Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

The Journey of Reading

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I’ve come to view the author / reader relationship as a dance of sorts, an epic journey with two partners who depend upon each other for success.   The reader places her trust in the author that the experience of reading the book will be a positive one.   This is true whether the book is a romance with its guaranteed happy ending or a mystery wherein the detective solves a crime or a lit fic book relating a story of loss.   A positive experience (as opposed to a happy one) is one that keeps us going back to   hobby of reading.   Truly, if an experience is continually negative, we’d never continue the experience.   

As a reader, I’m faced with a number of choices of books, each one beckoning in their own way.   They stand aligned, represented by their author, awaiting a reader’s selection.   Some of the authors have written books I’ve read before.   I’m comfortable with them. I recognize that I will get a certain emotional release through my journey with them.   Others I’ve heard good things about but haven’t tried myself.   Others I’m curious about because of the outfit they are wearing.   Still others turn me away because of negative associations or perhaps I am not attracted to their style.

I choose an author and her journey by placing my hand in hers and she leads me down the path, a dark and unknown place.   From there, I don’t always know what direction it will take. In reading a romance, I know that the ending is intended to be joyful but it isn’t always fulfilling because of the journey.   

We walk, as she tells me the story. Sometimes she takes me to a clearing full of laughter, wry humor or sharp wit.   Sometimes she takes me to a darker wood where the emotional pain of the characters brings me to tears. There are dozens of different stops along the way that the author exposes me to and invites me to partake.   

With some authors, authors that I’ve established a long history of trust because I’ve taken a journey with them before, I’ll let them lead me anywhere. These authors have earned the right to take me places I would not ordinarily go willingly.

With authors that are new to me, or ones with whom our past journey has been rocky, I’m apprehensive.   I walk gingerly and I’ve been known to drop their hand and walk back to the entrance, not wanting to return.

Some authors have led me down paths that I bitterly regret. I regret the time spent with them. I regret that subsequent journeys ruined past joy I experienced with them.   These are authors that I stay away from.   

Some authors have taken me down a journey that I love so much that I run from the exit to the entrance to start it all over again. If I see readers standing around at the front, I’ll run over to them and direct them to this awesome journey. Sometimes I’ll even pay their entrance fee.

Readers come to these journeys, already formed by past experiences and armed with a life of knowledge. Each journey with an author is different and that’s exactly the reason why I read but understanding how the reader develops trust with an author over the course of a reading relationship can help to explain some reader reaction; both the love and the hate, the joy and the anger; the surprise and the disappointment.

Reading is an intimate endeavor. It can touch us at a very deep level, bringing out beliefs and opinions and feeling simmering below the surface. Reading can make us attached to an author’s voice, her way of storytelling beyond just becoming invested in a book or liking the characters. In some ways, the reader and the author become one person as the reader begins to experience the life of the characters through the author’s eyes. It’s not the author as a person, though; it’s the author as the author, as the voice of the book. The author is the director, producer, screenwriter, and actor all at once. The reader, though, interprets the voice of the author through their own personal filters. Together, I suppose, it’s a complicated pas de duex.

For the readers and authors out there, how do you envision the relationship? Do you, as a reader, trust authors, genres, or plot lines without qualification? Do you want to experiment with new partnerships or do you stick with what works because of the security of the payoff? What do you think you are looking for when reading? As authors, are you trying to recreate a fresh new experience but with the same themes, the same journey? Do you want to take readers a new place every single time? Do you think about a reader’s experience or does interfere with your ability to tell a story effectively?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

49 Comments

  1. library addict
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 04:36:13

    I like a mix. There are several authors I have read for years, authors I will follow just about anywhere. Authors whose books I can revisit time and time again and always come away with something new (like JD Robb's In Death series). There are also authors who are my comfort reads, ones I know that even if their new stories aren't “cutting edge” they will still most likely be a pleasant way to spend a few hours (like Jayne Ann Krentz in her many guises).

    There are numerous authors I loved in the past with books on my keeper shelves but with whom I no longer wish to dance. These authors may have been scratched off my dance-card due to them leaving the genre or because I simply didn't enjoy one too many of their books in a row. This doesn't take away from my ability to revisit the books of theirs from the past I enjoyed, but does prevent me from reading their current and most likely future releases.

    There are other authors I discovered reading their earlier romance books and have followed to straight mystery, suspense, etc. They no longer write books which concentrate on the love story between two people, but I enjoy the types of stories they've moved on to telling.

    Every author I love who has written more than say five books has had at least one I didn't like. Not every spin around the dance floor can be well choreographed. But I'm not ready to leave the ballroom just yet. Even the writers I no longer dance with have taught me something. I may not dance with everyone at the ball, but that doesn't mean I'm through trying to find new partners or dance new numbers with the ones I know can really trip the light fantastic.

    I'm sure I've stretched Jane's dancing metaphor much farther than I should have ever attempted :P

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  2. Anita C.
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 06:20:30

    Jane, you’ve created a great metaphor for how I approach my fiction reading. You touch on so many scenarios: the writer who gives a consistent performance each time – and you like that very fact (J.D. Robb); the writer who seems to try something new each time (time periods or locales) but you still enjoy the same fine writing standards she sticks to (Kindsale); the writers who go to hardback and forget all the characteristics of their previous novies which made them so beloved (Johansen, and eventually, Howard and Hoag). (And become sloppy writers as well, I’m afraid.)

    I as a reader want to be taken to the same HEA at the end of every book. I’m not locked in to the author’s method of bring me to that ending – in fact, if she can be creative and inject new life in the method, more power to her. I also would like to express my strong distaste for the pregant unwed mother who finds a millioniaire cousin to marry her; stories like that swept over the romance genre about 10 years ago (at least) and shows no sign of slowing down. It’s insulting to womens’ intelligence and sense of responsibility.

