Is too much familiarity a good thing?

tumblr_lo3ss6IM9e1qld9nso1_500I’ve been reading the m/m genre for several years now and like any genre it has it’s ups and downs. I tend to be more author and subgenre specific, and picky you could say, so I don’t bounce around as I once did. This has led to the happy side benefit of not reading as many horrid books as I perhaps once did, but it also tends to give me a feeling of sameness. The problem is really two-fold.

First the book that tends to earn author loyalty is so good it can’t be matched. These books tend to be the epic, tear jerkers, or hilariously funny comedies that endear the author to me forever. Such books like Keeping Promise Rock, Angels of the Deep, Ender’s Game, Uneven, Shades of Gray – the list goes on. These nearly once in a lifetime excellence of these books that make me want to buy ANYTHING these author’s have written. Yet I find that while I appreciate and still love these great books, other books by the authors may be decent to really good and some may be horrible.

Sometimes I find that after loving a book so, so, so, so very much that nothing the author ever does after compares. Orson Scott Card (repugnant personality aside) has never written anything that comes close to Ender’s Game. I’ve read just about everything he’s written and it’s total crap, with one brilliant exception. And that exception is so good it’s one of the only books I re-read consistently. Likewise within the m/m genre there are numerous authors that are my “go-to” when choosing books but they tend to be decent, if familiar, reads and nothing extraordinary. I can feel my loyalty waning with each mediocre (to me) book.

1386alternateThen I also realize that the familiarity of the genre works against itself as well. I enjoy the tropes that make it a romance genre – as I still feel my discussion of m/m meaning erotic romance is true today as it was then – but many times I feel as though I’ve read the story before. Change out a few details, if even that, and it’s the usual romance with the added bonus of a particular author’s voice. Sadly I sometimes confuse or forget which author I’m reading. I’ll think it’s one favored author and then remember it’s actually another and they blended together for me.

I wonder if I’m fatiguing on the familiar voice of authors I like. Usually this is never a problem for me due to the time in between reading. Previously – in the world of print books I bought from old time brick and mortar stores – I’d wait a year or more for another book by an author I liked. It was like discovering a gem I didn’t realize I was hunting. Now it seems authors publish so much more quickly that I don’t have a chance to fondly miss the authors I like.

I realize these issues are likely mine alone… but I wonder if anyone else has had any similar feelings and how they overcame them?

11 thoughts on “Is too much familiarity a good thing?

  1. I think that’s one of my biggest issues with just about any authors I’ve read and loved. I read a book of theirs, fall over myself with the awesome of it, gobble up all their other titles, and think… wow, nothing holds up to the awesomeness of that one book. I compare them constantly. Now, I have noticed that a lot of authors cling to the exact same themes, tropes, and formulas, so all their books do have a feeling of sameness about them. This I find sad because authors can be so much more than the formulas they cling to.

    I’d like to think K and I don’t do that. We, on occasion, set out to tell a story with all the tropes and familiar themes, usually just to see if we can, but then we go back to just writing whatever we feel like. XD I think, so far, we have a pretty diverse backlist, and I hope we keep that up. Keep readers on their toes. I like diversity in life and in my fiction, and that extends not only to the type of characters used, but also the stories told.

    • Yes! You said it perfectly. I think authors see success in one form and try to recreate it with the same elements. Sort of like a chef trying to capitalize on a successful dish. Yet it’s never quite the same as it’s more than just the ingredients.

      I would say you two have a pretty diverse backlist but the one constant in your author voice. I always know the writing when I read your books. It’s so distinctive that I tend to wait for when I want to read something gritty and slightly uncomfortable. I appreciate that it’s usually different but it tends to invoke similar feelings in me when I read, if that makes sense.

  2. Funny, I feel the same thing, though my genres are a bit wider with Mystery, Espionage and all of Speculative Fiction on the board. Still, they do become a much of a muchness after a time. I found the same thing when I was reading almost entirely ‘literary’ fiction. Indeed, I still can’t even look at the Booker Prize winners without shuddering – no more post-colonial malaise please.

    I think it is simply a form of burn out. For me, I fight it by at least once a year reading something from a very different genre. Or sometimes, just taking a break and not reading anything.

    Of course, my solutions don’t always work even for me, I have no idea for you. My real point is, its normal and healthy for any reader, and why sudden new mashup genres become so popular. They create a new voice.

    • I tend to read a lot more than just these two but those are kind of my “go-to” whenever I think I want to read something. However, it’s heartening to know it can happen in any genre. Oh god. Literary books have their time and place and I do enjoy them but I tend to think they’re so pretentious and just can’t get through them.

      I’ll try to take your advice and maybe branch out. I’ve been through reading slumps where I didn’t pick up a book for months and right now I’m really eager to read so I don’t want to knock that. It could go away! So maybe I’ll go for something entirely new and different to give me some life.

      Glad to know it’s not a “me” thing or even a specific genre thing so thank you so very much.

