When Lorrie Moore released Bark: Stories (Knopf) in February of this year, it was with much ballyhoo. After all, 15 years had passed since her last collection of short stories—Birds of America, which garnered wide praise for its insight and humor, and was named a New York Times bestseller. If anyone expected Moore to miss a step after a long hiatus, that misguided reader was surely disappointed.
It’s not uncommon for authors to go years between book releases. The creative process may account for some delay, and then there’s the business of selling a book: copyediting, jacket design, the sale of foreign rights, and the slow drumbeat of social media. That said, certain writers take more time than others. Here’s a brief list of the slow, but impressive, company Moore keeps and the wait their readers have been asked to endure.
As the author of A Game of Thrones (the first novel in A Song of Fire and Ice, a fantasy series that’s gained notoriety after being developed for television by HBO), Martin has earned the forbearance of his fans; after all, his novels often clock in at 600+ pages, rewarding a long-suffering reader for her patience. But as his work has attracted a wider following, so too has his output slowed. A Game of Thrones was released in 1996, followed by A Clash of Kings in 1998. It was another two years before A Storm of Swords was released in 2000, after which five years passed. A Feast for Crows appeared in 2005, and A Dance with Dragons limped across the finish line in 2011. The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, the fifth and sixth books in the series, are expected sometime between next year and infinity.
As the author of three novels, one might expect Tartt’s career to be considerably shorter than two decades; however, a 10-year lull between publication dates (The Secret History, in 1992; The Little Friend, in 2002; and The Goldfinch, in 2013) all but ensures her longevity. Rather than alienate her audience, Tartt’s periodic absences have had the opposite effect—and she’s certainly made good use of her time. To wit, The Goldfinch won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. You can mark your calendars now: Tartt’s next novel, due in approximately 2023, will no doubt win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Equally respected for his graphic novels and movie adaptations, Nail Gaiman has a curious habit when it comes to his fiction. Never content with a final draft, he has frequently revised, reworked, and reconceived his own material. Neverwhere was first released in the UK in 1996, followed by two more versions—one intended for an American audience that might not be familiar with the London Underground, and another to satisfy Gaiman’s own misgivings. American Gods was released in 2001, followed by an “author’s preferred text” in 2011, which was 12,000 words longer. And while he’s already revisited these characters in Anansi Boys, an actual sequel to American Gods is in the works.
Here we have the opposite effect: Joyce Carol Oates is the author of approximately 140 books—or, as Dwight Garner of the New York Times has pointed out, roughly two a year from the time that she was born. Since you’ve been reading this article, she’s written another two books; actually, make that three. Whereas some authors can be faulted for being overly fastidious, Oates seems to have the opposite problem: as a result of her prodigious output, her work can be repetitive and self-referential. You can read all about it in her latest novel from five seconds ago, tentatively titled The Thought I Interrupted Just Now to Deliver This Tangent.