    I have so little time to read romance that I ususally read almost entirely by author (Lowell, Chase, Kinsale, Balogh, Roberts, Cruise, Susan E. Phillips). (My B list is Krentz, Enoch, E. James, because they don’t seem to deliever the goods for me, every time. However, I do occasionally step out! I tried a few Lynn Kerstan and liked her very much (but I can’tfind her in the used book store!) Also an older author for the Signet Regencies called Barbara Reeves, which McDonald’s in Redmond, Wash. has found a few of her old ones.

    Really, I don’t care too much about locale or the occupations of the hero and heroine. It’s nice to learn about catering, or running a flower shop or a dude ranch, but a little of that goes a long way. If the authors I respect and count on want to write a remance which takes place entirely in a surmerged submarine while it’s under attack, OK by me. (In fact, Gary Grant and Tony Curtis did it 40 years ago in “Operation Petticoat.”

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  3. Jennifer Estep
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 07:41:31

    I look at every book I read as an opportunity to be blown away — to completely love the story, the characters, the voice, etc. To find another treasure to put on my keeper shelf. To discover a book/world that I want to visit again and an author whose backlist I want to devour. Of course, that doesn’t always happen, but that’s what keeps me reading — that hope.

    I have my favorite authors (Robin McKinley, Lisa Kleypas, Donald Westlake, etc.), but I’ll read anyone once or even twice. I like trying new authors.

    As an author, I think I have an obligation to write the best darn book that I can. I also want to write something that’s just fun for folks to read — a rollicking adventure with a lot of action and romance — because those are the kinds of stories that I love.

    But that’s not what every reader is looking for. Some want angst, some want serious, some just don’t like my voice. And that’s okay. Because as a reader, I don’t like every book I read or every author’s voice. Different strokes, and all that.

    But if I’m writing a romance, it’s always going to have a happy ending. If I wrote mysteries, the killer would always be revealed at the end. And no matter the genre, the bad guys are always going to get their punishment in the end. I think if you’re writing any kind of genre fiction, you have to deliver on those kinds of things. Otherwise, readers are going to feel cheated. It’s okay if folks don’t like my books for whatever reason, but I don’t want them to ever feel like they got cheated out of their happily ever after — especially in a romance.

    Of course, it’s not always the author’s fault if a series is cancelled in mid-stream or something like that before the ultimate HEA ending, but that’s a post for another time …

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  4. Ciar Cullen
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 07:59:26

    I thought this was lovely.

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  5. joanne
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 08:09:42

    This is so interesting to me because until this week I would have said that I fall in love with the rhythm of an authors’ writing and whatever dance she/he leads me on is fine with me. But this month in a new release an author that has written only contemporary romances took one of her characters from a series —and without mention on the cover blurb — put him and his story in the future. I honestly blame the publisher for not fore-warning the reader and not the author, but it has left a very bad feeling about the auto-purchase of her books. The book and the characters that I thought were set in stone were suddenly moved to a different time and place. Like going from a waltz to a cha-cha without a change of music.

    Jaw dropper. Not a deal breaker but it really messed up the steps I thought we were following. So did we have a relationship based on her leading and me following or did she presume that I as a reader would follow anywhere? Or did I presume that we would always be in the same dance? Never presume is the lesson re-learned.

    What it also did was remind me that I DON’T have a relationship with any author. They write the books and I can either buy them or not, like them or not but have no chance to take the lead in our dance. I’ve always liked that and I still do. I don’t want to tell the authors where to move but it’s only reasonable that I won’t always follow either.

    I’ve never experienced the kind of WTF moments that so many readers have had and said “that’s it for me and her books”. I’ve never had the kind of experience Jane has had with the author who-shall-not-be-named but that killed off the mc. I’ll say up front that the only thing to permanently take Roberts/Robb off my auto-buy list is if she killed off Roarke. (I could cry just thinking about that) but other then that every author and book would be judged on it’s own merits no matter what the dance.

    I too love Jane's dancing metaphor — This weekend I have to see if I can get the DH out from in front of the tv and onto the dance floor!

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  6. Leeann Burke
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 08:13:00

    For me I just want to be entertained and forget about my own deadlines and troubles.

    Personally, I have a huge list of must have authors who have entertained me in the past. Some I’ve met and some I haven’t. I buy books in all genres, but read what I’m in the mood for when I’m looking for a new book. I find that if I’m in the mood for a good contemporary romantic comedy and pick up a dark paranormal romance I don’t enjoy it as much. The last thing I want to feel is as though I’m wasting my time. As a reader I want to enjoy every moment I spend reading.

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  7. GrowlyCub
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 08:35:51

    What is often overlooked by authors and other ‘loyal’ readers when readers express dislike or disappointment over a new book or a direction, it’s not because these readers are trouble makers who hate the author, it’s because these readers have been loyal fans, often for years, who have taken the author’s hand repeatedly, but now cannot any longer.

    Most often the negative reaction comes *because* they are long-time fans who have followed where the author lead them again and again and have come to trust the author because they know the author is capable of taking them where they want to go and it’s from that position of appreciation for the craft and the common past that the feeling of intense disappointment is giving rise to expression.

    It’s a bit like being cheated and comes with the same emotions: disbelief, hurt, disappointment, anger. Readers put their trust into a journey together and suddenly, even though they want to continue, the author seeks out new readers by writing not only a different book but perhaps even in a different genre.

    Nothing ever stays the same and nobody wants to read exactly the same book over and over again, but there is a contract between creator of the work and the consumer, a contract that’s different for every single reader and the line where that contract is broken is very individual.

    Any time you get intense, heated discussion about a book or new direction, it’s a sign that the author has gone beyond that contract with these readers, done something that broke their trust. In the majority of cases, the expression of disappointment is so strong, not because the reader hates the author, but because the reader has so much loved the author’s past work and wants to share the feeling of disbelief that the journey this time did not deliver, that their hand was pushed away and they were left where they did not want to be, alone.

