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.