These Novelists Are Not Just Their Most Famous Novels

Many a novelist is known mostly for a particular series. But those authors often have other books in their canons — whether they’re a different series or stand-alone novels. And those other novels can be somewhat similar or quite different from the works that the writers are most famous for.

This thought popped into my brain last week when reading the Rose novel by Martin Cruz Smith. That author is most known for Gorky Park and its seven sequels, but the stand-alone Rose is just as good. It’s set in a 19th-century British coal-mining town rather than the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Union, but RoseΒ stars an investigative character (Jonathan Blair) who reminded me more than a bit of investigator Arkady Renko of the eight books that started with Gorky Park. Blair and Renko are both smart, brave, world-weary, more ethical than most, and liable to get into interesting romantic entanglements. They also smoke or drink too much, are not in great health, and get beat up a lot by the bad guys.

Then there’s of course J.K. Rowling, who wrote the iconic Harry Potter series but also The Casual Vacancy — an adult, non-magical novel that’s almost totally unlike the HP books, even as there are some similarities in terms of complex social interactions, dysfunctional families, tragedy, etc. Plus Rowling has written a detective-fiction series under the alias Robert Galbraith.

Walter Mosley is most famous for his mysteries starring Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins (Devil in a Blue Dress and thirteen others). But he has also written three Fearless Jones mysteries, five Leonid McGill mysteries, science fiction, etc.

L.M. Montgomery is best known for Anne of Green Gables and its many sequels, but she also wrote the semi-autobiographical Emily trilogy, the stand-alone novel The Blue Castle, and more. Very different books, but they tend to star brainy, feisty girls or young women who overcome significant obstacles.

Arthur Conan Doyle is almost synonymous with his Sherlock Holmes novels and stories, but he also penned The Lost World and plenty of other books — partly in an effort to not be typecast as “only” a writer of Sherlockian tales.

Changing things up can keep novelists fresh and interested as they exercise different writing muscles. The same can be said about those authors’ audiences, who have the opportunity to exercise different reading muscles. Of course, some people prefer that their favorite novelists remain predictable and stick with one series.

Then there are authors who write other novels before creating a popular series that they stick with. One example is Sue Grafton; she had two published novels before penning her “Alphabet Mysteries” (A Is for Alibi and 24 others) starring investigator Kinsey Millhone.

Which authors who fit this topic would you like to mention?

My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which covers everything from summer camps to girls’ softball — is here.

58 thoughts on “These Novelists Are Not Just Their Most Famous Novels

  1. Here’s another sorta on-topic entry:

    Winston Churchill, British PM and wartime icon, was, as most of us know, a most confident and able prose writer, whose account of the the history of the Second World War has been formidable and persuasive, perhaps at the sacrifice of accuracy in some instances.

    But he was once, a novelist, who published “Savrola” in 1900.

    Knowing he had written fiction, I was excited to have picked up a novel by Winston Churchill from a street seller some years ago. Imagine my bewilderment to discover there are two Winston Churchills! The other was an American, and i don’t think he was any relation, but the two corresponded and I think, met. It was because of the fact there were two Winston Churchill’s (the American, in the early days the more famous of the two) that led the statesman to suggest he sign his name as Winston S. (Spencer) Churchill, so the public might easily distinguish them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely a man of many talents, that Churchill (the more famous one). It’s relatively rare when a politician is also a great writer — Abraham Lincoln was certainly an excellent wordsmith, as is Obama. JFK not so much — I’ve heard “his” Pulitzer Prize-winning “Profiles in Courage” was mostly ghostwritten.

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      • Ah the advantages of a self-made education! Lincoln and Twain flourished in print, to redirect Onslow Walton’s famous observation, completed surrounded by no college.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Also: Grant, modern scholars conclude, was his own man and wrote his own autobiography– it was not, as many assumed, a work mostly made by his publisher, Mark Twain, though the latter may have been editorially useful.

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        • Interesting to think whether additional formal schooling would have made Lincoln and Twain even more creative, or sapped some of their creativity.

          And it’s great to hear that Grant’s autobiography was his own work. I’ve heard it’s excellent, but have never read it — partly because of its hefty length. Have you?