    I find it regrettable when authors then go out and say, ‘hey, my book’s still a NYT bestseller and others like it just fine and you are just a small bunch of morons out to get me, screw you.’ That kind of behavior elucidates a distinct lack of understanding of their readers and compounds the feeling of disappointment of those who have followed their writing for years, and even impacts readers who did like the new book or direction because it shows such lack of understanding or unwillingness to see the why.

    On a personal level, I haven’t bought new books by any of the authors who introduced me to the genre over 25 years ago in years and years and years and that saddens me immensely.

    Coulter, who went on to write first RS and then straight suspense and who expressed smug glee at having already gotten their money and going on to where more of it was, when readers expressed dismay at her abandonment of the romance genre.

    Brown, who went to write RS/suspense, but at least had the grace not to insult her fans (within my hearing, that is).

    Robards, who is extremely bad at writing RS, but obviously others do not share that feeling.

    Howard, who went to RS and lost that intense connection between her h/h.

    Lindsey, who jumped the shark with her ‘he spanks her for her own good and that of society’ futuristics.

    Weir, who has completely disavowed having written romance by changing her name and not even having a connection on her new site to her old work.

    Putney, whose foray into contemporary just didn’t work for me, because hell will freeze over before I believe in a HEA for an abuser and his victim, and who then went on to paranormals, which I don’t read. I’m cautiously hopeful about her new historical coming out and that little flame of optimism wants to recapture past glories really badly. I re-read ‘The Rake and the Reformer’ at least 2 or 3 times a year.

    I abandoned romance for 6 or 7 years, re-reading old friends, but not buying anything new, because there didn’t seem to be anything for me between the old favorites seeking greener pastures and the rise of women’s lit, chick lit, comedy, romantic suspense and paranormals in the late 90s and early 2000s.

    I found my way back, curiously via erotic romance where I found the intense concentration on the h/h relationship without all the external plots that I found such a distraction in what was available at the time I gave up on romance, but cannot remember what triggered my picking up that first ER.

    I have found new authors and those I had not come across before and now I have a romance TBR that will take 3 years to read even if I finish one new book a day and never add anything to it, when for those 6 or 7 years I did not buy a single romance title.

    I’m so incredibly glad to be back and I have gotten such enjoyment out of Balogh, Beverley, Thomas, Carlyle, Hardy and a host of other authors too plentiful to mention. I’ve added over a thousand books to my library in the last year and a half. And yes, even Brockmann, although that journey was very short and ended in a horrible wreck that killed a developing relationship.

    I can already see people going ‘you are insane to put that much importance on reading a romance novel’. So be it. Reading is an immensely important part of my life and it comes with intense highs, but occasionally, deep lows as well.

    Thanks for writing your post, Jane.

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  8. Lori Borrill
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 08:38:30

    Very nicely written. For me, as an author, my primary goal is to simply write an entertaining story. Obviously, since I write category romance, there are certain themes that must always be there. But within those themes, my central motivation is to craft a fun and interesting story. And while in my case that’s always contemporary and that’s always Blaze, by nature of the idea, some will end up a little darker, others light. It’s really the characters and the premise that determines the tone. And what determines the premise is a basic goal of looking for ideas I think people will find intriguing.

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  9. JulieLeto
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 08:43:13

    What it also did was remind me that I DON'T have a relationship with any author. They write the books and I can either buy them or not, like them or not but have no chance to take the lead in our dance. I've always liked that and I still do. I don't want to tell the authors where to move but it's only reasonable that I won't always follow either.

    joanne, you summed it up for me perfectly.

    I’ve taken my career in several different directions and I’ve tried to make sure my readers are aware of that. I do not assume that my readers will come with me when I do something new or different nor do I assume they’ll read every single one of my books simply because they read and enjoyed one. I certainly HOPE they will, but there are no guarantees in life. It’s about the STORY.

    I have a handful of auto-buy authors and I’ve only read every single book by those authors in one case–probably because she’s new and has only had four books out. Sometimes, I miss books on auto-buys simply because I don’t have time or the storyline just didn’t capture me. So I guess they’re not really auto-buys so much as authors I trust to entertain me and who have never let me down.

    The question comes up–who does an author write for? Herself or her readers? I contend that it’s a bit of both. But authors can’t write just for their readers because readers tastes are different. And as I said to some friends recently when discussing this matter, authors are not short-order cooks. We can’t please every single reader, so in the end, the only person I can ultimately please is myself (and my editor!) That doesn’t mean I’m not cognizant of my readers…I always am. But I just know that if I have to make a choice between what will definitely please me and what may or may not please my readers, I’ve got to pick me and hope that I can bring them along for the ride.

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  10. Sherry Thomas
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 08:52:15

    Jane, beautifully written.

    I’m a very skittish reader myself, so all the more I love those books that just suck me in and won’t let go. And I’m also in the habit of paying for others to take the journey.

    But also, I need a book to reflect well post reading. Sometimes an author pulls you along hugely during the reading itself, but when the journey is done, the book suffers somewhat in the post-reading reflection. And others just keep astonishing you–delightfully–the more I think about them.

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  11. » Ittle bitty butterflies
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 09:00:12

    [...] today she wrote this gorgeous, lyrical post about the intricate dance between reader and writer. I mean, this is a post for the keeper shelf. [...]

  12. rebyj
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 09:00:44

    Lovely post!

    Light, dark, funny, sad, horror , fantastical it doesn’t matter as long as the author can pull me out of my world and it’s stresses for awhile and let me get lost in the world they created. I own books I’ve read and re-read for decades . I’ve always been too poor to travel but a book can take me all over this world and others.

