We think a lot around here about authors getting pigeonholed into certain categories because one (or more) of their books was a success and now they are expected to keep writing variations on the same theme lest they alienate their core readership. Of course, there are authors who are perfectly happy sticking to their comfort zone, but what about those who want to take a stab at different kinds of stories? Just because her sci-fi novel about Jesuits in space achieved bestselling cult status, why can’t Mary Doria Russell write a brilliant Western or two about Doc Holliday and his cronies? Why can’t the creator of thriller icon Rambo (a.k.a., David Morrell) not take us to Victorian England for a lively mystery featuring opium-addict-turned-detective Thomas De Quincey? No reason, of course. And both those authors (longtime clients) have done just that and found that their readership was able to fall in love with their work all over again.
But not everyone is able to switch gears so successfully. Some authors have become so effectively enmeshed with a particular category or beloved character(s) that readers, at best, resist their efforts to branch out and, at worst, reject them altogether. This piece in Cracked about “Books That Destroy Your Image of the People Who Wrote Them” made me laugh (see the Ben Franklin entry), but it also gave me pause. I started to think about authors I love going off on wild tangents: William Faulkner writing erotica? Jonathan Franzen trying his hand at sunny children’s fiction? Jacqueline Susann tackling literary biography (or really literary anything)? It’s not that they couldn’t do it, I suppose, but I’d have such a hard time wrapping my brain around the idea that my skepticism would ruin the reading experience.
Do you have that problem too? Do you pigeonhole your favorite authors? And, what crazy pairings of authors and categories could you envision?