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  2. My first candidate for the week’s topic, is, as I often manage it, a bit of a stretch, in that Isaac Newton knowingly wrote no fiction. As co-discoverer of calculus , the author of the Principia Mathematica and Optics, he is rightly famed.

    But few know he spent 30 years of his life as England’s Master of the Mint, and in that capacity, prosecuted ‘coiner’s, as counterfeiters of the day were termed– 28 such wretches were brought to trial by Newton. His actions in another mint-related matter led to a silver shortage, the practical outcome of which was the moving of England to a gold standard.

    And few know that, although most of these writings were published after his death, that Newton wrote as much on alchemy and religious matters as he did on scientific subjects.

    But fewer still know, according to wikipedia: “Newton was one of many people who lost heavily when the South Sea Company collapsed. Their most significant trade was slaves, and according to his niece, he lost around Β£20,000.” In today’s money, that sum is a fortune, and not a small one.

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    • Wow, jhNY — Isaac Newton had quite the life in addition to what he’s most known for! I can definitely see the analogy to this week’s blog topic. Thanks for all the fascinating information!

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      • Sometime over the couple of years, i happened on a review of a book which focused on Newton’s years at the mint– otherwise, I doubt I would have known.

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          • A footnote I found fascinating: Young Newton returned home, as did all other attendees and associates, when, out of fear of an outbreak of plague, the University of Cambridge was temporarily closed. There, he continued his studies on his own, and developed the core theories he later employed in the Principia and Optics, as well as his contributions to the development of calculus. These autodidacts just seem to drive themselves…

            Any rate, we may owe more to plague than we knew. Without it, when would humans have worked out the physics thingy?

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  3. Thanks, Dave. I’ve been awake since 5:00 am, so I’ve been amusing myself with thinking about all of my favorites in multiple categories. I figure I can do this now as one- half of 2018 is over.
    Favorite politician — I’m still working on this one but will probably go to Elizabeth Warren.
    Least Favorite Politician — by far, Donald Trump. There were many candidates for this, but he outshines them all.
    Favorite author — Jane Austen
    Favorite literary mystery author– Dorothy L. Sayers
    Favorite multiple mass market mystery paperbacks — Agatha Christie
    Favorite modern author — Liane Moriarty
    Favorite male singer (tie) — David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen
    Favorite musical group — The Beatles
    Favorite female singer/songwriter — (tie) Nanci Griffith and Patti Scialfa)
    Favorite song title — Whiter Shade of Pale
    Favorite song — The Sound of Silence
    Favorite classical composer – Rachmaninoff
    Favorite classical artist — (tie) YoYo Ma (cello) and Joshua Bell (violin)
    Favorite artist — Francisco Goya
    Favorite movie – Star Wars
    Favorite TV show (that I no longer watch) —
    The X-Files)
    P.S. This is a duplicate to what I posted earlier, but may be easier to read!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Ha, Dave! I was going to let my comment stand as it was, not that it was all that important or erudite, but I find it difficult to read vertically rather than horizontally, if that makes any sense! However, I always seem to get in trouble when I start thinking at 5:00 in the morning. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ha, Kat Lib! I hear you. When threads get longer and comments get narrower, they ARE harder to read. I still chuckle when I think about some of the Huffington Post threads in which later comments were one letter per line. πŸ™‚

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  4. Dave, I’ve been going through my email this morning and was very excited to see that Verizon is giving me a refund, that is until I opened it up and read that my refund is for $0.47. I’ve been sitting here pondering how I’m going to spend this whopping sum of money and have decided that I can put it toward the purchase of “The Blue Castle” on my Nook, which costs only $0.99. So I’ll only have to come up with $0.52! πŸ™‚ Or if I can somehow get another refund from somewhere, I can spend $2.52 to get a 12 unabridged book bundle by L.M. Montgomery on Nook. All this high finance is giving me a headache! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • LOL!!! Hilariously stated, Kat Lib! Thanks for giving readers of this blog a great start to their day. πŸ™‚

      If you do read “The Blue Castle,” please let me know what you think of it. I feel it’s a very underrated gem (about living a full, unconventional life).