    As for authors, I learned a big lesson a couple years ago when Karen Marie Moning shifted gears and changed genres with her “Fever” books. I had no interest in reading them at all because I was pissed off that she’d “change”.
    I ended up reading the books anyway and loved them and am on the edge of my seat waiting for the final two books. Her genre may have changed but her voice hadn’t. A good author can tell a good story regardless of what they’re writing about. My biggest complaint was that they came out in hardback and cost more. Yeah I’m a cheapass.

    I enjoy the information available here and other blogs online that keep us informed on industry news and trends. If a blog fires up a few authors I’m generally entertained not emotionally involved enough to get pissed off enough to ” never buy THAT authors books!” . On the contrary, I’ve bought more books and tried more new authors.

    My biggest secret reader fear is that an author will pass away before finishing a series. I want to wrap a few authors up in bubble wrap, childproof their homes and make them quit smoking to keep them safe. Stay healthy and keep writing !!

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  13. Jane
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 09:06:02

    @rebyj The interrupted dance! I hate those. Susan Krinard wrote a series for Luna that I’m sure was a trilogy but because of Luna’s demise, only two books were published. Harlequin isn’t very good about not providing closure for readers of series in the Luna line. Gail Dayton’s series was abruptly terminated. Talk about coitus interruptus!

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  14. rebyj
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 09:12:13

    @ Jane It’s a readers nightmare! Just look at the outrage at Stephanie Meyers not finishing her leaked book. No matter what her reasons, good or bad a lot of fans are personally and deeply affected and very vocal in their disappointment.

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  15. joanne
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 09:34:39

    Any time you get intense, heated discussion about a book or new direction, it's a sign that the author has gone beyond that contract with these readers, done something that broke their trust.

    I respectfully disagree. Anytime a heated discussion (that I’ve witnessed personally) developes it is because the reader and/or author goes beyond the reader giving their opinion about why the book didn’t work or why the author thought it did.

    If I say that the book didn’t work for me and the author says she’s sorry to hear that then that’s the end of our discussion. I made my point and the author made hers. Anything else, unless it’s in a review, is really just adding fuel to a fire that people want to watch burn brighter.

    The book has been written, it can’t be ‘un-written’ —and again, unless it’s a review site — to use a message board (especially the author’s) to express angst or anger over a storyline is a waste of energy.

    I’ve never seen an author say or write

    ‘hey, my book's still a NYT bestseller and others like it just fine and you are just a small bunch of morons out to get me, screw you.'

    and I’m very happy for that. But then, if I don’t like a book why would I go to the author’s site and rant about it? It accomplishes nothing but make me look petty and attempts to draw an author out to defend something that’s already a done deal. Seems silly and a bit like hitting one’s head against a wall.

    I understand your passion since reading is the love of my life, but I read and re-read books that I like or love and let the rest float on by to that great UBS down the street.

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  16. Victoria Dahl
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 09:52:16

    That was beautiful, Jane.

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  17. GrowlyCub
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 10:02:36

    but then, if I don't like a book why would I go to the author's site and rant about it? It accomplishes nothing but make me look petty and attempts to draw an author out to defend something that's already a done deal. Seems silly and a bit like hitting one's head against a wall.

    I wasn’t talking about taking it to the author’s site, but part of the fun of the online community is to go out and see if our reaction to a certain book is isolated (it hit a particular individual pet peeve/hot button) or whether there are others who feel the same way. That communication enriches the reading experience. It’s a lot more fun to talk about books one loved, but for me, personally, it’s a lot harder to articulate why something worked than why it didn’t. I have tried so many new and new-to-me authors in the last year and half due to the online community, in particular DA and SBTB and found some real gems (Thomas, J. James, Beverley).

    To me the voicing of disappointment is not an effort to redirect the author, it’s to communicate with others about why I feel so disappointed, a validation perhaps.

    If authors get in on the communication and explain ‘this is why I did this, the story or the characters demanded it, I’m sorry it didn’t work for you’, then that’s an added bonus, because it allows the readers insight into the writing process, a look behind the scenes. I really don’t think most people are out there ‘adding fuel to a fire that people want to watch burn brighter.’

    If, however, authors come out and says ‘I don’t care, I already got your money’ or ‘You obviously didn’t read the other books well enough’ or ‘You are out to get me’, then that author compounds the disappointment. From a PR standpoint, that’s poison, because others may see that and even if they liked the book in question or haven’t read it or the author at all, will form a negative opinion of the author.

    The point I was mostly trying to make is that I’ve seen a lot of sentiment expressed that folks who don’t like books and voice their disappointment are haters, when nothing could be further from the truth, since in *most cases* the folks who complain the loudest are the ones who have been the longest and most loyal fans.

    If I don’t give a rat’s ass about the characters or the story, I won’t waste my breath talking about them. It’s only when I care that I get passionate, one way or the other and I think that applies to the majority of the readers out there.

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  18. Leslie Kelly
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 10:06:36

    Wow, Jane, very nicely said!

    I have thought about my relationship with my favorite authors, evaluating why I return to certain ones, what it is about their books that fulfill some need or expectation in me. One of my favorite authors is Stephen King. And it’s not because I love horror (though I do.) At the heart of it, the thing I expect from his books, and, for the most part, get, is an incredibly strong woman. I think the man must have had tremendous admiration for his mother and for his wife, because he really writes the most magnificently strong and empowered female characters, from little girls (Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon) to centenarians (The Stand.)

    So, if I give him my hand and let him walk me through the dark, and he presents me with some entirely victimized, weak, wishy-washy heroine, I am going to find myself stumbling and losing my grip on his hand. I might not like some of his books, there was a whole period of about 5 years when I didn’t like a single one for plot or premise or other reasons. But at least he (almost) always gave me that strong woman. When (if) he stops doing that, I will stop walking with him.

