Balph Eubank Lives

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.



  1. I wonder who would be in charge of deciding which new writers get a chance? It should be people who are experts in fresh, non-commercial writing, perhaps even a government commission staffed by these experts. I wonder where we would find people with such a refined education …

      1. I think you mean “selected volunteers and board members” — selected by all the right thinking folks who won’t be worried with things like saleability, etc.

    1. I assume if you ask Ms, Shepherd, she’d offer to head up the committee. After all, she’s so qualified and wouldn’t let any of that icky plot stuff get in the way.

    2. All the right people. That, of course, would be determined by the right people in the right places. Then folks like Lynn, would get their bits published because the “others”, determined by the right people, would have had their time.

      1. And the folks like us would never get shelf space because we aren’t relevant or literary enough and because — gasp — we like plots where the characters actually do something.

  2. Books that make villains out of boys and out of businessmen.

    Any decent person the kid may know. Your have religious family? They’re probably evil– especially if they’re the kind that volunteer to go to other countries, on their own dime, to volunteer. Your uncle a basic cop, nothing “cool” and not an activist? Probably evil, or at least in service of it.

    ANYBODY who is dedicated to something and not trying to remake it to be more (buzzword)? Evil. Worse yet, if it’s a fantasy novel and there is someone that is trying to remake things, in a practical way suited to the setting, they’re at best “mistaken” or something. Your fantasy progressives must align with what the modern progressive would be doing. Even if it makes zero sense for a magicless world to have 98 pound swordswomen fighting eight foot tall brutes.

    1. Oh yes. And let’s not forget these are the same folks who want to bring literature written in generations past up-to-date with regard to today’s “sensibilities”. After all, we can’t have our poor widdle dahlings reading anything that might have been accurate for the age when it was written because — gasp — life was different then. We mustn’t see what happened back then because we might not like what we see. So let’s cover up history. After all, we’re better than folks were back then and history will never repeat itself.

  3. This gives me hope, no seriously, I think we’ve almost reached peak entitlement.
    More and more people in the circles I move in are starting to speak out, even those who I thought were in the other camp.
    Best of all the mockery and laughter is starting.
    Yes Vaginia, the emperor is really naked.

    1. I hope so, Scott. But we can’t let our guard down any more than we can stop speaking out. Guess it’s a good thing that I’m a big mouthed broad and proud of it ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Weird. I’ve always loved Rowlings and her naming habits. Sirius Black/Black dog amimagus, Remus Lupin/Werewolf, Delores Umberidge(Dolorous Umberage?)/Complete Wench…

      I always thought those were genius.

  4. My reaction on reading Balph’s wishes on limiting sales of books is that there should be a law against expressing such witlessness. Its attempt to abridge freedom of expression and the press should draw lethal consequences. But such tends to piss me off royally. And, yes, I am aware of the dissonance. Let it be a challenge to you.


  5. Well said Amanda. I am so tired of pretension trying to replace talent, entitlement work, and writers who denigrate a reading audience because they do not read what the writer feels they should.

    1. Thanks, Bob. I am tired of it as well. But when I see someone in my chosen field wanting someone who has earned her place to step aside for those who haven’t and for no better reason than petty envy, well, I get angry. And I get worried because people who feel that way do seem to have loud mouths and if we don’t stand up to them, I worry about not only our industry but our country as well.

      1. Amanda. the interesting thing about the attitude of “[such and such] should step aside for the new people can advance” is that it is the basic idea of promotion in academia and bureaucracies. Both have a mostly fixed number of slots, promotion is based only on tenure, (based on length of service, right-think, and not screwing up royally) and the fact that someone up the chain has died, retired or been indicted.

        Ms. Shepherd points out her university degree and how prestigious it is. She may never have left university in her head, and like a surprising number of higher degree holders, wants to make over the world into the higher-education faculty-model so her skills and abilities can take her to the top, instead of grubbing in this work-a-day world that insists on actual quality and skill.
        (and yes, I am bitter about my college days too, does it show?)

        1. Do not get me started on my college days. Or my son’s for that matter, except he had fewer problems with the tenure system than I did. And, yes, that attitude does seem to be what Shepherd has an abundance of. I guess it is a consequence, at least in academia, of the “publish or perish” mentality. It also points our my biggest disagreement with academia. I’d rather they worry about making sure their students get a good education — not indoctrination — instead of who can publish what in which journal.

