For Some Authors, a Change Is Gonna Come

Many writers switch things up to a degree during their careers, but some do pretty radical makeovers. 

One is J.K. Rowling, who became internationally famous with her fabulous seven-book Harry Potter series. But rather than remain completely Potter-focused, the English author pivoted to penning the non-magical novel The Casual Vacancy before moving to crime fiction starting in 2013 under the pen name Robert Galbraith. I’m currently reading 2022’s sixth book in that series starring private investigators Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, and The Ink Black Heart (with its online harassment theme and other major digital elements) is so far as good as its five predecessors. Which I’m grateful for, because the novel is more than 1,000 pages. 😵

(I also mentioned Rowling’s avoidance of being pigeon-holed in a 2021 post that has some similarities to this piece but contains mostly different content.)

Sometimes, a radical makeover involves a writing-format switch. For instance, Scotland’s Sir Walter Scott was a renowned poet during the first part of his career before becoming a prolific novelist (Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, etc.). Roughly 150 years later, Canada’s Margaret Atwood made her own highly successful transition from poetry to novels (The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, etc.).

Flipping that script was Thomas Hardy, a renowned novelist during the first half of his career (Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, etc.) before concentrating on poetry. Heck, the English author lived and wrote for 33 years after the 1895 publication of his final novel: Jude the Obscure.

Nathaniel Hawthorne came out with an amateurish first novel — Fanshawe (1828) — when he was not yet 25, but then focused on short stories over the next two decades. Some of the tales were gems, and Hawthorne enjoyed a modicum of success, but it was the American author’s return to novel-writing with 1850’s The Scarlet Letter that earned him wide fame during his lifetime and beyond.

India’s Arundhati Roy made a stunning novelistic debut in 1997 with The God of Small Things, only to turn to political nonfiction and activism for two decades before finally producing a second novel.

Any writers you’d like to mention who did the major makeover thing?

Speaking of changes, here’s Phil Ochs singing…”Changes”:

And speaking of major makeovers, I was a football fan when I was much younger, but now hate the sport for its health-shattering violence, greedy right-wing billionaire owners, racism, sexism, homophobia, and pseudo-patriotic trappings. So, I’m not watching today’s Stupor…um…Super Bowl. 🙂

My 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 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for every Thursday. The latest piece — about my local council FINALLY voting to initiate the firing of the municipality’s women-harassing township manager — is here.

140 thoughts on “For Some Authors, a Change Is Gonna Come

    • Thank you, Paula! I agree — J.K. Rowling’s adult books are excellent. I also loved her “Harry Potter” series. As for authors’ beliefs, I, like you, usually separate them from their work — with some exceptions. 🙂 Rowling certainly doesn’t use her great fiction for personal polemics.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Elizabeth Bowen, who most know for her short stories today, turned her talent to the topic of her fellow writers, penning a charming and slender volume (48 pages) published in 1942 titled “English Novelists”, for the series Britain in Pictures. The series offered short works on British birds, wildlife, statesmen, clubs, drawings, etc., etc., etc.

    The back cover shows many dozen offerings— among them, Graham Greene contributed “British Dramatists” for the series. George Orwell wrote “The British People”*, Edith Sitwell “English Women”, Cecil Beaton “British Photographers”, David Low “British Cartoonists”.

    All of these luminaries were probably more comfortable doing what they did best, but they all made something for Britain In Pictures. I suspect the impetus for the series is to boost morale and national wartime pride.

    I own the Bowen book, #23 in the series.

    * the asterisk was attached to the Orwell, as ‘not yet published’, but it was– under the title “The English People, #100.

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  2. PG Wodehouse, after college, wrote school sports stories before beginning his career in fiction– but he also, in the early 20th century, wrote lyrics and dialogue for musical theater– among his collaborators was the famous American songwriter Gerome Kern.
    from wikipedia:

    Broadway: 1915–1919

    “A third milestone in Wodehouse’s life came towards the end of 1915: his old songwriting partner Jerome Kern introduced him to the writer Guy Bolton, who became Wodehouse’s closest friend and a regular collaborator. Bolton and Kern had a musical, Very Good Eddie, running at the Princess Theatre in New York. The show was successful, but they thought the song lyrics weak and invited Wodehouse to join them on its successor. This was Miss Springtime (1916), which ran for 227 performances—a good run by the standards of the day. The team produced several more successes, including Leave It to Jane (1917), Oh, Boy! (1917–18) and Oh, Lady! Lady!! (1918), and Wodehouse and Bolton wrote a few more shows with other composers. In these musicals Wodehouse’s lyrics won high praise from critics as well as fellow lyricists such as Ira Gershwin.”