    As for the writer perspective, if my name is on the cover of a book, I’m making a promise to my readers about the type of reading experience they’re going to have based on all the books that have come before it. And when I decided to change-up that reading experience, rather than asking them to walk with me out of the light, sexy world I’d always shown them before and into something a lot darker and more violent, I changed my name.

    I guess you should therefore count me as someone who totally believes in the partnership. I will not change my writing based on reviews or reader reaction, but neither will I hand the reader rare roast beef when they asked for ham and expect them to blithely come along and keep quiet about it.

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  19. MarilynS
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 10:11:31

    Jane, it is a wonderful journey isn’t it? This was an excellent post!

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  20. Nifty
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 10:15:58

    I’m another “skittish” reader, as another poster above put it. Personally…psychologically…I’m not a very adventurous person. I like my ruts and my comfort zones, and I like what I like. If I get on board with an author and read her books for years, I keep buying them and reading them because they give me something I want. When the author shifts gears, it’s hard for me — hard for me to let go of that author and her style, and hard for me to fill the rift left by that author’s absence in my reading habits. I tend not to try new authors very often or easily. I just hate spending the money and the time, only to find the book to be awful, or even worse, only so-so.

    In general, I don’t begrudge any author a shift in style, with one caveat. Writing is their business, after all, and I can’t blame them for looking for ways to become more successful: to reach a larger, more diverse audience; to achieve recognition; to sell more books.

    The only time I get REALLY bent out of shape is when/if the author chooses to shift-gears mid-series. It has happened, and I do think that that’s just flat-out disrespectful on the part of the author for her readers. LKH and her Anita Blake series is a good example. I think the reader outrage in such cases is warranted. I shudder to think how I’d react if, all of a sudden, Eve Dallas decided that Roarke just wasn’t man enough for her, and so she was going to start keeping a few extra boy-toys on the side. Or if she turned her back on her principles and became a dirty cop. Or if she decided she was tired of being a kick-ass police detective, and she wanted to be a rich and privileged society babe instead. Shifts in gears like those would be HORRIFIC for me as a reader, and I doubt I’d be alone in my reaction.

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  21. Maya M.
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 10:53:29

    “reading is an intimate endeavor”

    I think this is what leads to situations I’ve read about recently and less so in cyberland where readers discuss their reasons for not being able to brush of an author’s personal history/online post/one-time statement, and feel that they need to stop taking that intimate journey with the author. I suspect this kind of thing doesn’t happen with (or at least, not nearly as much) with non-fiction writers.

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  22. Kate Pearce
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 11:00:30

    I love this post. For me, when I write, especially a romance I see it as a dance, the whole courtship ritual of advance and retreat, of secret glances, of innuendo, of things said and more importantly, things left unsaid.

    So its good to see that might also be the case from a readers viewpoint as well.
    Personally I’m always fascinated when an author I love takes a different turn. I might not want to go along with her, but I have to respect her creative choice to follow that path.

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  23. Bev Stephans
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 12:18:25

    Very nice post, Jane. You summed up my feelings toward reading succinctly.

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  24. AnonReader99
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 12:21:09

    GrowlyCub said:

    Any time you get intense, heated discussion about a book or new direction, it's a sign that the author has gone beyond that contract with these readers, done something that broke their trust.

    joanna said: I respectfully disagree. Anytime a heated discussion (that I've witnessed personally) developes it is because the reader and/or author goes beyond the reader giving their opinion about why the book didn't work or why the author thought it did.

    I agree with Growlycub. When readers say “This didn’t work.” and everyone else says “Oh, OK.” that pretty much means they’re not passionate about the writer or book.

    Heated discussion comes when something touches and generally offends some of the readers deeply. It could be a subject like the inclusion of rape or abusive behavior in the romance, or it could negative reviews for a book / author with hyper fans. But in all cases someone felt let down, and I think GC’s explanation of a broken contract is a great explanation as to the root of it.

    Reading is an intimate endeavor. Each reader puts as much into a book while reading she takes from the author. The author leads but the reader adds in all her own images, all her past experiences that allows her to relate to the characters within the story. By the time she’s finished reading, the book has in a way become part hers, and will be different from every other experience that other readers of it have had. The more deeply engrossing the experience, the more a reader feels ownership.

    It’s foolish, I think, for a writer to deny that this happens, and to dismiss the importance of the reader side of the equation.

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  25. theo
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 12:24:57

    Jane, what a beautiful post and really, a joy to read. Thank you!

    GrowlyCub, I’m with your first post/paragraph.

    I have had a similar experience, but with two very different reactions.

    Ward, because her first four books were romance, she touted the next two as romance also (as evidenced by all the ‘personal’ emails promoting those books), but turned them into UF instead, relegating the romance to less than 100 pages out of a 400 page book.

    I felt betrayed as a reader because of the fact that she ‘lied’ to me, telling me to expect to travel once again, a path she’d carefully laid out over four books, which took a left turn into nowhere *for me* because I don’t like UF. My dance steps fled, if you will, never to return again.

    And she did say something similar to your observation about the NYT bestseller list and the ‘small bunch of morons’.

    Moning, because I adore her Highlander series and am patiently waiting for more. *However*, I *will* read her again when her Fever series is over because she earned my respect when she very gently, over several months, explained to her readers that she was taking a foray into the UF world which, as I said, I don’t read. I didn’t feel betrayed, I didn’t stumble in the dance because I knew what to expect with the new series.

    Rather like dancing with your partner to a waltz and then having the band leader say at the end of the dance that they’ll be doing a tango for the next one, rather than just blaring the new music at you and hoping you enjoy all the steps.

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  26. joanne
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 13:39:16

    I agree with Growlycub. When readers say “This didn't work.” and everyone else says “Oh, OK.” that pretty much means they're not passionate about the writer or book.

