Forgive me for sounding irritable this morning, but sometimes I do something I absolutely shouldn’t do. I Google myself. Any writer who succumbs to the temptation of checking out what others are saying about her books should be warned that what’s out there on the internet ain’t always pretty. After eighteen books and twenty years in this business, I should know better than to go searching for more reasons to drive myself crazy, but what else is a masochist supposed to do in her spare time?
What got me going today was a seemingly innocuous comment by a reviewer that VANISH was just another “slick and readable” thriller. Meaning: it ain’t no work of art. Now, I don’t know when “readable” became a denigrating word, but among the literary crowd, it seems to have become a synonym for “hack work.” (Which I guess means that the opposite of hack work is “unreadable.”) And then there’s that word “slick.” I have a sneaking suspicion that any word that’s commonly used to describe used-car salesmen is not meant as praise.
Okay, I think, calm down. Maybe I’ve had too much caffeine this morning and should let that one go.
Then I come to another reviewer who sniffs that my books are just TOO commercial. Appealing to the masses, it seems, is a black mark against you.
And finally there’s reviewer Patrick Anderson in the Washington Post, who went to great lengths to say how much he hated VANISH. Just hated it. But then he conceded that VANISH would certainly hit the bestseller list because… well, because so many readers will love it. Those stupid people.
Are you hearing the common theme here? Commercial fiction is trash. If a book’s too readable and it sells too well, then there’s something wrong with it. (And, by implication, there’s also something wrong with the idiots who buy it.)
This attitude is certainly not new. The more popular an author becomes, the harder they get whacked by the critics. Everyone adores the undiscovered darling; no one loves Mr. Bestseller who is said to just “phone it in.”
A few years ago, annoyed by the runaway success of Nicholas Sparks and James Waller, a highly praised literary author decided to prove to the world that achieving bestsellerdom was simply a matter of writing a sappy book and promoting the hell out of. A million-dollar book deal was followed by a huge advertising campaign with all the bells and whistles. The result? The book flopped.
The lesson: Writing the bestseller isn’t as easy as everyone thinks it is.
But come on, isn’t it obvious? Here’s the dream: Sit at home and churn out slick, highly readable pages. Get paid a gazillion bucks. See your name and face on a million book covers. Yeah, it’s so easy. It’s just commercial fiction.
Why isn’t everyone doing it?
Why aren’t YOU doing, it, Patrick Anderson?
And finally, to put me back in a good mood: Wanna play a literary “tag” game?
Robert Gregory Browne has lured me into playing along. Here are the rules:
1. Take first five novels from your bookshelf. 2. Book 1 — first sentence. 3. Book 2 — last sentence on page 50. 4. Book 3 — second sentence on page 100. 5. Book 4 — next to the last sentence on page 150. 6. Book 5 — final sentence of the book. 7. Make the five sentences into a paragraph. 8. Feel free to “cheat” to make it a better paragraph. 9. Name your sources. 10.Post to your blog.
Okay, here goes:
“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings. I have an idea of something new we might try. Then meet me in my drawing room. You shall not serve me the bottled urine you call wine. After many bleak days and nights I could feel again, and what I felt was love.”
Sources: 1. FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley 2. BOUDICA: DREAMING THE EAGLE by Manda Scott 3. FACE DOWN BELOW THE BANQUETING HOUSE by Kathy Lynn Emerson 4. GREEN RIDER by Kristen Britain 5. FIRE AND FOG by Dianne Day
(Okay, so it didn’t quite work. But it made for an interesting result.)