What Defines Literary Crack?

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

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30 Responses to “What Defines Literary Crack?”

  1. Chris says:

    I’m not sure I can define it, but I can definitely tell when I’m reading it! I was late for work this morning (after being up too late last night) because I couldn’t put Carolyn Jewel’s My Forbidden Desire down…

  2. Lea/AAR says:

    JR Ward’s series is the only one I can think that truly fits into this category for me. I agree that Brockmann belongs in the crack category as well but, amazing as it seems now, I sporadically read five of Troubleshooters series out of order and as stand-alones (well, with the exception of Sam and Alyssa – I was truly vested in their story). Series nature aside, they were great reads and received an A or B grade from me.

    I can’t give up on Ward’s series although I was very aggravated with the whole ghost thing in Lover Unbound and the lack of a real story for Phury in Lover Enshrined. But I still find myself completely immersed in every book I read of this series and suffering from withdrawal when I am done. I thought I would wait on Lover Avenged a while (Ward’s turn to urban fantasy from romance really bothered me) but the thought of Rehv’s romance as well as hearing about a strong secondary story involving Wrath made the pull too strong for me to resist. Although it was not a personal DIK (the first four books were) I enjoyed it more than the 5th and 6th entries in the series. Even going the urban fantasy route, I am still totally hooked.

    I can think of no other book series that strongly builds on character development. I am usually bothered by token appearances of former leads or obvious introductions of future leads. However, one three book series that I thought worked to some degree was Julia London’s contemporary Lear Family Trilogy: Material Girl, Beauty Queen, and Miss Fortune. This was mostly provided by the domineering father whose story ran the entire series in more than a token manner.

  3. CindyS says:

    I think you nailed it.

    It’s waiting for that special H/H story that will keep you coming back. Like your friend, Max and Gina was a horrid break for me. I haven’t read another Brockmann since BUT I own them all and already plan to read them soon. I just realized that the wait for me can be too much. I build up my expectations and then get myself in a lose, lose situation. So I decided to wait until Jules got a HEA and boy, there are a few books before that!

    I’ve also decided Butch and V’s book is still coming. I fell for Butch so hard in the first Brotherhood book and I was ready for him and Marissa to get their story. Then V and Butch started hanging out and uh, I don’t care what anyone says, those two have sparks.

    So I agree that it’s the glimpse of what can be. My current mad crush is on Nalini Singh’s Hawke and Sienna and yes, they have been interesting to me since her first book and Sienna was too young then.

    Other crack, Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series had a hold on me that was hard to uh, crack. I saw readers every where commenting on how they no longer read her (after book 6!?) while I was still buying her in hardcover. I finally stopped after the original 3 characters I had cared about had closure. Then I stopped (book 14?) I confess I’m not sure if it’s a permanent closure for me or not.

    Janet Evanovich’s series was also crack but it was the hook of both the funny and the question of who would end up with the heroine. Since finding out that the author has no intention of having the heroine pick a permanent hero I’ve been able to stop buying in hardcover.

    Then there is author crack. The author that can write something that gets you every time. The author can write the most horrid book you’ve ever read but you’ll crawl through broken glass just to get to her next book. Just as long as there is the potential for that author to write you another keeper you’ll keep coming back. But that’s another type of crack all together ;)

    Cindys

  4. Diana says:

    Diana Gabaldon for sure. My addiction began one summer when I spent every available moment reading the first four books in her Outlander saga.

    I’m addicted to Linda Howard’s voice so I’m on board with whatever story she wants to tell. I swore I wasn’t interested in the mohawked (still have trouble with that), drug dealer Rehv but I stayed up all night reading it.

    There’s a fine line between sequel baiting and teasing a reader just enough that she’ll come back because she “must.” Almost indefinable.

  5. Lynn Spencer says:

    For me, it has to be Julia Spencer-Fleming. I bought every single last one of her books, read them at all kinds of strange hours of the night, the whole nine yards. And the reason was that not only did I buy into her world but I just HAD to see how her characters were going to handle the issues they faced. They really do develop as people across the arc of the series and their relationship develops as well. Emotionally powerful and moderately addictive stuff. The next book is coming out in hardcover this fall and I’m hitting Borders on release day.

    My other major book crack was the Gardella Vampires. I was assigned the first one for review and then got completely hooked after that.

    @CindyS – I’m with you on the Stephanie Plum books. I used to read them, but after a while it became clear that there wasn’t really a relationship advancing so the addiction factor lessened for me.

