24668377I think we all know when we’re in the thrall of big time book crack.

But, hey, since defining the blazingly obvious is something we like to do around here sometimes, here goes:  Literary crack (the good kind) is a series of books that continues to suck you in no matter how pissed off you might get or disappointed you may be and, even though you may drop out of a series for a while, you know as sure as the sun rises in the morning that you’ll be back.  Sooner or later, you need your fix and that, baby, is the definition of crack.

And it hurts so good.

Okay, if it’s oh-so-obvious just what constitutes book crack, the next logical question is why isn’t there more of it since any writer able to crack (sorry) into the elusive code is guaranteed – and you don’t need a crystal ball to predict this – million dollar contracts in her future.

I’ve given some thought to this since an author who admits to being relentlessly curious about what interests readers, posed the question to me a few days ago and here’s my bottom line:  I don’t think it’s about the world-building, though buying into the author’s world is key.  I think it comes down to real, fully defined characters with real storylines – and tragedies – in more than one book.  By the time their HEA rolls around, the reader, knows they flippin’ deserve it.

Like Suzanne Brockmann’s Sam and Alyssa, Robin and Jules, Max and Gina, and Sophia and Decker. (Brockmann knows crack.)

And J.R. Ward’s Brothers.  All of them, most especially V and Butch.  (Ditto on the Ward-ster.)

And Sookie, Eric, Bill, and all the other wonderful sups in Charlaine Harris’ crowd-pleasing Sookie Stackhouse series.  (Double-triple ditto.)

I’m not talking cameos here – cutesy appearances by past and future heroes and heroines merely to support the primary couple’s story.  Oh, no, an author has to go beyond that and deliver real people facing real challenges as they look at each other across the great (and usually painful) divide of unresolved love.

Jules dealing with Robin’s alcoholism, V facing Butch’s inability to accept his love (and I would so love to know who killed this story – the author or the publisher) and his propensities for sex and pain, and Sookie’s very real dilemma in being caught between two lovers in a totally unreal world. Now, that is crack.

Adding to the crack factor for me, is the undeniable truth that when Brockmann and Ward finally got around to delivering the stories for the couples about whom I was most obsessed, I was disappointed.  Devastatingly disappointed, as a matter of fact.  (Max the Rock turned into Max the Whiner?  And a ghost? Seriously?) A friend of mine most splendidly says that she’s still waiting for the real Max and Gina book because the one Brockmann coughed up couldn’t have been it.  As for Butch and V, the depths of my displeasure were immense and my pissed-off-edness even greater.  And I swore – swore, mind you – that I was done with that all the Black Dagger chrap.

Which I was.  Until the next book came out.  Because even when crack is bad, it’s still oh-so-good.  After all, a little guilt just adds to the…well, guilty pleasures that every true crack book must deliver.

Series books are everywhere these days but few – very damn few – rise to the level of crack.  Truth is, while I’ve enjoyed many of them, particularly historical romance series, I can’t think of a single one in which I was fully invested in a character’s happiness before their main book.

And that, to me, is the bottom line.  I can be engaged.  I can be interested. But obsession – crack level obsession – is rare.

With a readership base as diverse as AAR’s, I’d bet that there are other writers out there serving your crack needs – so hit me with your recommendations.  (I think I can hear the Kressley Cole chorus already. I’ve tried her and it was a total wipeout for me.)

And if you’ve got any other ideas or theories about what defines crack, there is a very curious author out there who’d love to hear them.

– Sandy AAR