"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Monday, April 2, 2012

Envy and Ire

I have to keep the blog coals smoldering, as it were, so I'm going to post another something that's been on my mind recently.

A week or two ago, my beloved Entertainment Weekly published a review of the book Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James. And it wasn't just a short blurb. It was the main book review for the week. Which is a sticky wicket for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that this is a self-published book that took off through word of mouth and e-editions and now has garnered the author a multi-million-dollar deal through a real publisher and a multi-million-dollar option from a Hollywood studio.

I'm in a quandary about it. Aside from the money, there's the subject matter of the book. First of all, it's romance, which is to say, erotica, which is to say, pornography.  I don't think I'm exaggerating. The EW review itself calls the book pornographic. (This is not to say that "romance" equates to "pornography" or even that what some call "erotica" is pornographic. Surely they are not the same thing.) (Except in this case.) The difficulty is that such a mainstream pop culture mag is admittedly now dealing in porn. (I know it's ironic that I called my own vindication of the EW "Pop Culture Porn." But I was using the term metaphorically. The porn in this book ain't a metaphor.)

So part of my disappointment is with Entertainment Weekly. They know they're being salacious. This week's EW cover story is an interview with James, but only subscribers will even see this cover. The newsstand edition features The Hunger Games again. Tell me why they would do this except to stave off outrage. What's more, in the EW interview, James won't reveal her real full name. It's not James. Who does she think she is? Banksy? I can't tell if I'm more embarrassed than she is.

Okay. So here's where I get judgmental if I haven't already. The rest of my resentment about this whole thing is that James's story began as Twilight fan fiction. I don't think there are any vampires or werewolves in Fifty Shades of Grey, but the characters did start out with the names Bella and Edward.

I know I'm a literary snob. I don't want to knock fan fiction, per se. People can write it; others can read it. But should we legitimize it in such a way that we'll pay millions of dollars for it? Should Stephenie Meyer be calling copyright foul?

I also understand the power of the fluke. Sometimes a Tim Tebow comes along and throws the football ball into the score zone and everyone's happy about it for a while. But when the new publication "will include the new copy edit," according to the publisher, the fluke is simply dolled up and called legit.

My real problem is that I can't decide if it's simple jealousy or just recurring frustration with the system. And I'm conflicted enough to wonder if my ranting here is just more publicity, more fuel for the fire, as it were. But still, here it is.

I know this is backlash, fanning the flames, as it were. I admit I haven't read this book and I never will. When the "People are People" video began it's rotation on MTV in 1985, I was sure Depeche Mode had suddenly sold out, even though their best albums were yet to come. Maybe I'm wrong and Fifty Shades of Grey will spawn Black Celebration and Violator, and twenty-five years from now some upstart artist will be compared to the great E L James. As if...

27 comments:

  1. I don't really have a problem with self-publishing, especially the idea that self-published work can become super successful. Bad writing being embraced by the masses is not a new phenomenon (I'm not saying that the James book is bad writing, I haven't read it).

    I think self-publishing is a way for frustrated writers to get their work out there when the traditional routes are being clogged by the likes of Snooki or celebrity cook books. That's actually what I find to be particularly awful - famous people being given book deals because they're famous, regardless of story idea, writing talent, etc.

    The fan fiction connection is a bit more problematic because of intellectual property issues. But, it sounds like regardless of where James' book started out what it evolved into is as far from the misty, virginal world of Twilight as you can get.

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  2. You might find this article interesting and on topic... http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/us/young-writers-find-a-devoted-publisher-thanks-mom-and-dad.html

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    1. Yeah, I don't know what to think about all this. The jury is still out on whether self-publishing is good for literature. I haven't ruled out self-publishing, but because I'm a snob, I don't know how to get beyond the stigma.

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  3. Obviously Trendy Poseurs Go Home needs more explicit sex scenes. Make that edit and you're EW-bound, baby! (Or maybe just "ew" bound.)

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    1. You joke, but that's probably more true than you'd expect. Aside from the Urban Fantasy, it seems that today's YA books need some shocking content in order to move off the shelves.

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  4. I love how you tell it like it is.

    Shelly
    http://www.shellysnovicewritings.blogspot.com/
    http://secondhandshoesnovel.blogspot.com/

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    1. But even after writing this, I still don't know how it really is. :)

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  5. Interesting. I'm definitely with you on this one. I'm ok with self publishing in general, although it's not the route I chose for myself, but I always feel disheartened when the public as a whole drops to the lowest common denominator. I'm sorry, but I struggle with EW and books like this. Nice post.