  6. When I read the first Harry Potter novel many years ago, I was impressed. Not because it was deathless prose (though much of what is presented as “deathless prose” is actually quite deadly), but because It was clear she had conceived a wonderful and effective world in which she could tell a good story while speaking to real-life concerns and struggles. It was like watching a baseball player newly arrived in the major leagues swing at a fastball, hit it with that sweet spot on the bat, and send it soaring out of the park. Any author who can get 21st century grade-school kids to read 400+ page hardbound novels is doing something very right.

    I would also note for the sake of Ms. Shepherd that Rowling almost single-handedly launched the current massive YA SF/F market. Far from crowding out other authors, she has opened many, many doors for them.

    1. ah but all our little leftoid sees is success that needs to be punished. And she and her like minded see everything as a zero sum game so anyone else having success obviously is the reason why they themselves are not successful.

    2. I felt the same way when I read the first book. As for Shepherd, she seems to resent anything that 1) makes money, 2) sells more books than she does and 3) isn’t what she defines as literary. Fortunately for the rest of us, she doesn’t get to choose what’s published and what isn’t.

  7. Enjoyed the post – I won’t be reading a sample– I just won’t. I haven’t done a review and probably won’t either (Lynn’s works). I read the first page of Hunger Games and Twilight– and nope won’t be reading those either.

    Since this brouhaha I will probably go look at the new books written by Rowling… lol

    1. I peeked yesterday. How Lynn got published is beyond me. Even the “Eye Of Argon” is better. Lunacon sheep jokes come to mind because Lynn’s writing is that BAAD!

      1. John, I know. Worse, she has a traditional publishing contract. So, maybe we ought to be complaining because she is keeping the rest of us from getting a contract with a legacy publisher. Hmmm….what do you think?

      1. WOW. Chlamydia! How nice. And I thought we’d taken all of the antibiotic. And what made you think we wanted your opinion on anyone’s writing — or anything else? I see your remarks continue short, insulting and stupid.

        And you’re out of here until you change your IP again. Or take your meds and decide to rejoin the human race.


            1. And when he finds posts that have positive things to say about her. He will run there to condemn the rest of us for not understanding just how hard she’s trying and how it isn’t right for those who have made it to continue trying.

  8. I fully support holding her to her own rules.
    She held that it is not necessary to read a book before forming an opinion about it, and that books should be judged by the author.
    It’s her petard. Hoist her heinie onto it.

  9. Adults shouldn’t be reading YA books?
    *looks at bookshelves*
    *looks at date on birth certificate*
    To heck with Ms. Lynn and her desire to tell me what I should and shouldn’t be reading. I am an adult and will make my own choices.
    *fondly pats YA books*

      1. Many, if not most of Heinlein’s novels were YA. They were litterally written for Boy Scouts. I for one am not willing to leave all that juicy goodness solely to teenagers who may not appreciate it.

        1. Speaking of Boy Scouts… one of the things that got my reading stuff was the comic serialization of The White Mountains in A Boy’s Life (The Cub Scout magazine)

      1. Diana Wynne Jones, Tamora Pierce, Patricia C. Wrede, Scott Westerfield, and John Bellairs are perennial favorites of mine.

    1. Patricia C. Wrede’s magical frontier books are fun, too. Not deathless prose for the ages, perhaps, but great for an afternoon’s escape.

      1. I recently stumbled across Timebound, by Rysa Walker. The target audience is teenage girls, but I couldn’t put it down, and I’m a 54-year-old male. (I’m also a sucker for a good time travel story, and Walker knows how to write those.)

  10. I wouldn’t worry about the one star reviews frankly. She’s acting like a toddler, screaming and throwing a tantrum because she didn’t get her way. A toddler having a fit that is in dire need of a beating. She’s GETTING that beating now. she’s a pretentious waffletwat[larry should have trademarked that word…he’d be making an even bigger mint]….so I doubt it’ll do any good.

    1. Maybe we ought to get her a GHH pin and send it to her. Then she’ll have something she can wear with pride. Besides, it will warn the unsuspecting not to bother with her books unless they are right-thinkers too.

  11. Strangest thing is, I don’t see how Rowling not writing in the genre would have meant more sales for this author or anyone else.

    Granting that, yes, many will probably try her new book just on the strength of name value, these will be

    1) Readers who loved Potter or Rowling’s writing and wanted a similar feeling from her new book.

    2) Readers of the genre who are curious to see how she writes in their favored subject.

    In neither case would these readers be taken away from this or any other new author. If anything, in the first case the genre will be getting some new readers who might be interested in seeing what else is out there.

    I can sympathize with being intimidated at having to compete with a big name, but this writer seems to be taking the wrong track.

