As romance enthusiasts, we are passionate about our genre.  It’s also fair to say that we get somewhat emotionally attached to the books of the authors we love.

And then there is the whole no respect thing.  As in, romance readers don’t get none from anybody outside the genre.  It’s a combo that makes all of us a bit touchy now and then.

So, when an author leaves the fold and starts writing for an audience outside the genre – Iris Johannsen, Tami Hoag, and Kay Hooper, come to mind right off the top of my head – the general consensus among us is that they used to be better when they wrote romance.  In the case of at least two of those authors,  to my mind it’s undeniably true.

Whether they left because their natural evolution as a writer led them there or whether they, they were in search of bigger bucks, or they too wanted respect, who knows?  But for the most part, we romance readers eventually let them go.  Goodbye, ladies.  Be careful out there.

But what about authors who stay and who change?  And, yes, right now, I’m thinking of Linda Howard.  She is an unpredictable writer, driven as she’s said by characters who actually seem to come to life for her and tell her the way her story is going.  So, you’ll have a Blair book one year and Cry No More the next.  She follows her muse and her publisher backs her. She changes.

When she published her recent post on her Facebook page regarding her struggle with her health, she seemed to many to be offering up an explanation as to why her books had changed.  Here’s my take on it:  I don’t think Linda Howard “admitted” anything.  She was not offering excuses.  She was explaining to readers how her health has made it harder for her to write. Though I’m all for honesty and open communication, I wish she hadn’t done it because it does seem disingenuous.  Because she’s always changed as a writer. And change is good, right?

They’re her books and she should damn well write them the way she wants to.  But, as readers, if we’re not feeling it any longer, we don’t have to follow her.  That’s our right, too.

So, why is that so hard?

We’re back to that emotionally attached thing.  And back to no respect, too.

Some readers love her old books so much that they keep hoping she’ll go back to the Mackenzies again.  Or Mr. Perfect.  Or whatever a reader’s personal favorite Linda Howard book is.  And as romance readers we are hyper-sensitive to the dis.  It’s happened before and it will happen again – writers who are at the tippy toppy of our happy genre leave us for what is perceived as the greener pastures of mainstream fiction. (Though whether they’re really greener – as in money – is a legitimate question since very few authors hit the top of the fiction charts and romance books, as we all know, account for a healthy chunk of fiction sales.)  And we don’t like it when they leave because we take it as a dis to our genre.  And, heck, in many cases it probably is.

But is it fair to keep kvetching about it? I think at some point it’s time to stop and accept that a writer has a right to change and that you, as a reader, have the right to reject it.

I have a formerly favorite author who I think wrote some of the best – the very best – books that our genre has to offer.  They were different.  They were smart.  And the dialogue defined the term “sparkling.”  Her books were always a highlight of my reading year and I couldn’t wait for the next.

And then she changed.  My god, she changed.  I bought the first book after her metamorphisis and I simply couldn’t believe how much I disliked it.  I couldn’t find any vestige of the author I loved in the pages.

Then I bought the next.  Stink city. Then I read a novella.  Crap.

Then I read some comments online that seemed to disavow and devalue her previous books.  And, yep, in my guise as hyper-sensitive romance reader, it seemed to me that she was disavowing and devaluing us.  Romance.

So, as much as it pains me to do it, I moved on.  If – and there’s not much hope in my “if” – I hear from fellow readers that a future book is a return to the voice I loved, then I’ll give her a try again. That formerly favorite author of mine has every right to change.  But, as a reader, it’s my right not to follow her.

So, what do you think?  Do you think we’re hyper-sensitive to the dis?  How long does it take you to admit that a writer just isn’t working for you anymore?  Do you take it personally when an author abandons romance?

– Sandy AAR

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