    AnonReader, I guess I didn’t make my point very well. If you read my entire post first and then the rest of the thread you’ll see that I was addressing GC’s comments about heated discussions taking over a board, not the love of a reader for a certain book or author’s work.

    I feel that once you’ve said what you feel what more can you say? It’s not that a reader isn’t passionate about a series or a book or a plot but that once the author reponds (yes, of course they say more then ‘oh, okay’, I was trying to keep my comments short) but after that it’s all beating a dead horse. The author can not take the book away so that it no longer exists. They can’t even if they want to.

    I don’t feel any less proprietary about the authors I like and purchase then anyone else and I won’t be accused of having a lack of ‘passion’ or invested interest in the books. I do hate when a favorite author goes in a direction that I’m not comfortable or happy with but after I’ve said that then there is nothing more to say except DONE with these books/authors.

    The constant repeating of what the author did wrong does not un-write the book. That’s all I was saying.

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  27. GrowlyCub
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 14:09:11

    Hi Joanne!

    I was addressing GC's comments about heated discussions taking over a board,

    I did not mean that and I think if you go back and re-read my comments you will see I did not say it either. The ‘taking over a board’ came from you, not from me. I talked solely in terms of readers discussing books online in various venues, which are also frequented by authors and where reader-author interaction happens.

    I just wanted to clarify that.

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  28. ReacherFan
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 14:57:13

    I have different expectations for different books. I don’t expect the same thing from a romance novel or erotic romance that I expect from a great piece of historical fiction.

    Amusing and pleasant distractions, fun, sometimes exciting and entertaining ‘keepers’ without being compelling and ‘un-put-downable’. The earlier Amanda Quick books, Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, The Sherbrook Bride by Cathrine Coulter, are all great reads. They are not in the same league with Shogun, Aztec, Mary Renault’s Theseus trilogy, or The Egyptian. And that’s OK with me. But sometimes authors go places I have no interest in. It’s not their departure from ‘formula’, but the fact the end up going down roads I have no desire to travel.

    When Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz went down her paranormal road, I stopped following and lost interest in her. Haven’t bought one of her books in a couple of years. I initially liked Cathrine Coulter’s FBI series and then a couple of badly written books put me so off I have stopped tham as well. Same with the tangent Suzanne Brockman has taken with her SEAL Team/Troubleshooter’s books.

    It’s not just romance authors that fall into the derivative formula trap, other authors take a winning formula and just beat the poor thing to death. The Bob Lee Swagger books by Stephen Hunter should have stopped at A Time to Kill. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series has gotten much to formula and dull, especially after his marvelous early books. Stuart Woods, Robert B. Parker, even Jack Higgins are lost.

    Some authors can keep a series fresh and fun. Lindsey Davis does it brilliantly with her Marcus Didius Falco series set in Vespasian’s Rome. Even Barry Eisler did it well with his John Rain books. Janet Evanovich is failing, where Denise Swanson with her Scrumble River series and Donna Andrews with her Meg Langsolw series are succeeding.

    Yes, romance and mysteries are both very like a dance. Wonderful analogy. Going in, we know where we will end, regardless of the many twists and turns, but we want to enjoy the trip. Get caught up with the characters, like the, enjoy their company, without the sense of déjà vu that has become all too common in what has become the increasingly generic ‘write by the numbers’ era. I really don’t think that’s too much to ask.

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  29. KMont
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 15:05:07

    Jane, this was a wonderful post. Great job.

    I have to applaud GrowlyCub, too, for putting in such wonderful words why readers will be disappointed sometimes, and why it’s not a bad thing to express that dissatisfaction. You and Jane both put to words things I’ve tried to explain but wasn’t able to get across at the time.

    Great job all around.

    ReplyReply

  30. Sunita
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 16:16:06

    Jane, this is such a pleasure to read. Thank you.

    I think that one of the amazing qualities of genre fiction is its ability to surprise you at the same time that it delivers a known quantity. I definitely read romance, mystery, and SFF because I know what the boundaries are going in. But when I feel that I’m reading something that not just good, but somehow new and fresh, it’s an amazing experience. Sometimes it’s a widely admired book that I expected to have those qualities, like Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm or My Sweet Folly. Sometimes it’s one that doesn’t feel like anything else I’ve read, like Dirty or Broken by Megan Hart. And sometimes it’s a category romance, by Liz Fielding, Fiona Harper, Kate Hardy, Marion Lennox, or a dozen other HQ authors who are often assumed to write the same book over and over again but clearly do not. If I have one of those experiences, then I’ll follow that author through any number of unfamiliar steps and tunes I really don’t like, because I trust that *she* knows where she’s going and I have a good chance of enjoying where I wind up.

    I’m most likely to abandon an author when I get tired of the particular row they’re hoeing or when I feel that they’ve fallen a little too in love with a particular aspect of their authorial persona, to the detriment of the work. It can be the writing style that hits me in the face, the characters that are exactly the same, or the plots that get tired; in all these cases, you can get an over-reliance on certain tricks and tics. I really don’t mind if an author switches genres; I may not keep reading, but I would rather they moved on and kept working, or kept their writing fresh, than that they stayed in a subgenre when they’re tired of it.

    That said, I want Diane Farr back. I can only reread The Fortune Hunter so many times.

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  31. Helen Burgess
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 16:22:56

    A case in point that caused me to to have a WTF moment as the music changed abruptly, is Lori Foster’s latest in the SBC fighter series, contempory romance suddenly became time travel and I loathe time travel with a passion. If she were bored with the other series, then take a break and write a T/T and go back to the fighters later. I cancelled my order.

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  32. MaryK
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 16:54:28

    @GrowlyCub:

    What is often overlooked by authors and other ‘loyal' readers when readers express dislike or disappointment over a new book or a direction, it's not because these readers are trouble makers who hate the author, it's because these readers have been loyal fans, often for years, who have taken the author's hand repeatedly, but now cannot any longer.