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  3. Ironic isn’t it? I hate the sport for its “woke” political activism. I used to like football when they focused on playing the game. This year’s Superbowl, despite its divisive and separatist “black national anthem”, was actually a good game.

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    • Thank you for the comment, memongo1. I guess the NFL has a small amount of so-called “woke” elements — at least partly because of some pressure from some players. But I still think that, overall, the league ownership is pretty darn conservative. One example being that no team has signed Colin Kaepernick since he kneeled to draw attention to racism, police brutality, etc., even though he’d be better than a number of backup QBs.


  4. Again I’m with the oldies…. what about Rudyard Kipling? He had a career as an assistant editor for a gazette, then wrote poems and short stories, before he began penning juvenile stories and novels.

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  5. HI Dave, another interesting topic. My first thoughts were of the Bronte sisters who initially published poetry and then published their various novels. The person I really want to mention here though, is Geoffrey Chaucer. He wrote a lot of amazing poetry – I am sharing about his poem Parliament of Fowls for my Dark Origins post this month as it was the first poem to link love with Valentine – and he wrote his stories. I am a big Chaucer fan although I have to read a more recent translation, my middle English not being up to scratch.

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    • Thank you, Diana! What you read sounds plausible. By the time Thomas Hardy became a writer, novels were a more prominent literary form than poetry, so perhaps he did at first go with where more of the money was while still not ultimately abandoning his true literary love (poetry). All in all, an unusual career arc!


  6. I’m thinking of poet turned author particularly re: my favorite one and/or Leonard Cohen. Read Beautiful Losers, but I liked his poetry esp. Spice Box of Earth, and his music much more. During that time period, I was also reading Richard Brautigans poety, became delighted with his book Trout Stream Fishing in America. And Terry Southern, Langston Hughes poets/novelists, etc. Robert Pirsig teacher, philosopher, journalist and writer: Zen And The Art of…, Reynolds Price Biblical scholar, poet, wrote the song Copperline along with James Taylor. *sigh* Nice theme Dave. Always liked to play sports more than watch sports. Susi

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susi! I appreciate the various mentions of multi-talented people involved in writing books, music, and more! And I agree that it’s a lot more fun (and healthier) to play sports than to watch sports. Although watching kids play sports — minus the money, minus the intense level of violence, and all that other baggage when pros play — can be fun. 🙂


      • Yes, watching kids play sports is great fun. Have 3 grandsons, one is into wrestling and the other LaCrosse and the third, who is a guitarist, plays heavy metal. Name of his band is the Skincrawlers, ha!

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        • Very talented grandsons you have, Susi! 🙂 Athletes and a musician!

          My teen daughter is an excellent athlete who has most recently been on her high school’s gymnastics and softball teams, and I really enjoy watching her and her teammates compete/play. (Unfortunately, she tore her ACL doing gymnastics last fall, had knee-reconstruction surgery, and probably can’t resume sports until September or so. 😦 )

          Liked by 1 person

          • I’m so sorry to hear that Dave. My daughter wanted to enroll my granddaughter, who is only 6, in gymnastics and I told her absolutely no. When very young children get injuries to bones, it can affect the growth plate. Your daughter, being a teen, will bounce back but tendon and/or bone injuries are tough at any age. Hope she recovers quickly, and takes it slow until she is back to full speed.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thank you, Susi! She is definitely not happy about this injury — and the three two-hour sessions of physical therapy each week since the surgery. But what can you do?

              Very wise advice/decision by you re gymnastics for your grandchild. My wife and I also would rather our daughter have replaced gymnastics with another sport, but it’s something we’ve not been able to convince her of for years. 😦 Maybe this time, after she recovers… Track feels like a good fall/winter substitute. 🙂


    • What is the actual quality of Cohen’s book, though? I can never distil it through the reviews. It says its main obsession/theme is sex. I wonder if this is also to blame for some of the negative reviews. But, regardless, there is no denying he had so much trouble writing and publishing his books, as from some accounts I read anyway.

