I know good writing when I see it, but I don’t always want to read it. Good heavens, you have to work so hard at it. Faulkner could just drive me crazy he was so hard to read, yet I could see it was great stuff. Hemingway was easier but still no piece of cake. I recognized how carefully he chose his words, little words, to be sure, but still within sentences built like a New England stone wall, each stone handled and pondered over until just the right shape was found to fit just the right hole. Faulkner’s sentences were like strings of Christmas lights first taken from the box before treeing, all tangled and with some bulbs missing, two or three strings plugged together in a frustrating maze. Who needs to work that hard at reading? Every now and then, I do.
I hate careless writing, stuff that comes too easily, to the writer as well as the reader. Some writers become too satisfied with commercial success and give up the labor. I can spot it in a minute. James Patterson wrote very well in his first three books; then he went stinky in Cat and Mouse and the many many after that. Patricia Cornwell, in her series about Dr. Kay Scarpetta, wrote well to begin with. Then, monumental book sales, and she went south. One writer who just kept getting better with each book, and there are plenty, was Ed McBain, aka Evan Hunter. McBain, in his series on the 87th Precinct, improved stylistically in every new novel. He was a fast writer, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to grind out so many. But unlike other prolific novelists, like Louis Lamour and Lawrence Sanders, or Nora Roberts, who just published her 200th novel, he wasn’t satisfied with just another book in a long string of books. He wanted his style to get better. And it did, book after book after book.