  6. Jennifer Ohman says:

    I agree with all of the “crack” listers so far. I just finished the Gardella series, and I was so worried about whether there would be another installment (Sebastian’s story) that I emailed Colleen Gleason to ask. She was sweet enough to respond. Charlaine Harris’s Sookie books are the best crack series to me because none of them ever let me down. I also loved the “Slightly” series by Mary Balogh. Patricia Briggs’s Mercy series is great as well. Brockmann is always a keeper! As far as other authors that I always buy: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Loretta Chase, Julia Quinn, Laura Lee Guhrke, and one of my very favorites–Lisa Kleypas.

  7. Ellen AAR says:

    For me, it’s Michael Connelly’s books featuring LA police detective Heironymous (Harry) Bosch. Harry has been around the block more than just a few times. He’s a good detective, but he does not suffer incompetent brass well and has clashed with his superiors a number of times. He’s fallen in love with and married a disgraced FBI agent who is a professional gambler, and after their divorce found out she had had his child. He even quit the force for a time and worked as a PI, but he came back and is still out there trying to solve open cases. Harry’s motto is one that resonates with me: “Everyone counts, or no one counts”.

    He has a new book out this fall. I will buy it in hard cover. And Mr. Connelly, if you ever even THINK of killing Harry, the mushroom cloud you will see in the southeast is my head exploding in fury.

  8. Dee says:

    I guess I am one of the few who has had the permanent break from Ward. Not because of V’s special habits, but because of the ghost thing and the fact that even in that book and Butch’s before it, the main focus wasn’t the main couple. From what I heard, it was even worse in Phury’s and his was the one I was waiting for.

    As far as my crack authors, I do enjoy the Troubleshooters series. I think my problem with Max and Gina’s HEA was Gina’s portrayal in her book. I love Robin and Jules and love whenever they are books after their main story.

    For me, Kresley Cole, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Patricia Briggs, Alexandra Ivy, Lara Adrian, Alyssa Day and Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld series are all crack to me. I can’t wait to get my hands on the books and devour them. [And have always reread them when I needed a fix.]

  9. sayoko says:

    Literary crack is something that you like *despite* objectively knowing that it sucks. It can’t be just any auto-buy author.
    It’s a guilty pleasure, only more addictive (for the reader) and much more profitable (for the author, publisher and such).

    JR Ward or Stephenie Meyer are precisely literary crack because their literary quality is very low and their stories & characters are cheesy, to say the least.
    I’ve tried some of their novels, and *luckily* I didn’t get addicted, but I could definitely see what their appeal was, and how successful they were going to be.

  10. Dee says:

    Using sayoko’s definition then, the Merry Gentry series by LKH is my literary crack. I don’t think it sucks, but I definitely suspend reality while reading it.

  11. jebe says:

    sayoko: Literary crack is something that you like *despite* objectively knowing that it sucks. It can’t be just any auto-buy author. It’s a guilty pleasure, only more addictive (for the reader) and much more profitable (for the author, publisher and such).

    I really like this definition and think it fits perfectly. I’m ready to enter a 12-Step program for Moning’s Fever series, which I only recently came across b/c of Heather’s recent blog. I think that makes Heather a pusher…;) The Fever series is almost exactly as sayoko describes. I wouldn’t say it sucks, but it’s got major flaws. There are some events that’ve happened in the series that having me really shaking my head at the campiness of it, but I can’t stop! With a lot of addictive series, I’ve found myself looking back and wondering “what was I thinking?”

    Although, I had a real crack problem w/the Harry Potter series and I don’t think that series sucked, but there have to be exceptions, right?

    Then there is author crack. The author that can write something that gets you every time. The author can write the most horrid book you’ve ever read but you’ll crawl through broken glass just to get to her next book. Just as long as there is the potential for that author to write you another keeper you’ll keep coming back. But that’s another type of crack all together .Cindys

    CindyS makes an excellent distinction! The difference with the series addiction is that, as a reader, you have specific questions when you’re jonesing for the latest release. What happened after that whole big thing went down? Do X and Y get together? Is so-and-so still alive? Where is the thingy from the big thing that happened?
    But w/the author addiction, it’s exactly as CindyS said, it’s just an apprehension for that specific author to come through for you w/a good fix of whatever they have to offer.

  12. Lynn M says:

    Guess I don’t have anything much to add since I really agree with what everyone else has posted. I define my own personal crack as Ward’s BDB series, because after Zsadist’s books, I haven’t “loved” a single one yet (don’t even get me started on the V/Butch romance-interruptus or the ghost solution). Even so, I’m waiting outside the bookstore on release dates for the second I can dart in and snatch up the next installment. While I’m reading it, I’m on a complete reading-high, but afterward, the withdrawal is brutal.

