From Kate's Writing Crate…
As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.
Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.
In this post, I'm writing about a series that I loved then stopped reading because, in my opinion, the author made some big mistakes that should have been avoided. I prefer to celebrate only books I love, but there are writing lesson to be learned from books not so well written, too.
As I have previously mentioned, I watch CBS Sunday Morning every week as it is an excellent program that quite often highlights authors. About 14 years ago, author Janet Evanovich was interviewed about her Stephanie Plum series just before the sixth book was released. Evanovich was wearing a hockey jersey as she took the interviewer on a tour of the neighborhood that she used as the basis for Stephanie's hometown. She then explained how she decided to make Stephanie a hockey-jersey-wearing bounty hunter.
Intrigued, I checked out the first book in the series, One for the Money, and loved it! (Do not judge the book by its movie!) Evanovich won a Dilys Award for the book.
Evanovich's characters are flawed and funny. Desperate for a paycheck after she loses her job as a lingerie buyer at a third-rate department store, Stephanie Plum stumbles into a new career when her mother reminds her of a filing job at a cousin's business. Instead, she ends up working as a bounty hunter for the same cousin (a bail bondsman who has odd proclivities) along with a high school classmate office manager as well as a wise-cracking sidekick Stephanie meets on her first case.
Living in an apartment only a few miles from the house she grew up in, she is often home for dinner cooked by her mother for her semi-retired father and a grandmother who moved in when her husband died. Grandma is almost everyone's favorite character as she has trouble staying out of trouble—much of it inspired by Stephanie's new career.
Besides the criminals she chases down in each book, there are two other vital and, I must add, hot characters: Vice cop Joe Morelli and bounty hunter Ranger. Stephanie and Morelli have a complicated relationship having known each other since grade school. Ranger becomes her bounty hunter tutor when Stephanie realizes she is ill-equipped for her new job through a comedy of errors. Sexual tension in this romantic triangle is off the charts!
I was so happy I could buy and quickly read the next four books and only had a two-week wait for book six instead of a whole year as book five ended with a cliff hanger.
I highly recommend the first six books with a warning NOT to read book four in public. Everyone I know screamed with laughter in several places. And despite my warning, one friend had to scramble off a public bus and another had to run out of doctor's waiting room because they did in fact scream with laughter.
Now for the bad news.
After a buildup through six books, the author did not live up to a promise she made that spending the night with one character would ruin Stephanie for all other men. No author should let readers down after a statement like that, but Evanovich did. Combine that with weaker plots in books 7-12 and the series didn't keep my interest any longer although book 20 has been published.
I learned important writing lessons from this author.
In the two weeks I was waiting for book six to be released, I bought copies of the romance novels Evanovich wrote before she hit it big with her series. I like to read things in order and it really paid off as you could see her evolve as a writer.
The books were pretty bad frankly, but each one improved a bit until the last one (I've forgotten the title—it was 14 years ago) which had the seeds for both Stephanie's and her grandma's characters in it. I saw bad writing become better writing become prize-winning writing right before my eyes. Please note: these romance novels have been updated/improved by a co-writer so you have to look for the originals if you want to see the same progress.
In the end, the more you write, the better you will write.
Finish a book—only 1% of all writers do.
Send it out. It may be published.
In the meantime, start your next book.
Persistence will pay off.
It did for Janet Evanovich. Why not for you, too?