Potter star admits that there are some people who will probably never separate him from Harry, but says he’s “just going to get on with it."

I’m glad to know that we won’t see him competing for scandal coverage in the press. In fact, I think we ought to give the kids that come through celebrity status without ending up in rehab a medal. Setting that aside, though, this article got me thinking. It is going to be hard for him to separate himself from Harry Potter. However, not impossible.

I was thinking about some who’ve failed to shake their past (that Home Alone kid) and some who’ve gone on to be quite successful doing other things. Rick Schroder’s part on NYPD Blue was quite a departure from his Silver Spoons days. I remember my initial what the hell? thought when I heard he’d been cast. As someone who was (ahem) never a die-hard NYPD Blue fan and only watched it sporadically, I actually watched it pretty regularly when he was on the show.

Another one who springs to mind is Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s come a long way from Growing Pains. (Another show I didn’t watch regularly.) I say this as someone who hasn’t seen Titanic and wouldn’t go see a movie just because he’s in it – I thought he was great in The Departed. And that movie featured another actor proving his worth – Mark Wahlberg.

One of the things I think that distracts from the roles of some actors is their own celebrity. There’s a difference between being an actor and being a celebrity. A big difference. And to be honest, I prefer the actors. When I watch a movie what should come through is the character, the role. Not the fact that so-and-so got $20 million for the part because they’re a name. I find myself almost distrusting those movies after a while. But when I hear Christian Bale has taken on a role I’m actually intrigued.

This is a problem that authors can face as well, and it opens up the series vs stand-alone debate. When an author establishes themselves with a series and it’s popular, it will always be difficult to make a transition and write something else. There are people who will love certain characters and it will be those that tie them to the series, more than the writing or the author.

However, there’s a real risk of jumping the shark with a series. I’ve abandoned two series where I felt the books were becoming repetitious. One author is doing something different now, and I tried one of those books but never really got into it.

Will I try something else by them in the future?

Possibly. There are a number of factors at work. If an author pushes a series to the point where you do feel they’re past due, they can lose some credibility with their readership. Of course, this is a tricky thing. A reader may lose interest long before the author does, and all readers are not equal. Others might have reached the conclusion long before I did, and there may well be others still begging for more.

The other factor will be how enticing the new material is.

It’s interesting to assess my own reading habits, because there are some authors I’ll follow anywhere and give their new stuff a try. I suppose it has to do with the level of consistency in what they’ve offered. In reality, I like series books, because I like following a character over time. And you already have a starting point with the new book. Every book you read is work in the beginning, because you’re getting to know the characters and sorting out what’s going on. And sometimes, I don’t want to get to know someone new. I want to catch up with someone I already like and enjoy spending time with. Call it lazy, call it my comfort zone… it’s something I enjoy as a reader.

As a writer, I find series books to have a unique challenge. For one thing, it’s always in your mind that you could hit the point where you’ve gone too far. For another, you don’t want to be repeating yourself. You want to be moving the characters and stories in to fresh territory. This is something that comes up with movies and sequels a fair bit – the sequels usually suck. Not always, but sometimes. Sometimes, you get the sense that the original movie was meant to be a one-shot deal, but because it was so successful they pushed it out for another go, just to make money. That’s something I’d never want to do with my books.

One of the ways I stretch and try to expand the scope of my portfolio is with short stories. Anyone who’s read SC will note it’s got quite a different tone from the short fiction, like Bull’s Eye, The Butcher, Last Shot and Fucked Again.

However, I’m already working on different things, one of which is a planned stand-alone. And that brings to mind the debate about whether it should be under a pseudonym, or whether I can carry it under my own name.

I have no idea right now. I think I’ll trust the discretion of my agent and editor when the time comes. I think the plus of putting it out under my name is that it helps alleviate the ‘typecast’ thing that can happen to some authors. But then, there are always risks…

In the program with Peter Robinson that I watched the other day, he said something interesting. He said he didn’t really want to be a writer, he just wanted to write. It’s something that’s stayed with me this week, and when I read the article on Daniel Radcliffe it struck the same note. The difference between writing and writers. The difference between actors and celebrities.

What is real about being an author is what happens between yourself and the blank pages, when the ideas are forming, the words are flowing and you’re creating your story. Conferences, book signings, interviews and all that jazz are incidentals. Sure you can have fun, but they aren’t your every day. At a guess, I’d say at least 80% of readers don’t participate on lists, read forums or blogs. When I talk to bookstore staff and now library staff, this is all foreign concept to them. If you read some lists/forums and then look at the bestseller lists you’ll be left to wonder who it is reading some of those books, because I never see people mentioning them as favourite authors.

It’s always nice to catch up with friends who happen to be authors, but I’m not going to kid myself that it’s the same thing as meeting readers.

Something to remember.

On that note, the waterfall story. I think I'll save that and share it on a special occasion. Which may be soon.

UPDATED TO ADD: Amra has an agent! Congrats Amra! I kept forgetting to post a link...


Chris said...

I love your distinction between writing and being a writer. I've met loads of people who want to be a writer (and many who, despite NEVER writing, still think of themselves as such); I've not met many who write. Me, I love the writing. Except when I hate it. One great thing about the day job is I get to keep up with the writing blogs without wasting valuable writing time. Says a lot about my crappy day-job work ethic, I guess, but whatever. The way I figure it, the trappings of being a writer are fun and all, but I'll be damned if I don't feel like crap the days I manage not to write a thing. And nothing compares to when the writing's working...

Sandra Ruttan said...

I completely agree. There are lots of days I don't write much, because I'm dealing with Spinetingler or something else, and I don't mind that every now and again. But then I get starved to write.

And three cheers for jobs that let you read blogs at work! Believe me, if I didn't have free time for it, I'd give them up before I gave up writing. I know it's easy to be sucked in, but you have to remember what's most important.

Chris said...

"Starved to write." I like that term. Give me a family wedding or houseguests or whatever, and my writing time drops precipitously, which in turn makes me cranky as hell. My wife gets it, which is lucky, but my friends and family think I'm nuts, I'm sure.

As far as the cheers, do them quietly -- I take their utter ignorance that I spend half my day poking around on-line as tacit consent.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link Sandra.

There have been quite a few series I've followed that have put me off because the writer just kept pushing on with nothing new to say or nowhere new to go. It's almost like the series has made so much money they just have to keep going. It's such a shame when it happens because the characters mean so much to you and it feels like such a betrayal.

I'm hoping to do a sequal and a possible series with The Wog Manual if I get a publishing contract. I have so much more to say and do with these characters. The original novel was nearly 100,000 words and I had to cut it down to 70,000 words and there were still things I'd planned on doing but didn't get around to it.

But I'm also aware of my attention span and that I only want to work on something if I can bring something new and fresh to it so we'll see.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Chris, I'm the same way - Grumpy Bear.

Amra, I know what you mean about wanting to do more with a work. And I think some characters - particularly is you have more than one protagonist - lend themselves to several books. That was part of the reason I chose to have three for my new series. Okay, it wasn't the original plan, but one of them just planted themselves in there and wouldn't bugger off. And then I thought it was a good thing, because it gave me a lot of room to manouevre in the future.