    And I’m a big fan of the romance that spans more than one book, a la Brockmann’s signature couples. One issue I often have with romance novels is how quickly a couple meets, overcomes all obstacles, falls madly in love and heads into their HEA, usually over the course of a long weekend. I truly like when I follow a couple through realistic ups and downs. What makes it crack is that you cannot.stop.reading if you want to find out how it all ends. You do become hopelessly addicted. There is something evil about writers who pull this off successfully. :-)

  13. Victoria S says:

    I’ve got author crack addictions. I am wholly invested in Robert Parker’s “Spenser” books, and some of them have been just awful. I have Stephanie Laurens disease also. I know some of the Cynsters were not so good and some of the plot lines are the same. Don’t care. Gotta have ‘em anyway . I had LKH Disease, but Anita and the “ardeur” finally cured me of that, and not only was LKH cured from my brain but I gave away all her books so I wouldn’t be tempted to catch it again. And I don’t care if Stephanie Plum never picks either Joe or Ranger, I am hooked trying to see what Steph does to a car or one of Rangers’ men. I am so totally addicted to Eve and Roarke and all the other characters in the “In Death” series. And I know the Krentz/Quick “Arcane” books are spotty, but I just love ‘em anyway. I am willing to bet that even if the current one is a clunker, the next one is gonna be just great! CindyS is so right. We know from past experience with favorite authors, that our next DIK is just around the corner, and I for one don’t intend to miss out.

  14. xina says:

    I’m always looking forward to the next Pamela Clare historical. They are so few and far between now, but when I know one is coming in the near future, I mark my mental calendar. At the moment, my crack is the Sookie books. I am pretty well hooked on them and have my daughter’s best friend hooked as well. She’s breathing down my neck for me to finish a book, so I can pass it on. I thought the DVD’s of Trueblood would put her off some, but she whipped through those. It feels good to be hooked to a series again, because it’s been a couple of years for me since I’ve had this urge to read the next book, and the next. There is an advantage to coming to a series late. So many books available and none of the waiting. The last series I felt so strongly about was The Bronze Horseman, and that was only 3 books, but the waiting…the waiting was tough.
    As for Brockmann, I used to be a fan, but somewhere along the line, I lost interest and never went back. I don’t know why.

  15. willaful says:

    I guess by the guilty pleasure definition my crack is Diana Palmer, but I don’t actually think I agree with it. Most people’s “crack” is not guilty pleasures to them, even if others consider it poor quality. They genuinely enjoy it and find it wonderful.

  16. AAR Sandy says:

    I do agree on the guilty pleasure aspect. That’s part of the crack phenom. (And, VictoriaS, I am so with you on the ardeur thing. LKH ardeur-d me right the hell out of there.)

    Sounds like one thing is universal: We all know our own personal crack when we find it.

  17. Ida says:

    I just got into Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series and I got lucky that I was able to borrow them all from a friend because I went through all the books in about a week and a half! I very rarely buy books in hardback, just because I read so much, but in supporting my book crack addiction, I have had to buy JR Ward’s Lover Avenged, and will probably buy KM Moning newest Fever book next month. Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Darkhunter books used to be so great but when she started going in the Dreamhunter world I think the story quality went down. I had such high hopes for Acheron’s book and while it was definitely better than some other authors, it was kinda ….meh to me.

    I used to be a strictly romance reader but after reading KM Moning’s fever series and Sookie’s books, I have started branching out some. I read Patricia Briggs Mercy series and those are great, and have started reading Kim Harrison.

    Also I can’t help but add a shout out to Harry Potter (I know, I know, not romance, more of a teen read) the ultimate book crack. By the time the 7th book came, I was literally salivating to find out how it would end.

  18. Susan/DC says:

    sayoko: Literary crack is something that you like *despite* objectively knowing that it sucks. It can’t be just any auto-buy author.It’s a guilty pleasure, only more addictive (for the reader) and much more profitable (for the author, publisher and such). JR Ward or Stephenie Meyer are precisely literary crack because their literary quality is very low and their stories & characters are cheesy, to say the least.I’ve tried some of their novels, and *luckily* I didn’t get addicted, but I could definitely see what their appeal was, and how successful they were going to be.

    Totally agree with this definition of literary crack — it’s not the good authors one is addicted to but the ones who have you asking yourself why you bother. For me (like others) the authors who fall into this category are LKH and Stephenie Meyer. They are both powerful storytellers, and when I’m in the middle of their books I’m swept along. However, when I think about the plots and the characters later, the whole structure falls apart and I keep thinking about how whiny Bella is or how LKH’s authorial hand is so obvious in making her ex-husband stand-in (Richard) into a total wuss. I stopped reading the Anita Blake books around the time Anita started shtupping anything on two (and sometimes four) legs, and I never did read the last of the Twilight series. But while I was high on the books I’d read them in one gulp, resenting all interruptions.

