Pigeonholing (sounds kinda nasty, right?)

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?

3 Responses to Pigeonholing (sounds kinda nasty, right?)

  1. What do you mean Faulkner never wrote erotica? Didn’t you ever read THE SOUND AND THE FURRIES?

  2. Lynn says:

    That was a question I recently asked one of your colleagues because my WIP is very different than several other projects and ideas I have in mind. I don’t see why people would want authors to stay pigeonholed into one category if they’re able to write well in other genres. Still, I think I would have trouble reading a chick lit novel by Stephen King. I would keep waiting for that suspenseful moment of horror which would never come!

    I hope you don’t mind, but the Benjamin Franklin entry (The essay we never learned about in school!) reminded me of a cute joke on Rachelle Gardner’s Rants & Ramblings website.


    A little old lady goes to her doctor. “Doc, I have this problem with gas…I toot a lot, but it doesn’t bother me much. They never smell and they’re always silent. In fact, I’ve done it about ten times since I’ve been here and you didn’t even notice.”

    The doc says, “I see. Take these pills and come back to see me next week.”

    The next week the lady returns and says, “I don’t know what you gave me, but now I’m worse! My gas is the same, but now it smells BAD!”

    “Good,” the doctor says. “Now that we’ve cleared up your sinuses, let’s get to work on your hearing.”

  3. Lauren says:

    I hate to admit it, but I love authors who give me something to rely on. I go to Stephen King (among others) because I’m craving to feel a certain way, to experience a terrifying yet safe adrenaline I just don’t get reading Jennifer Egan. I love the process of exploring what different authors can individually offer me. and be able to count on it when I’m in a certain mood and browsing the bookshelf for a new read–this is extremely comforting. I absolutely loved House of Leaves, and although I bought a copy of Only Revolutions when it came out, I still haven’t read it. I think I’m waiting for House of Leaves 2. I’m sure I’ll be first in line to buy Junot Diaz’s sci-fi novel (http://www.wired.com/underwire/?p=122585) but who knows how long it’ll take until I read it…

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