    Of course, I know a lot more about putting words together in an entertaining way than the whole publishing and promoting end of things. Maybe I’m missing something.

    1. Bob, you just violated the first rule of the entitled. You applied logic to their argument. You know you can’t do that. They are entitled. That means they don’t have to worry about pesky things like logic and facts.

  12. When I posted the Amazon information on her, it was intended to only give as Sarah said, “Know your opponent” information. (I did not list that she was a ‘fan’ type writer, though that was clear from her description.) I apologize that someone took that information as an address to smear her reviews. That is a tactic of the SFWA group and beneath us.

    As Amanda mentioned, Rowling was rejected by the big publishers and achieved success because of a small no name publisher. It might be noteworthy to remember that Tom Clancy ‘Hunt for Red October’ and Steven Counts (my spelling problem) ‘Flight of the Intruder’ were also rejects until picked by a small publishing company that normally wrote Naval History books. The big five don’t have a good reputation for finding new talent.

    1. Joe Haldeman says that “The Forever War” was rejected by eighteen publishers before St. Martin’s Press decided to take a chance on it. And they hadn’t even published any science fiction before that, so they really were going outside their comfort zone to publish a new writer. But it sure did pay off for them.

    2. I wouldn’t worry that you sparked some of the Mad Genius Club/hun regulars to be nasty. This thing is pretty huge. Half of the writing blogs I follow covered it. BBC (iirc) even linked to the post on Sarah’s blog (along with Larry C’s, and one or three others). Twitter is practically meme-ing it.

  13. “There is one response to Shepherdโ€™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. ”

    This is what bothers me too. And it *will* happen if an author expresses a strong opinion anywhere on the web. When you’re low on the discoverability scale, those one-stars make a huge difference. It’s enough to give me pause before expressing myself, and wondering if I should separate my blog commenter identity completely from my author identity.

    1. That response, however, has a certain delicious irony to it since she’s receiving exactly what she dished out. It’s not so much the “expresses a strong opinion” but going out to first point out that she’s never read Rowlings work, then following that up with criticizing it.

      Responding in kind in Amazon reviews is not something I would do, nor something I would endorse, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the irony.

      1. Oh, and considering the number of my friends who have already been the victim of “troll reviews” by people who haven’t read the books and are instead reviewing the author’s politics, I’m afraid I can’t get too worked up about this one.

        1. Eh, I can’t work up much sympathy for her either–but I did wince in a “this could happen to anyone” way–and for far less cause, as your friends probably found out.

          I’m at the beginning of my career as a writer, so now’s the time to disentangle my political from my authorial persona if I’m going to do it. I’d like to be Sarah, out and proud, but I have to ask if I can afford it.

        2. For the most perfect example of that sort of review, take a look at Rush Limbaugh’s YA book. Actually, he’s got both kinds, 1 and 5 star reviews based on something other than the book.

          That’s the problem with social media style ratings systems. They start off like a good idea, but they can be subverted with a determined effort.

            1. Oh yeah. Unless, of course, you are the author who complained to Amazon about the one star reviews received during a free promo and who also complained when some of those reviews came from “verified” purchasers. After all, under the author’s reasoning, you can’t be a verified purchaser if you got the book for free. And folks wonder why I mourn the current state of our education system.

      2. Oh, I fully appreciate the irony, especially when I see how she and her supporters are whining that we are all disgruntled HP fans. How dare we not agree with what she said, much less apply her own rules to her writing.

    2. Itโ€™s enough to give me pause before expressing myself, and wondering if I should separate my blog commenter identity completely from my author identity.

      The folks most likely to be swayed by opinion are also likely to look at the reviews.

      Heck, I found my first ob/gyn by looking for negative reviews from an eugenics standpoint.

      Content matters for reviews, too!

  14. First reaction, the bit about suffering goes beyond ‘lol depression is so sophisticated’. As I see it, the basic thrust is denying that Goodness exists. That is a narrative useful for evil people who do not want their evil contested. It seems to be trying to establish humans as naked, howling in the dark.

    Now, I do not at all endorse every decision humans choose to make. I think there are very many horrible, vile or evil people. Despite this, it is my experience that Truth, Beauty, and Goodness exist.

  15. I am so very glad that my daughter’s school lets her pick her own reading for her “reading and response” homework assignment. Her chosen items are currently Heinlein’s “Have Space Suit, Will Travel” and Wrede’s “Dealing with Dragons.”

    That’s my girl!