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      • Diana, All I remember re: Cohen’s Beautiful Losers is jealousy as the main theme and someone falling down an elevator shaft (some images you can’t get out of your head); however, it was 60/70s with sex, drugs and rock and roll being the trifecta of most artistic endeavors in this time period. Seems now there is more fantasy and/or a residual component. Susi

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  7. I have in the meantime found out, Dave, that even Charles Dickens wrote non fiction novels and essays, such as A Childs History of England, All the Year Round and American Notes. I really think this is an interesting aspect which you brought up here and thank you very much:)

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    • Henry James branched out similarly when he wrote “The American Scene” at the turn of the 20th century, which I tried valiantly to read. This was a sort of impressionistic travelogue, though so outlandishly constructed by the sentence as to become more tedious than entertaining for me. A half-page of a sentence which once dissected and digested had more length, clause after clause after qualifying clause, than sense or insight– and then came the next one.

      And I’m a guy who read John Ruskin voluntarily for an entire semester of concentrated study– so the sentence length was no great discouragement. The difference: I found Ruskin uniformly comprehensible.

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  8. Another fun theme, Dave. It’s interesting how some authors write in more than one genre most of their careers. Camus comes to mind: journalism, essays, short stories and plays. I find his fiction too journalistic, so I wonder if that’s a handicap/asset when style bleeds into other genre. Also authors like Louise Erdrich write poetry and fiction, and her fiction is very poetic. Something to ponder…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Mary Jo! Yes, some authors are impressively diverse when it comes to genres and formats. And that’s a GREAT point that there can be some negatives (in addition to the positives) to that if a writer’s style “bleeds into another genre.” Well put! Another example of that is novelists who allegedly include some fiction in their nonfiction — as John Steinbeck was accused of doing in “Travels with Charley.” (Don’t know if that was true or not.)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mary Jo, it seems a lot of writers cross genres with their writing. There are many that write for children and adults or write poetry and prose. Some even do their own illustrations and cover design. I suppose many artistic people have talent in more than one area of creativity.

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  9. Another thought provoking topic! Thank you! My first thoughts turned to Sylvia Plath who was much celebrated for her poetry although wrote the fabulous The Bell Jar although it’s difficult to ascertain if there was a transition as such as I think much of it was published posthumously.
    I think we touched on the transition of celebrities muscling in on literary fame quite recently. Obviously far too many to mention here and they don’t necessarily fit in with the theme🙄
    Tarantino moved from movies to publishing his novel last year which I absolutely loved. Again maybe not quite a good fit for this week.
    Some of the WWI poets such as Sassoon and Graves wrote excellent novels after seeing poetry success. So I might have to leave it there this week. Although I shall enjoy reading the comments!!

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    • Thank you, Sarah! Those are several great examples of people with multiple talents. “The Bell Jar” is quite a memorable work.

      Yes, many a celebrity has tried their hand at a book — in some cases, a children’s book. When it comes to adult fiction, perhaps some of those celebs use ghost writers.

      I guess there have been some entertainers who became truly good novelists — Fannie Flagg and Thomas Tryon are two who come to mind.

      I’m enjoying the comments, too! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • And I meant to add to this it was the anniversary of Plath’s death over the weekend. Not the cheeriest of anniversaries of course but very timely to remember her incredible poetry and writing.
        Fannie Flagg I remember reading many many years ago – Fried Green Tomatoes at the…..something something cafe…I remember it being an excellent read and I recall her name came up before as I think you mentioned she was an actress before going into writing. Is that right? 🤔
        And yes the celebrated (or not so celebrated) ghost writers. It’s quite a curious profession to be involved in I should think!

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        • Not a cheery anniversary indeed, Sarah. 😦

          Yes, former actress Fannie Flagg wrote “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.” Her best novel, but I’ve read all but one of her other novels, and they’re mostly excellent, too.

          And I agree about ghostwriting being a rather curious profession. Admirable and noble in its way to do that amount of work for little recognition. Hopefully they’re paid well when they write for celebrities.

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  10. The writer who immediately comes to mind is Donald Hall, a NH poet laureate who became an essayist toward the end of this life because the poetry was gone. (I’m paraphrasing from his book Essays after Eighty.)

    I have no use to football. The game makes no sense to me, and I don’t understand the national obession with it. Being slammed into so hard that your heart stops isn’t my idea of fun.