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          • I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my best friend and housemate, Bill, turned 90 yesterday! We’ve been celebrating since Saturday and again today. He’s truly amazing in his ability to keep doing as much as he can around the house, and no one would ever think of him as being that old. He’s truly amazing (plus he loves the Reacher novels)! πŸ™‚

            Liked by 1 person

              • Thanks, Dave. I’ve been awake since 5:00 am, so I’ve been amusing myself with thinking about all of my favorites in multiple categories. I figure I can do this now as one- half of 2018 is over.
                Favorite politician — I’m still working on this one but will probably go to Elizabeth Warren.
                Least Favorite Politician — by far, Donald Trump. There were many candidates for this, but he outshines them all.
                Favorite author — Jane Austen
                Favorite literary mystery author– Dorothy L. Sayers
                Favorite multiple mass market mystery paperbacks — Agatha Christie
                Favorite modern author — Liane Moriarty
                Favorite male singer (tie) — David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen
                Favorite musical group — The Beatles
                Favorite female singer/songwriter — (tie) Nanci Griffith and Patti Scialfa)
                Favorite song title — Whiter Shade of Pale
                Favorite song — The Sound of Silence
                Favorite classical composer – Rachmaninoff
                Favorite classical artist — (tie) YoYo Ma (cello) and Joshua Bell (violin)
                Favorite artist — Francisco Goya
                Favorite movie – Star Wars
                Favorite TV show (that I no longer watch) —
                The X-Files)

                Liked by 1 person

                • VERY nice list, Kat Lib! (And, yes, half of 2018 is already over — yikes!)

                  Liane Moriarty is also my favorite modern author, at least at the moment. Favorite all-time author might be George Eliot. Favorite politician: Bernie Sanders. Least favorite: Trump, of course, with (as you note) many strong runners-up, such as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Favorite musician or band: The Cranberries, for now. Favorite TV show: the original “Roseanne,” before its star became a racist, far-right Trump supporter. Etc.

                  Thanks for sharing your list!

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  5. That’s a great idea and a very informative post! I gave me a new way to look at these famous writers who are often overshadowed by their own work. Somehow this reminds me of this opinion I had on D.H Lawrence with Lady Chatterley’s lover until I stumbled on The Rainbow to realize that there’s more to him. πŸ™‚

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    • Thank you, iampaylami! I love your phrase “…famous writers who are often overshadowed by their own work.” Sums things up perfectly. Some writers don’t mind that, but many want to be known for having more versatility than they’re often given credit for.

      And, yes, sometimes a lesser-known novel by an author is better than her or his most famous one(s). (I’ve read only one D.H. Lawrence novel — “Sons and Lovers.” Mostly liked it, but not one of my favorite books.)

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      • Very true. I have often liked many lesser known novel by writers who are originally known for their other works. I haven’t yet read “Sons and Lovers”, but I’ll surely try it this time. 😊

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        • I guess what makes a novel an author’s most famous novel is a complex mix of quality, readability, timing (reflecting a particular political or social moment), whether the book inspires a movie, and so on.

          One contemporary example for me is Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which I think is a terrific/chilling novel even as I somewhat prefer several of that author’s other books (“Alias Grace,” “The Robber Bride,” etc.).

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  6. Hmmmm…. I don’t know what it says about me that I can’t think of an example other than the ones mentioned here, and many of those I haven’t even read. Although I have wanted to get around to the Casual Vacancy! I also had no idea L.M. Montgomery wrote other stuff! For shame, back to the library I go! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not a problem, M.B.! None of us knows everything about literature, but you know a LOT about literature — despite the funny self-deprecation at the end of your comment.

      “The Casual Vacancy” and L.M. Montgomery’s “The Blue Castle” are definitely worth reading. “TBC” is about a young woman who’s told she’s terminally ill (or is she?), yet it’s an incredibly upbeat novel in various ways — and VERY funny at times, including a memorable dinner-conversation scene between protagonist Valancy Stirling and her narrow-minded extended family.

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  7. The quite prolific Agatha Christie wrote many of her mystery novels featuring Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, as well as quite a few standalones, all of which I’ve read through the years (sometimes twice) and are sitting on the bottom shelf of a nightstand. She also wrote romance novels under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott, which I don’t remember ever reading, as well as the famous play “The Mousetrap.”