    1. If she likes fantasy in modern settings, you might offer her “The Dark is Rising” by Susan Cooper if she has not found it (and the rest of the series) already. “Over Sea, Under Stone” is the first book, but it drags at the beginning.

  16. I thought of this yesterday, and today I’m going to pause in my hurrying about (life, ’tis a hurricane, no?) and ask:

    Wasn’t this the book Rowling pubbed under a pseudonym ’cause she wanted to write and not float on name recognition? Wasn’t it somebody related to the pub side (agent, provocateur, summat) that leaked the link? Shouldna/oughta Shepherd be denouncing the money-grubbing capitalists for outing the poor woman because they wanted to capitalize on her name?

    Maybe not. Maybe she wrote another crime novel deliberately under her Rowling moniker for the express purpose of keeping the Lynn Shepherds of the world pinned down under her dainty feet (I have no actual knowledge of Ms. Rowling’s feet, mind). I know that as soon as the eye of the hurricane graces my head I’m going to start plotting a novel for that express purpose. Really. I have a mission.

    About those one star reviews, I’m having a really hard time disagreeing with Luke up there, she defined the rules of the game she wanted to play. In fact, this is how they’ve been playing the game for a while now. And while I’m not going to waste my time looking her up on Amazon so I can post a bad review, I’m not going to spend overmuch time worrying about the fallout raining down on her odious head. But I’ll try to get better…

    And now my grip on the keyboard is slipping (those winds, brutal) and I’m going to get blown off into the rest of the day. Thanks Amanda, you suffered through her — article — so I didn’t have to, and I appreciate it!

      1. You can never underestimate the time those successful authors will devote to ensuring all of the sub-genres are properly annoyed. It’s very important work.

  17. One thing about Balph. He really got it wrong. People read to forget the reality of life . . .whats the point of writing about how hard life can be? It’s sorta. . . .’Whatever’ point. Whats really funny is that Shepherd thinks her point of view is soooo new and sooooo avant garde . . . .nope, folks like this have winged about readers preferences for centuries. Most decent writers have a sense of history AKA research.

    1. C. S. Lewis and Tolkien were discussing “escapism fiction”. One asked “Who’s most concerned about escapees”? The other responded “Jailers”. [I may not have this completely correct.]

  18. It’s all about the content, if you have content that people want to read then you can sell them that content, and if you don’t have that content then you whine about those who provide that content.
    Which is why I enjoy Baen books, because generally the kind of content I like, they provide, and I’m not sure I’d still be as much of a reader as I am if not for Baen books. Not that I only, or even mostly read Baen books, but when I was 20 I had pretty much given up on reading. I was tired of being talked at (instead of to), lectured, and hectored for being, y’know, male. Every male character in books meant for my age group seemed to be an idiot who needed a woman to tell him what to do in order to save the day (which irritated me on both ends, apparently guys are too stupid to figure out a solution on their own, and also apparently girls who know the answer don’t have the initiative to do something themselves). Basically the message was boys are stupid and they suck and girls are passive but still way better than boys.
    Those books are what I grew up reading, along with all of the boys I knew, and oddly enough all of those boys stopped reading, as did I, and if not for Baen I may not have had a gateway drug to get back into reading. And this is coming from a boy who’d been reading over a hundred books a year since he was six. So, whenever I hear a woman ask the question; ‘Why don’t boys read?’ I answer; ‘Because of the content’. And then it devolves into an argument with the woman as she defends the content and I maintain it doesn’t matter if she likes the content, only if boys like the content. Which is logical but then if asked what boys want to read (saving the day, being a hero, rescuing the damsel, being awesome, stuff like that), I get the ick face and the distinct impression that that particular woman would prefer boys don’t read, than read that kind of filth.
    Harry Potter seems to have brought a lot of boys into reading and as publishers start to recognize that and provide books for those boys as they grow into men (like Baen already does), I think the publishing landscape will change. Rowling publishing in Mystery will bring attention to Mystery and the luckiest person in the book store will have a name that starts with Ro and be shelved right beside her. And if that author is good enough to benefit from the curious who see their book when finding Rowling’s then they will sell much more copies.
    More attention, more eyes, more fans, more traffic to that part of the bookstore. And a Mystery writer is irritated by it. Probably because even with the increased eyeballs her content is still not good enough for her to benefit.
    But, as always, I could be wrong. And often am.

    1. I don’t think you’re wrong. You’ve said pretty much the same thing I have for a long time. Of course, the GHHers will say you’re wrong. But that is a badge of honor for the rest of us ๐Ÿ˜‰

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