So you can read my books

Saturday, December 29, 2012


It's hard to get any writing done with the ghost of Mark Twain, gasping between peals of laughter and holding his chest with tears in his eyes.

"Oh, kill me, Roland. Kill me!"

"I would," I growl, "but you're already dead."

He shakes his head, muttering, "I never thought my ghost would be around to see the day when gals get sunburned in places I only dreamed about."

Mark Twain flips another page of 50 SHADES OF GREY and reads aloud, " My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves."

I pause.  "You're making that up."

Mark puts a pipe-holding hand high in the air.  "I swear upon the prose of James Fennimore Cooper I am not!"

He looks down and reads out loud again, punctuating every few words with sputtering, "Anastasia, you are going to unman me."

Mark guffaws as he strangles out, "Listen to this -  Why is anyone the way they are? That’s kind of hard to answer. Why do some people like cheese and other people hate it? Do you like cheese?”

He bends double as he gasps, "Oh, son, this line is wonderfully, gleefully bad - 'I can tell from his accent that he’s British.'"

Mark turns a page and sputters, "No, Roland.  I was wrong.  This here line beats them all - 'My inner goddess is doing the dance of the seven veils.'"

Wiping tears from his eyes, he turns to me and chuckles, "How much did E. L. James make from this travesty?"

"Don't remind me," I mutter.

Mark grins, "Of course, Ms James is not the first author to strike it lucky in a market where unpublished rivals are told to sweat over every word,

then write a perfect cover letter and synopsis so that they stand out from the pile of slush washing through agents’ doors.

 But, oh, no, she's successfully bypassed that route by piggybacking onto the fan base of Twilight.   Now, how Mormon Stephanie Meyers feels about this remains to be seen."

"What does Miss Meyers being Morman have to do with this?" I frown.

Mark Twain holds up the book.  "Son, this sure ain't gonna be quoted from behind any Mormon pulpit!"

All laughter dies in his eyes as he turns to me and sighs, "Why, Roland.  Why?  Why does prose-ettes like this make tons of money?"

I knew what he meant.  At the start of his literary life, he had been mocked and almost starved a few times writing books that now are considered classics.  I pushed back from my laptop.

"I think 50 Shades hints at why certain books catch on whatever the quality of the writing.

The explanation is thematic."

Mark grinned, "You actually think in words like thematic?"

I happily ignored him and went on, "They tap into modern anxieties about our lives in a way publishers fail to predict."

Mark Twain scowled, "If they could predict them, they'd write them."

I nodded, "The Da Vinci Code hit the spot as distrust of global organisations and big government reached new levels of paranoia.  Twilight tapped into teen angst about sex."

I made a face. "On some level 50 Shades taps into their discomfort about the role of women and their relationship to power."

Mark Twain dropped his "Just Folks" manner and switched to the keen thinking revealed in his essays,  "As an advocate of women's rights, Roland, I find the popularity of books like 50 Shades deeply disturbing as they represent a resurrection of the whole Madonna/ Whore archetypes of Freud,."

He lit his pipe.  "Archetypes, which the overwhelmingly female fan base indicates, many women buy into."

I said, "What unites these and far better written global phenomena, such as Bridget Jones’s Diary and the Harry Potter series, is they hark back to traditional worlds. Whether sorted according to ability and class (Harry Potter in his boarding school) or gender – the idea that a woman’s ultimate role is wife or girlfriend (Bridget was doing this one long before 50 Shades’ Ana) – they inhabit a traditional universe."

Mark sighed, "What is behind these phenomena may not be deliberately misogynistic, Roland, but I do believe they offer a disturbing insight into wider attitudes towards women.

They seem to say, ‘Try as hard as you like, sister, you’ll still be either a Madonna or a whore.’ That they are predominantly bought by women concerns me as much as it perplexes me.

Maybe conscious or otherwise, the fantasy of readers is that they will be thought Madonnas, even if they act like ‘whores’? "

As his ghost slowly faded, Mark Twain said, "Whatever the answer to that question, Roland, what they definitely tell me is that if you want to write a bestseller: forget the writing, remember tradition. That is what you need to tap into."

"Right," I said into the darkness.  "And after that, I'll start on world peace."

What do you think?