    The great Dorothy L. Sayers is best known for her Lord Peter Wimsey, and also standalones and stories (featuring Montague Egg), which I’ve read, and she did a translation of Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” which I haven’t read.

    I’ve yet to read any of J.K. Rowling novels post Harry Potter, but I know I should!

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    • Thank you, Kat Lib! Agatha Christie — definitely! Very versatile. Creating two iconic detectives (Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple) is quite a feat.

      The great Dorothy L. Sayers was definitely a Renaissance woman. Heck, didn’t she also work in advertising for a while? πŸ™‚

      Overall, the “Harry Potter” books are more worth reading than “The Casual Vacancy,” but “TCV” is quite interesting. (I haven’t tried J.K. Rowling’s detective fiction yet.) I greatly admire her for trying all kinds of things.

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      • Yes, Dorothy L. Sayers did work in advertising for a time, and she wrote “Murder Must Advertise” featuring Lord Peter. It’s one of my favorites not featuring Harriet Vane, because it’s chock-full of ad lines, most of which Wimsey comes up with, and is evidently as brilliant at that as he is at detecting and so much more! πŸ™‚

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        • That’s right — “Murder Must Advertise”! I must read that sometime. Wimsey was a character of many talents (as was Ms. Vane)…

          I actually covered advertising for a magazine for a few years back in my 20s. Hated it, but it was a job.

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          • I’m sure covering the ad business was boring, but at least you didn’t have any murder to solve while doing so! Lord Peter also turned out to be a master cricketer (if that’s the proper term) at Oxford, which if I remember correctly, sort of blew his cover at the ad agency. Also, as the resident Agatha Christie and mystery aficionado : ) I’d just refer you to my comment from this morning. Thanks, Dave!

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            • LOL, Kat Lib! True — no murder when I covered advertising, other than the staff reporters’ good prose periodically “killed” by an exec with no journalism training or ability.

              And — oops — you DID mention that Agatha Christie wrote romance novels under the Mary Westmacott name. Sorry about that. I need more sleep, or maybe some air-conditioning. πŸ™‚

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              • That’s OK, Dave. I think most of us are melting away in this excessive heat, even up here in the Poconos. The guy who did the home inspection here assured us that we didn’t need air conditioning, except for a couple of days. I think we’ve already surpassed that, and it’s only the beginning of July!

                Liked by 1 person

                • Some (small) relief tomorrow, I heard, going from the high 90s to the mid-90s.

                  Where I am in North Jersey is probably a bit hotter than the Poconos usually are, but I miss air-conditioning at most maybe 10 days a summer. Yesterday and today were two of those days. πŸ™‚ Fans do help!

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  8. Really interesting as always. I still haven’t gotten around to reading The Casual Vacancy, but I am looking forward to that, especially after your recommendation.
    I was thinking about Tove Jansson: best known as the artist who created The Moomins, but she also wrote fiction for grown ups (well worth reading) and was an accomplished painter.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for the kind words, Elisabeth!

      “The Casual Vacancy” evokes a lot of mixed feelings. I know people who dislike it, and people who love it. I’m in the latter camp. The novel is partly about politics in a small English town, but J.K. Rowling makes it universal and creates some memorable characters. Little humor but lots of drama.

      And thanks for expanding the conversation with Tove Jansson! There are definitely some excellent authors who toggle between adult fiction and children’s books (or do poetry, nonfiction, etc.), and perhaps also do non-writing creative things. A couple of examples of the latter I can think of offhand: Fannie Flagg (novels/acting) and Jules Verne (novels/politics). Actually, in the case of Verne, I’m not sure being an Amiens, France, town councilor for 15 years was creative. πŸ™‚

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  9. Such a great post! I didn’t realize Doyle wrote other things besides Sherlock Holmes but of course that makes sense. I also love the title β€œThe Blue Castle” and honestly want to read it for that alone haha!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Aubrey! Glad you liked the post!

      “The Blue Castle” is a wonderful novel (in addition to having an evocative title πŸ™‚ ). In some ways, an even better book than the terrific “Anne of Green Gables.” I highly recommend “The Blue Castle” — and it’s only 200 pages or so.

      Liked by 1 person

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