“Potboiler” is used in publishing to describe a book written merely to keep a writer going. Full-time authors are comparatively rare, and many occasionally resort to churning out books simply to generate income. I have no doubt that most of them start out as most artists do—creative, and looking for a career that allows them to be so. If you want to earn money, to keep your pot boiling, you need to follow the formula. Those are my thoughts on having finished the last book for this year’s Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading Challenge. One of the categories was three books by the same author and I had three unread Dark Shadows books by Marilyn Ross. Barnabas, Quentin and the Frightened Bride, number 22 in the series, was clearly a potboiler.
As I’ve confessed before, these books are guilty pleasure reads for me. My literary tastes have changed over the years, however, and such journeyman writing sometimes betrays itself. Even if a book has vampires and werewolves. Dark Shadows was a melodramatic soap opera of my youth. Still, it was moody and gothic—something these books manage to convey, even if the stories don’t live up to their promise. Some of the plot elements in this particular installment don’t even line up, and having read Jane Eyre I’d guessed the ending shortly after the beginning. I often wonder how the book series might have turned out with a truly literary attempt to tell the story. Writing takes time. Good writing takes a lot of time. But even writers have to eat.
I’m not a Dark Shadows connoisseur. I haven’t bought the original television series on DVD and I haven’t watched it since I was about ten. Early memories, however, are formative. With a remarriage, a death in the family, and a move, childhood got swept away rather swiftly, and along with it, watching Dark Shadows. The series ended in 1971 after over 1200 episodes had been filmed. Ross’ serialization began during the six-year run of the series, and, I suspect, he had to keep up a hectic pace. Books 13 through 24 were all published in 1970, a rate of over a book a month. I’ve suggested before that academics ought to take pop culture seriously. Even before this era of fandom becoming mainstream, Dark Shadows spun off a small media empire and it continues to retain public interest. The daily show struggled, despite being partially modeled on Jane Eyre, until the supernatural was introduced. Although the Ross novels may not always show it, the hunger remains for supernatural explanations.