Yesterday, I had the pleasure of doing a guest post over at According to Hoyt. Like a number of authors and readers across the internet, I wrote about a HuffPo post by Lynn Shepherd. What sent so many of us to our keyboards after reading Shepherd’s piece was her contention that J. K. Rowling should stop writing if she loves writing. You see, according to Shepherd, Rowling has had her day in the sun. She’s seen success and has made buckets of money. Now it’s time for her to step aside so others can have their turn.
I’m not going to rehash my post from yesterday, at least not too much. However, the idea that anyone should step aside because they’ve had their turn in a profession and now they need to let someone else have theirs boggles my mind. My question to Shepherd is who she thinks stepped aside for Rowling? And why does she limit her ire — and envy — to just Rowling? Shouldn’t King and Patterson and Roberts and Correia and Weber all step aside? Does her thinking extend to music and movies?
As I read the post initially, I was reminded of Balph Eubank from Atlas Shrugged. Poor Balph was a literary dahling. The problem was that although all the “right people” loved him, the average reader didn’t. His books were printed by those sitting in their ivory towers in New York but sat on the shelves of the bookstores gathering dust. According to Balph, “plot is a primitive vulgarity in literature.”
Hmm, sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
If that doesn’t, how about this:
The literature of the past … was a shallow fraud. It whitewashed life in order to please the money tycoons whom it served. Morality, free will, achievement, happy endings, and man as some sort of heroic being — all that stuff is laughable to us. Our age has given depth to literature for the first time, by exposing the real essence of life. … Defeat and suffering. … [Happiness] is a delusion of those whose emotions are superficial.
I’m sorry but, as a reader, I want to escape into a book. I want to have a plot that is fun and exciting. I want characters I can cheer for — and boo against. I don’t want cardboard cutouts. Nor do I want to be perpetually depressed by my reading material. If that makes me shallow or a fraud, so be it.
Seriously, though, it is that sort of snobbish thinking that helped make up summer reading lists for students over the last twenty years. Summer when kids want to relax and have fun. Summer when the last thing that want to think about is school. Yet here they have a list of books they have to read. Books that are “socially relevant” and “issue driven/oriented” that deal with drug abuse, mental illness, sexual abuse and nary a one hero to be found. Books that make villains out of boys and out of businessmen. Books that don’t celebrate, much less encourage, creativity or drive.
And then those who draw up these lists bewail the fact that our kids don’t read.
So, when a writer like Rowling comes along and gives us not one but a number of books that have not only our kids reading but adults as well, what happens? They become vilified because, gasp, they were successful. How dare they actually attain the goals they’d worked for!
There should be a law limiting the sale of any book to ten thousand copies. This would throw the literary market open to new talent, fresh ideas and non-commercial writing. If people were forbidden to buy a million copies of the same piece of trash, they would be forced to buy better books. … Only those whose motive is not money-making should be allowed to write. … Ten thousand readers is enough for any book.
Yep, another Balph quote but, when looking at what Shepherd had to say, is it really that she was whining about? She wants to limit who can write what and when. Once an author reaches a certain level of monetary gain — note, I don’t say fame because I have a feeling she’d love any fame she could get — they should step aside and let someone else have their turn. But what makes the last quote so apropos of the article is “This would throw the literary market open to new talent, fresh ideas and non-commercial writing.” Non-commercial writing. In other words, not necessarily literary novels but also “message” novels. Novels that beat the reader over the head with whatever the author’s message is — usually as dictated by the few, the loud and the entitled — and that aren’t spoiled by something as crass as a plot.
Still, all is not lost. Shepherd not only outed herself as a pretentious literary wanna-be (sorry, writing what is nothing more than fan fiction and trying to put a literary spin on it doesn’t qualify as literary in my book) but she also outed herself as one who doesn’t do her research. She admits right off the bat that she never read any of the Potter books nor had she seen any of the movies. So, without knowing anything about how well they might be written (and yes, I do feel the later books were over-bloated), she condemns the fact they were being read — gasp — by adults. How dare adults read books not written for the adult market.
The response to Shepherd’s comments was swift and overwhelmingly condemning. Not that it gave her or a few of her supporters even a moment of pause. No, supporters claimed those condemning her comments were just disgruntled Potter fans. There were even comments on Twitter about how Rowling should be supporting not only bookstores but also the publishing industry as a whole with her money. Gee, I thought she had by simply writing books that helped keep publishers make a butt-load of money and sold a ton of books in bricks and mortar bookstores. But I guess that’s not enough. I guess she is supposed to give away her money to support the publishers so they can publish the literary dahlings that no one wants to read.
There is one response to Shepherd’s post that does bother me. Some of those most upset with what she had to say have gone to Amazon to leave one star reviews on her books without having read them. While I understand the sentiment driving these reviewers, they are still reviewing the author and not the work. I’d rather see them use the preview function and review the sample, noting that after reviewing the sample — and giving specifics — and after reading the article, they won’t be buying the book. Not only to they note why they are upset with her but they are also warning potential buyers that there is also something beyond the personal behind the review.
I dream of one day making the sort of money Rowling has as an author. But I know she didn’t just walk into a publisher’s office and get a contract right away. She was turned down time and again before finally being signed with a rather small publisher in England. Scholastic picked her up here — probably the wisest decision it had done in years. She paid her dues and no one, especially not someone with a serious case of literary sour grapes, has the right to tell her what she can or can’t write.
Despite her protestations to the contrary, Shepherd’s article is all about sour grapes. That is clear from the title of the piece. It is clear when, at the start of the second paragraph, she writes, “I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about.”
[D]idn’t much mind.
So she did mind, whether she wants to admit it or not. She minded that Rowling was writing something with a plot that people, young and old, wanted to read. She minded that Rowling was making buckets of money off of it. She minded that it wasn’t literary. Most of all, I think, she minded that she wasn’t the one who wrote it and made all the money.
Me, I’m glad Rowling wrote the books. Just as I’m glad Meyer wrote her books even if I didn’t particularly like Twilight. But they, and others, have gotten a generation reading again and have shown that not every book has to be a “message” book. So, for Shepherd and others like her, get over yourselves and sit your butts down and write. Write something that isn’t a rehash of books more than a hundred years old. Work on your craft and, for the love of Pete, think about what you just wrote and listen to your friend when they tell you not to hit that “enter” button. They might actually have your best interests at heart.
Most of all, keep repeating to yourself that you are not entitled to anything. You are not entitled to getting ahead by forcing someone else to stop doing what they enjoy and are good at. You are not entitled to tell the public what they can or can’t read. You are most certainly not entitled to usurp another’s position just because they’ve paid their dues and you haven’t.
Grow up. Get over yourself. Get to work.