  19. Mary Skelton says:

    Harry Potter for sure. We went to all of the midnight releases, dressed up (I was McGonnegal), visited the various fan sites on a regular basis, bought advanced tickets for all of the movies so we could see them at midnight AND decorate(d) my house with a Harry Potter theme each Halloween! I put the Fat Lady on my front door, had dementors floating in the air and a complete cemetery with funny HP epitaphs. After the 7th book, everyone in my house went through withdrawal.

    I would also put Robert Jordan (I hope his last book is published) and George R. R. Martin on my series crack list. Hannah Howell is also crack for me as many of her books are silly, but I still buy them. As for crack authors…Diana Gabaldon, Loretta Chase, Linda Howard, Stephen King, John Grisham, Lisa Kleypas, Julie Garwood and Judith McNaught. I am sure there are more, I just cannot think of them right now .

  20. Carol says:

    I can totally relate, right now I’m in love with Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series…I’m dying for Hawke’s story! I really hope it lives up to expectations and does not disappoint a la Brockmann Sophia and Decker and Ward’s story of Phury…poor Phury.

  21. Janet W says:

    Oh my my my, count me in. Not for Ward. Somewhere/somehow she turned laughable for me. Just not intriguing. Brockmann, I’ll be reading her come what may (altho I won’t be paying for it!). But Balogh, any Balogh, I gotta read it. JD Robb: you bet. And my most guilty pleasure: Laurens! I don’t buy her but I have to read her. Why, I’m just not sure but I hafta :D

  22. RobinB says:

    Using the definition of “literary crack” as it’s been given here, I would say my crack is Shannon McKenna’s series featuring the McCloud brothers. The heroes give new meaning to the term “alpha males” and they aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy, but as each book came out, I eagerly bought and read it!
    My former crack was Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I still buy the books, but after I fell asleep five nights in a row during the first chapter of “The Fiery Cross”–well, my enthusiasm dwindled dramatically!

  23. vivi says:

    Nalini Singh is my new crack habit. So much so, that I visit her website and blog daily. 2011 cannot come fast enough for me for Hawke’s story.

    Sherrilyn Kenyon is also still on my list. I am eager for Bad Moon Rising to come out next Tuesday, only becasue I need to see how Ash is doing after his HEA.

  24. kmredd says:

    Sandy; I just love the way you write Baby!

  25. AAR Sandy says:

    Thanks, kmredd! You made my morning.

  26. AAR Heather says:

    jebe: I’m ready to enter a 12-Step program for Moning’s Fever series, which I only recently came across b/c of Heather’s recent blog. I think that makes Heather a pusher…;)

    HeHe…I’m a literary crack pusher. Why do I like that?

  27. jebe says:

    AAR Heather: HeHe…I’m a literary crack pusher. Why do I like that?

    And quite an effective pusher, too! Since your blog, I’ve read all three Fever books and now I can’t wait for August release of the 4th!

  28. Bessie says:

    For me, there are single books that have been so addictive that I have obsessively read them over and over and over during the course of a few weeks. If I picked one up today, I would be caught again. The most addictive for me were WINDFLOWER by Laura London, DEARLY BELOVED by Mary Jo Putney, CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK by Elizabeth Peters.

    I’m obsessed right now (since December) with the In Death series. I’m up to CREATION IN DEATH and I’m sure that when I finish, I will start from the beginning again.

  29. Laurie says:

    CindyS was right on point about “author crack”. I haven’t read many of the series listed above, but certain authors could basically rewrite the phone book and I would still read it. And as Bessie points out, there are also single books that I have read over and over again and keep on reading them months later. Stephanie Laurens did it for me with the Cynster/Bastion Club series. Even though the books kept getting worse and worse, I just kept on buying them. Her latest is waiting anxiously on my Kindle. And I have always loved Elizabeth Lowell’s “Only” series. Have read them so many times. But Lisa Kleypas is hands down my favorite “crack”. I am helpless and will buy and read anything she writes. Her last book – Smooth Talking Stranger – wasn’t immediately available for Kindle and I was so anxious that I went out and bought it the first day it came out. And I almost never buy anything in hardback.

  30. Lana says says:

    My latest literary crack is Monica McCarty’s books. I love that she developed her stories around actual historical events and people. Her books are full of adventure, political intrigue, passion, and did I mention Highland warriors. I’m also hooked on Jacquelyn Frank’s Nightwalkers and Shadowdwellers series. Read her books; you won’t be disappointed. Another series that I greatly enjoyed is the Knight series by Gaelen Foley.