    Most often the negative reaction comes *because* they are long-time fans who have followed where the author lead them again and again and have come to trust the author because they know the author is capable of taking them where they want to go and it's from that position of appreciation for the craft and the common past that the feeling of intense disappointment is giving rise to expression.

    Yep, and that’s why the “just don’t read it” admonition isn’t helpful. “But I always dance with her. I want to dance with her, but now I can’t because she’s doing the polka and I can’t polka because I have a bad knee.”

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  33. Miki
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 19:07:38

    @Jane: You did know that Gail’s 3rd book was released by Juno, though, right?

    ReplyReply

  34. Marina
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 23:18:24

    Jane! Excellent post, and thank you for this dance. I shall continue to waltz with you and DearAuthor for as long as the music lasts. And now, let that metaphor die, shall we? Seriously, Ja(y)nes, you are good writers and good fun.

    Yes, there is that obvious partnership between author and reader. They write a book, for which we pay and read, which encourages them to write …. more. And so the virtuous cycle continues. And that’s all there is to the partnership, folks. Truly. The author spends a goodly chunk of her/his life on a book which will entertain us for a handful of hours. Say, excellent! or, Yuk! as you chuck it across the room, and then move on.

    Why expend vitriol berating some poor scrivener for not living up to your expectations? We hardly ever pleased our relatives with our choices, so why would you expect any author to be able to sweep us away with delight, every chapter, every book, every time? Not enough fairy dust in the world.

    Forever ago, I read le Carré novels with absolute pleasure, and then one day I lost patience and thought – spies??!? Grow up! Get a real job. ‘Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy’ is still an unforgettable book, but it’s not for me, not any longer. Does my change in reading tastes diminish le Carré skill? Hardly.

    Let authors get on with their excellent work – permit them to change and grow, too. Say kind things when they please you and ignore the rest. We catch their attention easily enough when we vote yea or nay with cold, hard cash.

    And on that note, I seriously suggest you lay down your cash for a first book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow – ‘ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’. It’s a treasure and may there be many more. Enjoy!

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  35. quilly
    Feb 10, 2009 @ 23:25:30

    I borrow books when I’m getting to know an new author. I borrow them from a trusted friend or a library. I buy the books of authors I know and can trust to honor my investment.

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  36. EC Sheedy
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 00:05:37

    Great post, Jane. I always find so much of interest at Dear Author.

    And while I hope those authors I love–and they are legion–keep imagining and creating their wonderful books, I hope this site continues with its thoughtful and insightful posts. You keep the writer and the reader on their toes, Jane–and it seems from all the dancing metaphors, those toes are in ballet slippers. Beautiful.

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  37. Amy Wolff Sorter
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 11:03:05

    What a terrific post, Jane. Thanks so much for sharing your own thoughts about this.

    As a voracious reader, I trust that I’ll come away from an author’s tale with something new to think about, something that I might learn, something that made me laugh or something that moved me. I also trust the information will be offered in a readable fashion; that I won’t be ready to throw the book across the room in disgust after the first five pages.

    I try to take this viewpoint when I put on my “author” hat and move into writing. I read somewhere that an author has one responsibility: to take care of the reader. This can involve anything from entertaining, to enlightening and educating. I always hope readers who are nice enough to buy my works get something out of them, whether it be an escape or an education about something new.

    But yes, the relationship between author and reader is one of trust, and it flows both ways :-).

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  38. Amy Wolff Sorter
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 11:13:25

    Hi GrowlyCub:

    I find it regrettable when authors then go out and say, ‘hey, my book's still a NYT bestseller and others like it just fine and you are just a small bunch of morons out to get me, screw you.' That kind of behavior elucidates a distinct lack of understanding of their readers and compounds the feeling of disappointment of those who have followed their writing for years, and even impacts readers who did like the new book or direction because it shows such lack of understanding or unwillingness to see the why.

    Not to mention the fact that it’s just damned rude of the author to treat her readers like that. As an author myself, I get so incensed when I hear about arrogance like that. GC eloquently pointed out this type of attitude turns readers off not just the author, but off books in general.

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  39. Grace Draven
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 12:37:10

    Wonderful post. Am linking to my blog if you don’t mind. I’d like others who may not visit DA to read this.

    For me, Joanne’s remarks:

    What it also did was remind me that I DON'T have a relationship with any author. They write the books and I can either buy them or not, like them or not but have no chance to take the lead in our dance. I've always liked that and I still do. I don't want to tell the authors where to move but it's only reasonable that I won't always follow either.

    sum it up best.

    As a reader, I reserve the right to accept the dance, decline the dance or halt it in midstep.

    As an author, I absolutely would love for the reader to follow me on every journey and come away with an eagerness to join me on the next one. Realistically, that doesn’t happen with even the most accomplished and famous authors. And that’s okay. It is what it is.

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  40. Janet W
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 13:09:53

    Yes, there is that obvious partnership between author and reader. They write a book, for which we pay and read, which encourages them to write …. more. And so the virtuous cycle continues. And that's all there is to the partnership, folks. Truly. The author spends a goodly chunk of her/his life on a book which will entertain us for a handful of hours. Say, excellent! or, Yuk! as you chuck it across the room, and then move on.

    by Marina …

    And before I forget, one of the clerks at my wonderful local library used to work alongside the author of the Potato Peel book you recommended … I’m going to suggest to our local newspaper that they interview him … a fascinating story of the REAL story behind the fictional account that I know would interest people … the waiting list for the book is into the triple digits!