  1. Honestly, I find it a bit disturbing how many women love that character, too. The women I've talked to all say, "It's not real, it's a fantasy." But why is someone who wants to hurt you and control every aspect of your life some kind of fantasy? I just don't get it.

  2. Rachel:
    That the fantasy in which they find enjoyment is one of being dominated, hurt, and turned into an object, not cherished as a beautiful soul, says much about them.

  3. There's no accounting for the reading choices of some people.

    What I dislike is the 'fan fiction' aspect - piggybacking on a trend. (And the book they choose is no winner in literature either, I mean, teen angst in Vampville to YA sex tales, sleazy jump).

    It also makes me wonder when I read a female's review of the book, how some women do drink the Kool-Aid.

    Add Mark Twain to my faves list, Roland, I like a man who has respect for women. . .

  4. I agree with Rachel - I don't get it. Domination a fantasy? I've never even fantasized about dominating anyone.
    Guess I'm out of tune with the primal instincts. I'll just keep writing what I write and stick to my morals.

  5. I love the post, but I did try to read Fifty Shades, but I found it hard to laugh and cringe while reading at the same time.

    But, as much as we all try to tear it down, she is burning up the bestseller list.

    So, we must ask ourselves: are we writing to be famous? If so, then we better listen to the masses, no matter how much it turns our stomachs.

  6. It's a trend. I'm formatting books for someone who writes 'mommy porn' and she says the series is doing really well. Not something I could ever write though.

  7. wozers... twain is king... i am going to write a book called "50 shades of melon".. i think i told you that joke all ready...

    have a great new year and welcome in 2013!!

  8. Thought-provoking post, Roland. I find it disturbing, as well.

    The recent mega-success of some very questionable stories is a puzzle, indeed.

    Does it represent a changing readership? Or was the readership always there, clamoring not only for a different type of story, but a different style of writing as well?

    note* I used the word "style" loosely in that last sentence.

  9. I think no one really outgrows the Cinderella fantasy. Plus, like Bella in Twilight, Anastasia is personality-less, a blank face that could be any girl. I think the fantasy of being rescued and, in turn, being the rescuer, is age old. I also don't think it speaks to the power-suit-super-mom's secret desire to be powerless as much as I've heard because, in a dom/sub relationship, the sub has the ultimate power.
    Yes, I've thought about this a lot. I've read the books and asked myself why.

  10. D.G.:
    Apparently, E.L. wrote of a sado/masochistic relationship in the TWILIGHT fictional world: hence fan fiction.

    As a former counselor, I see only the dangers in such a relatinship where consensual is a relative term that soon becomes nightmare when one partner wants to escalate.

    Mark Twain has Adam say at Eve's grave: "Wheresoever she was, there was Eden."

    The gladiatorial games were not justified or sane just because the masses thought they were fun. We live in a broken world because we have made it so.

    L. Diane:
    This sadomasochistic "trend" has been with us even before the Marquis de Sade lent it his name. There are some roads too dark to tread without becoming dyed with it.

    You would probably make a fortune!

    It is an old readership as Marquis de Sade would indicate. And in the West End of London during the time of the Ripper there were brochures offering aristocrats "young lads ripe for a birching" sometimes for only a shilling. Sigh.

    Erin Kane:
    Power is a misnomer in sadomasochistic relationships, for both are slaves to their dark addictions. Relating through power, rather than through love, is to live in the realm of the animal, to live in the realm of force, subservience, domination, submission, sado-masochism and, at the extreme, violence.

    It can be hard to accept that your partner may find it emotionally safer to meet her or his needs by using the emotional currency of power and powerlessness, rather than trusting that love will be enough.

    To love is to dare the greatest hurt and many are not brave enough to risk that pain.

  11. I refuse to read them. It makes me sad that they want to make these into films. I'm embarrassed for women everywhere.

    Great post! Thank you for the smiles!

    Happy New Year!


  12. Heather:
    Mark and I are very happy that we managed to bring a smile or two your way.

    It is sad that some find fulfilment in empty power struggles and call it romance.

  13. LOL my inner goddess wasn't too pleased with this series... happy new year Roland!

  14. Braine:
    Neither was Twain's Inner Gentleman either! :-) HAPPY NEW YEAR to you, too!