SBD: in which I am a monumental bitch

It’s SBD! And boy, today I really am a bitch. Unsympathetic and cold.

Yesterday, Dear Author posted a link to Linda Howard’s comment on Facebook in which she revealed that she has been struggling with her writing and her voice as a result of chronic illness, specifically thyroid problems.

On a purely human level, I feel a great deal of sympathy for Howard; illness of any sort drains energy and creativity, and it makes sense that a serious illness like thyroid cancer and the follow up would influence her writing. I hope she can recover or at least that the chronic nature of the problem can be managed in a way that doesn’t impinge significantly on her life.

The question of where writing for money, for a living, fits on a scale with culture or art on one end and commerce on the other reappears here for me. In the writing-as-art pursuit, LH has been struggling with her art and deserves some sympathy since her muse has deserted her, or at least been fickle lately. If it’s writing-as-commerce, she’s been knowingly publishing less than stellar material for several years as she has struggled with her non-work issues.

From a purely consumer perspective, the illness doesn’t make me inclined to give her a pass or try her books again. In fact, it makes me less inclined. First, because I began to go off her books before her illness (or so I guess based on the dates in her post and the comment thread). Second, because LH and her publisher relied on the built up trust readers had in the LH brand and used it to sell (IMO) inferior material, which seems dishonest to me and fundamentally a violation of the implied contract between authors and readers. If LH’s voice changed consciously; if she wanted to move in a different direction creatively; I would not begrudge her that. But knowingly submitting material that is not up to the usual standard bothers me a great deal. Think of it this way: if you go to work and give your boss crappy work product to pass on to clients, is the boss going to do so, or is someone going to re-do it while you either renegotiate your employment terms or look for work elsewhere. That didn’t happen here; instead, the publisher and LH sold a crappy bill of goods to readers at $26.95 a pop.

One commenter at DA points out that LH had contracts and had to abide by them. The lawyer in me rolls her eyes at that. Contracts are always negotiable. The cost of doing so may be an issue, but I find it hard to believe that a big name author like LH couldn’t have gone to her publisher and asked for help with her work process or editing, or even just an extension on deadlines, rather than putting out the hot mess that was Burn or other recent books.

On another cynical note, I find it curious that such a private author feels the need to share her personal life right now. PR for the new book? Implied apology for a subpar book that appears to be getting uniformly negative reviews and comments about the general decline in quality?

Unrelated to LH, I’m in the middle of Suzanne Brockmann’s Infamous, which is very slow going. If I had realized that the ghosts mentioned in the back blurb were literal rather than metaphorical and were going to have this much page space, I probably would not have bought a copy. The writing is fine, I’m just not a big fan of ghosts as narrators or catalysts for the conflict of the story.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “SBD: in which I am a monumental bitch

  1. Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’m in a charitable mood, but I think her post sounds like she’s getting back to that original voice. So I’m going to take that as positive. The statement that kind of gets me is her saying ” I’m well aware that the work wasn’t my best, but it was definitely the best I was capable of AT THE TIME” .. hmm. I don’t think readers want something that’s “good enough” but at the same time, I know so many people with thyroid issues (it’s weird), that I can sort of sympathize. My husband is one. I don’t know. I don’t think I can feel annoyed when I know she’s got health issues. On the other hand I wonder about people like the editor who you’d think would work with her on her book not being her best?

  2. She may be recovering or coping, and I wish her all the best with that. The nature of the explanation and the timing struck me as disingenuous, though; if the reviews for her newest book had been better, would she have posted?
    I will admit, though, that some of my lack of sympathy stems from a similar problem going on at work. The chronic illness of one staff member is taking a toll on her work and that of everyone around her, deadlines missed, diminished out put, quality of that output also diminished, etc. She’s unlikely to ever regain the ability to do her job at full capacity or even work 40 hours a week in some other capacity that the office can use; management has been friendly so far, but the tension in the office is not good, and there is a lot of resentment building up.

    • Ah. If management is aware, how come that coworker is being assigned things that are causing missed deadlines and taking a toll on others? Shouldn’t they be moving resources and workload around appropriately?

      • The only things assigned to her are the least challenging tasks. The majority of her work has been farmed out to the rest of us on top of our own workloads. Management has adjusted her hours and her workload, but she’s really just not up to the job right now. Maybe when/if she gets her health under some sort of control or management she will be. Resource wise, there’s no money in the budget to hire someone to do the work that she was doing without letting her go first. We’re all accomodating her, which is the humane thing to do, but it is a strain; short term was okay, but this has been going on for a year and a half and patience is wearing thin.

  3. I was also surprised the LH was even on the internet – she has no website etc but has a FB page? I read the letter and was sad to hear about how her thyroid has basically stripped her of her creativity. I don’t blame LH for continuing with contracts and publishing – I think moments and times of self doubt are common with creative people so she may have looked to others for constructive criticism and they never told her the truth (my theory but not mentioned)
    I would blame the publisher – the agent will hussle for their client so I don’t see them going ‘uh, no’ when they know LH manuscripts sell themselves (again, my thought)
    It is the publisher / publishers who should be looking at the work and returning the draft with a note saying ‘make it better’ – course what do you do with that hole in your yearly forcast numbers?
    In the end, it will be the consumers who will make all three sit back and re-evaluate – I stopped buying LH after Killing Time from 2005 – TT mystery that bore me to tears but I had seen a turn in Cry No More to less romance and then the Betsy book which was cute but the romance was far from what I’d be looking for. I figured she had moved on from romance so I was fine – I can move on also.
    So who knows where this ends – I thought it was interesting that 1 person at a conference asked the question that I think many fans were asking themselves. But then I never thought to write to LH and ask her why her writing had changed – I just figured it had.
    That said, I have quite the keeper shelf with her name all over it 😉
    CindyS

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