Re: Writing the same book, over and over (was)RARA-AVIS: Chandler or Hammett

From: Doug Bassett (
Date: 03 Dec 2003

--- Miles Archer <> wrote:
> on 12/3/03 10:18 AM, Bludis Jack at
> wrote:
> <<>>
> > Parker's contribution, I think, is the domestic
> > other life and the violent sidekick.
> <<>>
> I'm not sure 'contribution' is the word I'd use.
> Hmmm... 'adulteration'?
> 'Pollution'? It'll come to me...
> Suffice to say, I don't think much of either device,
> let alone their
> constant repetition from book to book.

Of course, it's like anything else -- what the writer does with it. There's no reason *necessarily* that a cuddly domestic PI with a badass sidekick who does all the heavy lifting couldn't be good or great.

> Many authors in the genre write the same book, over
> and over. (Of course,
> I'm not defining 'many', so take it to mean more
> than 50% of the whole.)

> Is that what has served to make them popular? The
> readers' confidence when
> purchasing that they will get a 'type x' story from
> 'author Y'? (I'm
> thinking of the recently mentioned Parker,
> MacDonald(s), Spillane, et al.
> You could add Grafton, of course, and any number of
> others, although even
> Grafton does not repeat her literary devices quite
> as relentlessly as, say,
> Parker does. Short of character names, locations,
> and plot details, you
> could pretty much switch one Spenser book for
> another. I'd say the same for
> Travis McGee. (Make up your own list and insert
> here.)

Well, it's hard to argue with that on a general level. Of course,"similar" doesn't mean "exactly the same". I no longer read Parker, but I remember that in his heyday (which I would say was late Seventies/early Eighties) he wrote a number of books that varied his formula: EARLY AUTUMN, LOOKING FOR RACHEL WALLACE, even A CATSKILL EAGLE. Whether they were good or not is another question, of course: the point is that they were different.

The McGee books have a lot of things in common from volume to volume, but within the series there's changes of tone, variations. Novels 2-5 mostly take place outside of Florida, in BURNT ORANGE he's rescuing a guy, not a girl; there are various moments of self-doubt or self-criticism in LAVENDER, GREEN, TAN, and SILVER, etc. I guess I would say you're right, but only so far as it goes.

(I think the best case for your thought is the other Macdonald, Ross. Plots and situations reoccur so often that it's hard to keep the various books straight. If you've read them, do you remember the *specific* plot points of IVORY GRIN and INSTANT ENEMY, say? Who did what to whom?

(I don't mean that as a knock on the guy, see below.)

> Of course, there are any number of authors who write
> outside of the
> bibliography with which they are most closely
> identified. And, in point of
> fact, many authors resort to pen names for this very
> reason.
> But I admit to flinching a bit when I hear certain
> authors/series/characters
> mentioned with unabashed enthusiasm. (Not that I'm
> accusing Jack of that. I
> wouldn't accuse Jack of anything.) It's just that I
> find their schtick gets
> old pretty fast.

Certainly a lot of authors fit your description, and if you don't like their motifs, you won't like the series. I'm currently rereading a lot of Stout's Nero Wolfe books (only sorta HB). The books are very similar; even the biggest fans of the series admit this. Often the specifics of the plots seem casual at best. (Why exactly were the murders done in GOLDEN SPIDERS again?)

But that doesn't make them bad, formula doesn't equal
"crap". Although there are standout books in the series (I would say SOME BURIED CAESAR, TOO MANY COOKS, THE DOORBELL RANG, maybe a few others) the lesser ones are still quite good, and really I think you have to judge Stout's achievement by the series as a whole. It's really one book: "the Nero Wolfe book".
(I think this of Ross Macdonald, as well.)

Sorry about the length of the post; have a bit of time on my hands today, and these have been some interesting questions.


> Guess that's why they make chocolate _and_ vanilla.
> Miles
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===== Doug Bassett

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