    About the partnership: no argument there. They write, we read and then decide whether it’s a keeper, a “meh” or a wallbanger — or perhaps somewhere in between. But is your advice for the cyber pages of Dear Author and other review/blog sites? Are you suggesting we recommend books we like, say why but don’t share review and commentary about the opposite? Because seriously, the well-read and clearly-spoken ladies and gentlemen of various sites have both put books on my TBR pile and kept them off. Perhaps I misunderstood? And I’m asking in the context of online commentary about books.

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  41. Willow
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 13:49:11

    Jane,

    Love this discussion! I’m on the fence about the partnership issue. I believe an author should write what they need to write and shouldn’t write according to what a group of fans may want. It’s their story and I can choose to buy their books or not.

    But as a reader who spends a lot of money on books including hardcovers, all I ask is for the author to respect their readers….if they are going to change genres then say so upfront. Maybe I will follow, maybe I won’t but don’t try and sell me a romance that isn’t a romance and hope that I won’t care. I have a lot of respect for Nora Roberts and Karen Marie Moning for the way they handled their different series and genre change.

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  42. Marina
    Feb 11, 2009 @ 23:18:44

    Answering Janet W…

    Hi Janet,

    What can I say, I feel for the kicked puppies of the literary world, the authors who’ve not lived up to a reviewer’s / blogger’s expectations. To put that world of effort into a book and then be forced to stand there while someone take the boots to you and your baby. Owww. I guess this mindset goes along with someone who craves a warm HEA. When I want harsh reality I pick up a newspaper…or go to work.

    I know, I know, you can’t appreciate good without the contrast of bad. Objecting to dull writing or gaping holes in plot logic, mmm, OK, though I think the book’s editor should stand on the receiving line for at least part of that lecture. And if that’s the objection, why did it make it into the reviewer’s pile, or the publisher’s for that matter?

    But to be dismissive because a story line strays from the expected seems harsh to me. Aren’t we paying for unexpected? Perhaps not. Everyone looks for their own stay-away words. ‘Betrayal’ would be mine, but ‘romance falling down a fantasy rat hole’ would suck me in every time.

    So you’re right, Janet. As much as I’m looking for smart, with lashings of good humour, I’m equally grateful for warnings of violence ahead.

    Keep ‘em coming, Authors! We adore you! And the Ja(y)nes, of course, for leading us to the best of the best.

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  43. Amber
    Feb 12, 2009 @ 02:20:02

    I have a few authors who are pretty much on “auto-buy.” That’s pretty serious business, as I’m a poor college student paying my own way through school. Of those authors, three are writing long-running series (Feehan, Kenyon, Moning, and Brockmann), and then there’s Nora Roberts. My only beef with NR is that she is *so* popular that her books are getting constantly revamped and re-issued under new titles and/or with new covers. I have two copies of several books (grrr…I could have spent that money on NEW books, lol). I will pretty much buy anything of hers I see on the new release shelf as long as it has the NR seal on it.

    I’ve definitely had some misteps with all of these fine ladies, but in the end, I think I treat my relationships (such as they are) with authors as I treat my relationships with real friends and family. Sometimes your friends/family will do something you don’t understand or don’t like. But for the most part, it isn’t something that will cause you to never speak to them again. I long ago decided that it would take something drastic for me to just say “forget you” to authors I grew up with. I’ve been reading Brockmann and Roberts for at least ten years (and I’m only 23), so for me to just abandon them because they made a choice I didn’t agree with would be tantamount to me abandoning one of my childhood friends because of something trivial. No one forces me to go out and buy these books; I’m assuming the risk when I walk up to the register and hand over my (much abused) debit card. And sometimes the changes that others don’t like with an author, I find to be refreshing.

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE Suz Brockmann’s SEALS/Troubleshooters series. I’ve read each and every one, most of them several times, and they are among my “fall-back” books when there’s a lag between new releases for my auto-buy list. I like the fact that these books have taken a somewhat darker turn, because it reflects the reality of those who do the work that she’s writing about. I was actually nervous when her first post-9/11 book came out. I was afraid that she would just continue on the trail that she had begun and not take that hard left that the real world had dealt the spec-ops community. It would have rung false with me had her characters still be primarily concerned with ficticious countries and fake terrorists. Sure, they still talk about “Kazbekistan” but we read much more about Afganistan and Iraq. That’s important to me, even though I read romance as an escape, unless it’s paranormal, I expect it to be mostly realistic.

    And I, too was thrown for a loop when Karen Moning’s Fever series came out. I didn’t like them. I didn’t like the POV, I didn’t like the lack of hot sexy highlanders, and I *really* didn’t like that they were being released in hardcover. But it was *these* books that provided the impetus for me to join her website’s message board. And three books in, yes, I still miss my sexy highlanders, but a majority of my time is spent sifting through the books searching for the minutest details that might help me figure something out. I like the Fever series because they give me the same kind of mental workout that I got from Harry Potter. A nice enjoyable book that was a quick read the first time, but on each subsequent reading, I learn something new.

    To follow the dancing metaphor, it’s like practice. Or trust. The more times you do the same dance with the same person, the better it gets. You get to add flair and drama, spins and tosses that you would never do with a new partner.

    So I guess the difference I’m seeing between myself and some of the other posters is this: Some people expect the same exact dance over and over, and that’s great. It’s their right as consumers of a product. But for me, each time I step out on the dance floor with a trusted old friend, I expect the same dance in that I want a cha-cha or merengue, but I don’t want to follow the same old choreography. I expect my partner to take advantage of the trust I give them by leading me into new and uncharted territory…as long as they don’t step on my toes.

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  44. Andrea
    Feb 12, 2009 @ 09:28:08

    Amber I don’t think you ever have to worry about Suz not taking the “hard” left turn LOL!

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  45. The Joys and Heartache (sometimes) of Reading « The Julie James Blog
    May 05, 2009 @ 00:06:37

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  48. What about those cliffhangers?
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