Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Devil, The Wizard & The Blogger

by Clare O'Donohue
Susan and Robin have answered the question of the week beautifully, and I admit that batting third, I have little to add. Some books, such as The Lovely Bones, are so internal that no movie can possibly reach the same depths. Others, like The Devil Wears Prada, are so light that a movie (particularly one with Meryl Streep) can add weight and dimension where none existed before.
Moves and books, as Meredith Cole has already pointed out, are two very different beasts. But sometimes they come together spectacularly. I think in those cases where the movie lives up to the book it's because, in part, the writer's style is cinematic to begin with. Oddly, the example that came to mind immediately was Harry Potter.
I say oddly because of the flap over author Lynn Shepherd's Huffington Post blog in which she berated JK Rowling for continuing to write, since she's already made tons of money and sold lots of books. Her suggestion is that Rowling stop writing for the adult market and either focus herself on YA novels, or stop publishing altogether. Her argument is that people who are spending their money on Rowling's work would instead spend it on Shepherd's.
Yes, you read that correctly and no, you are not missing the logic. There is none.
Many, including our own Catriona McPherson, have written very well on this subject over the past few days and I'm (once again) in a position of adding to a topic already so well covered. But I guess I don't follow in Shepherd's footsteps as I think there is room for all of us at the table, so here is what I will say on this.
My guess is that Shepherd felt delighted with herself a week ago as she typed up her blog, imagining the publicity she would receive from such a controversial topic. She must have anticipated a few arrows, but mostly (I'm guessing) she saw herself booked on some chat show, a write up in The Times, and maybe some US papers - her books getting a mention with each article. She wasn't (again, my guess) really planning to diss JK Rowling, so much as ride her coattails. Much the same way that the women who slept with Tiger Woods parlayed that into Playboy spreads, I think Shepherd wanted to use Rowling's fame to add to her own. And she was not above showing us her naked jealousy to do it.
And, in a way, it worked. I'd never heard of her before. Probably a lot of people hadn't. Midlist authors (and I speak with lots of authority on this) have a tough time getting their names out into the reading world.
But she badly miscalculated the tight bond most writers and readers feel with one another. Perhaps she has not become part of a writing community, and doesn't realize such a thing exists. That is her loss.
Since my first book came out in 2008, I've made many friends who are writers, and they, like no one else in my life, understand what goes on in my mind. They know how crowded it can feel when a book full of characters follows me around, waiting for the scene I have imagined but not yet written. They know the joy of getting a yes from a publisher, and the frustration of getting a no. They understand that writing a tenth novel is no easier than writing a first, and they know what it feels like to worry about sales, awards, reviews, and contracts. Without the writing community, I probably would have given up, but I am energized and motivated by this amazing group of talented, kind, and supportive people.
Shepherd's amazon rankings have burst with one star reviews this past week, as readers have weighed in on her mean-spirited blog. Other authors, including Anne Rice, have offered their comments. But in case Shepherd is once again missing the point, let me make it clear. The readers and writers offering their opinions, mine included, are jumping to Rowling's defense not because of her sales, or her charity, or even her talent. But because she is one of us. She is a writer. She does what she loves and does it well. She could have rested on her Harry Potter glory, but she jumped into something new. She could have used her name to make millions but she chose another name and took her chances. She is writing because she loves it, and we are all the richer for it. (I speak as someone who has read all the Harry Potters and A Casual Vacancy, unlike Shepherd).
I would ask Shepherd to stop calculating ways to get herself on the bestseller list, if for no other reason than because she is so very bad at it. Focus yourself on the community of writers, Ms. Shepherd. You are a published author - an amazing accomplishment that many struggling as-yet-unpublished authors would envy.
Instead of looking at the long list of more successful writers, why not turn your attention those who are trying to climb to your rung of the ladder, and offer your advice and support to them?
Instead of being jealous of Rowling's sales, if you must be jealous, be jealous of her ability to craft a great sentence or create such memorable characters. Then let it inspire you to be a better writer.
Instead of being annoyed when she jumps from one genre to another, use it as proof that you can do the same should the muse send you from your self-described "literary mysteries" to thriller, or romance, or even young adult. 
Instead of putting another writer down for succeeding, compete only with yourself. Let your passion, your discipline, and your talent take you where ever it will - and be open to the joyous, unlimited, adventure that is life. 
I promise you, it will feel a whole lot better than cheap, back-firing, publicity stunts.


Dana King said...

Well put. The best analysis of this I've read, from both sides. (Why Rowling should not quit, and why Shepherd is taking well-deserved heat.)

Robin Spano said...

Brilliant answer, Clare. You are so right.

Barry Knister said...

You are no doubt correct in assuming that Shepherd's attack was meant to gain publicity. But by using that attack as the basis for your own blog entry,haven't you just added to that publicity? And: does anyone really think Rowling needs defenders? From what, exactly? Unless you consider it a moral obligation to stand shoulder to shoulder with a literary giant against an obscure publicity hound, I just don't see it.

Susan C Shea said...

Well said, Clare. Barry, I don't think Clare is saying Rowling "needs" defending so much as pointing out why the other writer's attack was more about Shepherd than Rowling, and what the responses say about the writing community.

Catriona McPherson said...

"But because she is a writer." Exactly. That gave me a lump in the throat.

Lori Rader-Day said...

Really lovely, Clare, and not just because I know that you live this completely. Thanks for making room on the rung for me.

Meredith Cole said...

Hear, hear! I love your suggestion to be jealous of Rowling's abilities instead and let it inspire her to become a better writer, Clare.

Clare ODonohue said...

Thanks everyone. And yes Barry, I do see that I'm adding to the publicity (though only slightly. I'm hardly reaching a mass audience) But the reason I felt the need to jump in is that Lynn Shepherd said, "No struggling but relatively ambitious writer can possibly be anything other than envious." And frankly, she's dead wrong about that. By assuming that I, and all other "struggling" writers must naturally want more successful writers to hang it up, she's including us all in her small, mean world. So in a way, I guess I wasn't coming to Rowling's defense. I was coming to mine.

Rose Hughes said...

well said... the idea of community is one that so often is not recognized --thank you for the reminder

Robin Spano said...

Hey Clare that's a great point. I think that's why Shepherd annoyed me, too, though I couldn't place it. I love having VERY successful people in this field. It's encouraging; something to aim for.