Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Comforting Vs. Tired

I tend to file away all genre fiction in the same file cabinet I keep in my brain.  Which is to say, I don't think they're all that different from each other.  It's "genre" for a reason.  There are conventions, there are expectations - it just varies depending on the genre you're talking about.  For example, hero(ine) quests are pretty darn popular in fantasy, in romances you get the "happy ending," and in mystery/suspense I expect there to be some crime-solving involved.

One thing though that I think does make the romance genre unique is this concept that many readers have of a Comfort Author.  Those authors we turn to when we want and/or need "comforting."  It's the genre reading equivalent of drinking hot chocolate by the fire place on a cold winter's day; Or having a crappy day at work, and coming home to have macaroni and cheese for dinner.

What makes an author a Comfort Author for me is that I know exactly what I'm going to get even before I read the first sentence.  I know this concept is enough to turn up the noses of every stuffed literary shirt on the planet, with English professors falling into a swoon and tutting, tutting an awful lot.  I know, it sounds absurd.

Which begs the question - what is exactly the deciding factor on what makes a Comfort Author....well....comforting?

Ask any reader on the planet if they stopped reading an author because "all their books were the exact same thing over and over again," and every single one of us has at least one.  Besides the sloppiness of the final product - it's why I ultimately quit Patricia Cornwell.  I've heard other readers say it's why they've quit Janet Evanovich, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Lora Leigh and Danielle Steel (just to name a few).

But then there are other authors who employ similar themes and tropes consistently throughout their body of work, and we continue to lap it up - begging for more.  Or in my case with Maggie Osborne, bemoan the fact that they retired.  Because as much as I love Maggie?  Yeah, she had a tendency to beat the ol' "rough around the edges, tomboy heroine" drum pretty dang hard.  Then there's Pamela Morsi - whose historicals tended to all be set in a similar backwoods settings, all with "salt of the Earth" style characters.

My latest Comfort Author?  Just might be Jessica Hart, who has such a major category romance backlist that I'll probably get through it all by the time I'm 85.  I'm currently reading her latest release, We'll Always Have Paris (review eventually will land over at TGTBTU), and I was struck by the fact that she definitely has her favorite pet themes.  This story features a stuffed-shirt hero and a bubbly, extroverted heroine who will undoubtedly breathe some life into his gray, drab world.

It's a familiar trope for me, and for Hart.  She's used it before in Oh-So-Sensible Secretary (stuffed shirt heroine, free-spirit hero) and Juggling Briefcase and Baby (stuffed shirt hero, free-spirit heroine).  She's also fond of the heroine who is the polar opposite of the rest of her family members (see We'll Always Have Paris and Under the Boss's Mistletoe).  And yet?  I'm sucked in.  To the point where I'm kicking myself from here to eternity for starting the book when I darn well knew I was going to have to put it down and go to my job.

Stupid job.  Stupid boss for expecting me to do stupid work while I'm at my stupid job.  I knew I should have called in dead when I had the chance.

So what is it about Maggie Osborne, Pamela Morsi and Jessica Hart that keeps me reading, even when the book has striking similarities to other books written by those very same authors?  What has turned them into Comfort Authors as opposed to Old Tired Authors I've Broken Up With?

Honestly?  I'm not entirely sure.  It might be that they're working with tropes and themes that I've grown so particularly fond of over the years that they don't feel "tired" to me (yet, at any rate).  It could also come down to the elusive magical element we call Voice.  Some authors just have that little bit of magic, that element to their writing that sucks you in to the point where you'd read their grocery list.  I'm not sure how to define it, and I'm not even sure what those elements are in an author's "voice" that end up striking a chord with me.

Whatever it is, I probably shouldn't try to over-analyze it or question it too much.  I should just be happy that I have such a relationship with more than one writer.  Enjoy the ride Wendy, enjoy the ride.

What is it for you that makes an author a Comfort Author?  Are there striking similarities shared between their books that you've overlooked for one reason or another?  What makes you quit one author because all their books "sound the same," yet continue on with others and deem them "comforting?"


nath said...

It's easy for me :) Authors become comfort authors to me when I enjoy most of their books :) It doesn't have to be all their books, but as long as I'm happy and excited to pick up their next book, I'm good :)

Also, about the tropes... In my opinion, it has to do with the writing, but also the details. It can be the same tropes, but it doesn't mean same personalities or situations or locations :)

nath said...

By the way, I'm going to have to look for We'll Always have Paris now! LOL.

Jill said...

Yes! Jessica Hart is one of my all time favorites and I do notice she has certain tropes and settings (Scotland, Australia, and the Seychelles/tropical islands) that she likes. She has admitted on her website/blog that she does like to sit down and consciously think about what readers' expectations and preferences are.
I personally like her for the humor and the little twists she manages to work in. I also feel like there's something very human in her heroines that makes them relatable to me. They're often a bit self-conscious or insecure about something but manage to find the humor in it. They're also usually kind-hearted, but not too "sweet" to be believable. Like you said, it comes down to "voice" but I think for me, one of the keys of the romance is the heroine (I'm weird that way ;-)) and I think that part of voice is key for my comfort authors. I also think that's why I tend to go for Romance more than Presents (love Anne McAllister though), b/c it can be a little bit more heroine-centric.
Sorry to go on, but clearly I love talking about this stuff ;-)

Victoria Janssen said...

Maybe if the author's themes resonate particularly well with the themes that are, deep down, the ones you most like to revisit? I think that's a factor in my comfort reads.

little alys said...