      • Oh, I totally agree about the reading slumps. Horrible when they happen, but inevitable.

        Considering the books you’ve noted as enjoying so far, one book I always recommend as a wholly enjoyable read is one truly wonderful book is The Shadow Of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I didn’t want it to end.

        Some other genre books that you may find interesting, since I know you liked Ender’s Game, include Banks’ The Use of Weapons (though his style is not everyone’s cup of tea), LeGuin’s Changing Planes (not her best work, but a good socially aware breather), and Paradise Passed by Jerry Oltion (a good, fun easy read),

        John LeCarre’s The Perfect Spy (considered by many to be his best book, and one that is truly character driven) and of course, Strings on a Shadow Puppet by me…. but only if you like dark stories.

        Regardless, good luck with the slump. I hate them and am fast approaching a burn out phase of my own…

        Of course,

  3. Tam says:

    Yeah, it’s why I’m sometimes afraid to read a sequel to a book I lurved. I’m sure it will never live up to that romanticized image I have of the original, especially if I read it near the beginning of my m/m career. Everything was new and shiny and wheeeee.

    Yet there seems to be a market for the authors who write the same thing over and over. I have stopped reading certain authors (and some I keep torturing myself with) because every book was the same. Same plot thinly disguised, same characters, same themes. And yet they are snapped up continually by people and given 5 stars. So I don’t think how I feel is universal, but I’m not thinking we are completely out of the norm either.

    I haven’t written enough to wonder if I’m getting boring yet. LOL But I’m sure it will happen soon. Better write an asshole Dom with a pot belly just to keep things fresh. 😉

    I find my life is kind of like that though. I don’t understand people who order pizza every Thursday for YEARS from the SAME place, or order the same thing for dinner at the same restaurant month after month. I had a roommate for a time and her daughter, the same age as mine, ate an English muffin and peanut butter for breakfast every single morning for 6 months. My child would rebel after day 2 if I tried to give it to her again. LOL We just don’t do well with repetition.

    • Well I certainly go through phases where I can read the same author over and over. I think I read everything Nora Roberts ever wrote and then hit the point years ago that the mere sight of her name made me gag. I recently sold off every single book by her I owned and felt so much relief! So I do get enjoying the sameness of a particular author but for me, it helped that it was so long between her books that I could enjoy them more. When she started publishing 3-4 or more books a year I gave up and burned her name in my mind.

      I agree with you that sometimes I see those 5 star reviews and want to strangle myself. Like…really? You wanted the exact same thing you read before? I get that when things are successful or familiar that’s easier but I’d think authors would get sick of writing the same thing as well.

      LOL I think I do better with repetition than you. I can go maybe a few months eating something that caught my fancy but it’s like after gorging on it, I never want it again. I think I burn myself out on things easier that way – books included.

    • Tam: Heh, that repetitive food thing was one of my first clues that I was on the autism spectrum – I’ve eaten the same breakfast (peanut butter toast and OJ) for 25+ years. I’ll eat the same thing for dinner for years at a time, then switch to a new thing for a few years.

      Kassa: Sadly, a lot of m/m has just started to blur together for me – same tropes, different names.

  4. There’s only one m/m author whose work I buy consistently and without bothering to find out what the novel is about. I do this because I know exactly what I’m going to get. Sure, the story line and the characters change, the setting of the story is different, but the basics are always the same. I do it because her writing style is so luxurious that it never gets old. It’s like comfort food. I doubt I’ll ever get bored with a pint of Karamel Sutra (fifteen years later it’s still my preferred comfort food).
    Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of most other authors I’ve come across. Predictability is fine if the author is skilled enough. I hate to say it, but it seems like with each new novel the work tends to get sloppier.
    The good thing is that there’s always something new and fresh out there. Right now, there’s dozens of authors in this genre that none of us have ever heard of. They are releasing their first novels as we speak, and among them, there will be something none of us have come across before, something none of us will expect. They will have no fan base and no groupies, no one to assure them that their work is exceptional. Just for this reason, their work is more likely to be more carefully edited and pampered.
    Whenever I feel like I’m just about burnt out, like I can’t read another m/m romance with the same old plot, I find something breathtaking from someone unknown.
    Last month it was Jay Kirkpatrick, this month is was Lisa Soem and Sunny Moraine, next month who knows? But I have faith 🙂

    • YES! Thank you! You said the exact thing I had in mind but couldn’t seem to articulate. I feel as though each repetition is a little bit sloppier, a little bit less polished, and a little bit..less than the one before.

      You’ve definitely inspired me to make a change and go for those authors I’ve never heard of. I didn’t really realize what a rut I was in with my authors and reading until I posted this and then read your reply. You’re absolutely right and I need to really branch out with my reading sphere. There are constantly new authors and I got afraid of trying them after so many failures. Perhaps I’ll find some bad ones but there have to be some gems too. I’m inspired all over again!

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