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  11. Arthur Conan Doyle crowned his earlier authorial success of Sherlock Holmes with a most gullible interest and promotion of various hoaxes involving spiritualism, photographs of fairies and photographs of ghosts– the latter two transparently obvious double exposures. He also may have involved himself in the faux-archeological discovery of the Piltdown Man.

    Before writing “King Solomon’s Mines” and “She”, H. Ryder Haggard, having spent years in southern Africa in various unofficial governmental positions, wrote a non-fiction treatise on South African politics, which sold, unsurprisingly, less well than the aforementioned novels.

    Raymond Chandler was an oil executive and an aspiring poet first, before the deprivations of the Depression inspired him to hit the pulps and hard-boiled success.

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  12. Your post brought me back decades to English Literature Class 101 and the question “do writers evolve over time.” My professor (an amazing teacher/mentor) suggested that William Shakespeare, at the beginning of his career, wrote in a style that was heavily influenced by the classical authors of the time. But by the end of his career, he had developed a style that was uniquely his own full of wit and humor, embedded with a deep understanding of human nature.

    And here is where I digress, because you prompted a thought about writers who write both fiction and non-fiction. Think of the brilliant Mark Twain, who is best known for his novels, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But he was also a master of non-fiction when he wrote “Life on the Mississippi.”

    My favourite Mark Twain quote:

    “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” Mark Twain

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    • Thank you, Rebecca! Sounds like a GREAT professor, with great insights about Shakespeare. Well remembered and described by you! And, yes, it’s impressive when writers are adept at both fiction and nonfiction — as Mark Twain was. I liked “Life on the Mississippi” a lot, and think his “The Innocents Abroad” is just about the best and funniest travel book I’ve ever read. Terrific Twain quote, too!

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    • Here’s another Twain quote, and my favorite:

      “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

      Liked by 4 people

        • You’re welcome, of course.

          Since you have mentioned Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” here lately, I thought of you as I began Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Celestial Railroad”. A few pages in, Hawthorne’s story appears to depend on a reader’s familiarity with Bunyan’s book, and presents a consideration of modern “improvements” made to principals and settings lately. Perhaps, if you haven’t already, you might be interested to read it.

          Liked by 2 people

    • I like the slant of authors who wrote both fiction and non-fiction, and two additional ones come to mind: C. S. Lewis who was a professor of literature but more famous for his fiction books, and Isaac Asimov who was a professor of biochemistry but more famous for his fabulous scifi books.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Rosaliene! It IS a great crime fiction series — almost as compelling as “Harry Potter” in some ways. And I agree about the violence of football; countless athletes of course get hurt badly while playing, and many have health problems for the rest of their often-shortened lives. 😦

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      • I wonder if she chose the pen name ‘Galbraith’ because the most famous of folk with that surname had the initials JK, John Kenneth Galbraith. “In all life one should comfort the afflicted but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong”– JK Galbraith

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  13. Interesting to see how many novelists of that century began life as poets. The Brontes also did. But also interesting to see novelists who then turned to poetry. Excellent though provoking piece actually as to whether moving into the other genre was something they always intended, or a later conscious decision.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Shehanne! Yes, poetry was perhaps more of a “thing” — and perhaps more prestigious — than novels in the earlier part of the 19th century. And great question as to whether a major change in an author’s career was planned from the beginning or came up later. In the case of Herman Melville, his move to poetry for a number of years might have been desperation after several of his novels tanked with the public.

      Liked by 4 people

    • The Brontes,including brother Branwell, also made fantastic prose fiction in their early years–

      “As teenagers and young adults, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë all wrote stories set in imaginary worlds. Glass Town, their original fictional land, was invented by the four together, though Branwell and Charlotte Brontë were the dominant players. After 1831, Charlotte and Branwell branched out into Angria, an extension of Glass Town, while Emily and Anne invented their own private world of Gondal.”

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  14. I certainly admire authors who are able to successfully switch their modes of writing or begin a new series! One of those authors is Elly Griffiths (Domenica de Rosa). I’ve tried each of her adult mystery series and also a few of her non-mystery books under her real name, de Rosa. But my favorite books are the Ruth Galloway titles, and I eagerly await a new one most years. Unfortunately, I just read that the newest, the 15th, will be the last one in this series!!! I’m really sad about this and almost (not quite:) wish her other books weren’t quite so successful, evidently urging her to move on.

    Liked by 5 people

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