"It could also come down to the elusive magical element we call Voice. Some authors just have that little bit of magic, that element to their writing that sucks you in to the point where you'd read their grocery list. I'm not sure how to define it, and I'm not even sure what those elements are in an author's "voice" that end up striking a chord with me."

I think that's it exactly. Tropes have been rewritten nonstop over and over again. Whether it be romance, sci-fi, fiction, and yes, even "classic" literature (IMHO). The themes, characters, tropes, whatever it may be, they all contain contents we expect, or hope to see (happy endings, resolutions, etc.).

Some authors just do it better. Lol. As you've said, a great writer/author has an ability to even make shopping lists fascinating. Others, not so much.

Btw, I still blame you for getting me addicted to Maggie Osborne after she retired. Oh the agony. She is so very good.

Phyl said...

It's probably no surprise that my comfort author is Mary Balogh. Her "A Summer to Remember" is the book that brought me back to romance, so I expect that has a lot to do with it. Her recent books have not (to me) been as fulfilling as her earlier ones were. I don't think she takes as many risks anymore, although "A Matter of Class" is an exception. Still, Balogh has a distinct style that does a great job of conveying emotion. And ultimately I think that's what lands someone on my "comfort author" list--their ability to create an emotional response.

Brie said...

A comfort read for me is Nora Roberts. Every time she has a new book out I know I’ll like it, probably love it. However, she is formulaic, she has a distinct voice and it’s impossible not to feel like you’re reading the same book over and over. She has a limited amount to type of heroines and heroes, and you always know that you will get a different pairing but with old flavors, is like trying to bake different cakes using the same ingredients but changing the combination. She does change plots and settings, her last book (the romantic suspense one) was about firemen, and before that the book was about search and rescue dogs, so the refreshing element comes from the plot and not so much the characters. But I love her, those books make me happy and I never get tired of them!

Hilcia said...

Oh, you said it, it's all in the Voice. My comfort go-to authors are Mary Balogh and Nora Roberts. Nora has been my go to contemporary author for years. If or when I'm depressed, down, or just tired of the world, I re-read my old Nora books. Her romances aren't A reads, there's head hopping, and I can recognize what type of character the hero/heroine is going to be from page one by now, but hmm... they do it for me. :) Old favorite: Violet Winspear, Charlotte Lamb.

Balogh, well... I love her characterization and the emotions she conveys in her books. Particularly in her older books which I'm still exploring slowly.

On the other hand, I wouldn't read another book with a 'barbed penis' by LL if you paid me. And I've given up on many an old favorite writer, but that's mainly because some of them either changed genres, their writing styles really changed with the years, or my personal taste changed.Old favorites: Lindsay, McNaught, Rosemary Rogers, Woodwiss, Kinsale.

A Library Girl said...

Nora Roberts is one of my comfort authors, too, although I noticed those shortcomings you mentioned when I once read a bunch of her books in a row. After that, I had to take a Nora break for a long while, because I couldn't read anything of hers without being ever so slightly irked by the similar character types and rhythms of speech.

Kathryn said...

Jayne Ann Krentz, in all her iterations, is my unfailing comfort author. All her books speak to the decision to trust another person and that's enough to pull me back from even the blackest mood. Many of her great books from the 90s dealt with assembled families and/or the Hades-Persephone myth and these were right up my alley. While the books started feeling stale in the last few years, I was very happy to see a lot of freshening in her latest, Copper Beach.

AnimeJune said...

My comfort read is Mary Balogh, as well, although my favourite of hers is "A Secret Pearl".

salvador said...

My comfort reads are the series romances written by Liz Fielding, Kelly Hunter, Sarah Mayberry and Sarah Morgan. The novels are short but wonderfully written and with well-developed plots that amazingly don't seem too repetitive.

Tara Marie said...

I've reached a point where I don't really have comfort authors. I equate comfort with autobuy. With the exception of CS Harris, and she only has one book a year, I don't buy anyone automatically anymore.

Wendy said...

So many great comments, and with points I want to reiterate too!

Yes, yes, yes - to the "emotional response" element. That's it exactly. So many times I'm chugging along on a book, enjoying it but not necessarily LOVING it then WHAMO! There's a scene or a piece of dialogue and I think "How bloody brilliant of the author." Seriously, had one of those moments with this new one by Jessica Hart (need to write that review....)

Mentions of Balogh, Nora, JAK - see these authors mentioned a lot as comfort authors. Which makes me think that having a good-sized backlist is almost a requirement for the "comfort" distinction.

Autobuying - so true. And like Tara Marie, I'm not auto-buying a ton these days outside of category romance. I've got a slew of autobuys there, but not so much in single titles. Uh. Does this mean that category romance is my "comfort genre?" I suspect so.

carly m. said...

It's funny - Lora Leigh used to be a comfort author and is now a broken up with author. So there's nothing to say one can't switch categories. I think my comfort authors are the ones I know I can re-read 5x and still know that I'll close the book with a smile. For me that's Julia Quinn and Lisa Kleypas. I don't know how many times I've read "Romancing Mr. Bridgerton" or "The Devil in Winter" but if I'm in a particularly grumpy mood, I trust that I can turn to certain scenes and be instantly cheered and distracted.

Tara Marie said...

While Lora Leigh has never been a favorite of mine, Romancing Mr. Bridgerton and The Devil in Winter are two of my all time favorites and I also reread The Devil in Winter when I need a pick me up.

I guess I still have comfort reads, there just old favorites instead of particular authors.