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    1. It's a good point, Julie, that this seems like a lowest common denominator problem. My wife up there says this isn't the first time the public has taken to something poorly written. I know, I know, I haven't read it. But isn't that the problem: when a book is traditionally published, you enter the reading process with the understanding that it's well-written enough to get published. With self-published books, you never know. So the public could be enraptured by trash. What do you do about that?

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  6. I'm almost positive that the term "sticky wicket" is going to be stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

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    1. I looked it up for you: it's a cricket term. Who knew?

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    2. Wickets are three sticks of wood that stand behind the batsman. If the ball hits them, the batsman is out. Although there are many rules and complications that I won't get into now.

      I live in India and here cricket is a religion. It's the only sport I care about.

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    3. Thanks Avantika. I originally thought it was a croquet term. Croquet's the only game I've ever played with a wicket. So what makes them sticky?

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  7. So, what is the difference between Miz James writing erotica as her first published novel and Anne Rice branching out and writing erotica under a pen name? And making even more money, to boot?

    I say read the book first and then criticize it if you don't like it. There might be redeeming qualities in the writing style or the story line, even if you personally don't care for the content.

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    1. You're right about me trying to criticize something I haven't read. And I don't have a problem with erotica as a genre.

      My problem is with how it all came about. I mean, if all it takes to be a successful author is luck, then where's mine? I know how selfish this sounds, so you don't need to tell me, but it's still unfair.

      Jeez, I really sound like a grump about this, don't I?

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    2. A sticky wicket indeed. It seems that much of what it takes to be successful as an author is to be in the right place at the right time and get the right memes flowing. It has very little to do with talent.

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    3. And that probably applies to much of life. But it still sucks rocks.

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  8. I've read the book. I found it to be pretty damn bad. There are no vampires or werewolves to be found. Just bad prose and bad dialogue.

    I also find it unfair that this book just got a seven figure deal from a publisher (not to mention the movies rights just sold) when there are oodles of talented writers (who know how to construct a much better story) getting nothing but rejection slips.

    And sure, I know that makes me sound like a grumpy jealous bitch but I guess I am what I am.

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    1. Awesome. Now I can continue to judge the book because we have confirmation of its awfulness. Thanks MJ. And we don't have to be jealous any more, either, I don't think.

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  9. Super interesting post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

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    1. Thanks Stacy. I try to maintain engaging posts at all times. :)

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  10. Fanfiction is an interesting creature. If the book clearly resembles Twilight, then sure, copyrights need to be honored, but what's the line between inspired by and copied? That's the issue with publishing fanfics.

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  11. I don't know much about fan fiction, but I'm more impressed with people who write something of their own, even if there's a nod to another book or author. I'm not a fan of Twilight, so I wouldn't be reading anything that inspired by it. Based on what you say, I'd be frustrated too.

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  12. 1. I haven't read 50 Shades yet, though it sounds like it's right up my alley, as it were. I also haven't informed myself of its history, so I feel I'd need to do that to comment knowledgeably.

    2. I disagree with one of your comments above,

    "...when a book is traditionally published, you enter the reading process with the understanding that it's well-written enough to get published. With self-published books, you never know."

    I think it's more accurate to say "you never know" about the quality of *any* book, whether traditionally published or not. There's traditionally published stuff that's utter dreck and I can't believe someone offered money for it - what I can (and do) believe is that someone thought it *commercially viable* and took a chance on it, knowing full well that it *was* badly written but that folks would like it regardless and would part with their hard-earned coin for it. *That* is what I consider catering to the lowest common denominator.

    I support indie authors getting their stuff out into the world (any may follow that path myself). Indie filmmakers do, indie musicians do, and if folks like their stuff, they do well, with no stigma attached because they didn't go the "traditional" route. Know what I mean, Jellybean? :-)

    Some Dark Romantic

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  13. I'm certain I'll never read this junk, but people are paying for it. Perhaps *they're* the idiots. Or maybe they're perfectly happy paying for what they enjoy. People are people :-)

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  14. And it's been well over a month and I'm just realizing I never replied to these last few thoughtful comments. I'm a bad host.

    At this time, I would like to say that the jury's still out on the effects of self-publication. I'm almost certain that my comments stem from jealousy of those who get success like this book has. But not totally certain.

    And of course, Mina is right. You never really do know. There's certainly a lot of dreck out there being offered from big publishers and everything. People will pay for what they like, indeed.

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