When I was in college, my English department (probably much the same as any across the Western world) was a microcosm of the writing/teaching/editing/publishing world at large. In it were the intense readers…the ones who had been reading John Donne and Nietzsche from the age of 5. There were also the “writers” (dressed in black, smoking cigarettes, and brooding over their moleskin notebooks), the WRITERS (technical, business, and downright wicked with a red pen), and the writers.
This last group is the tough one. They are highly talented. Cerebral. Deep. And well…a bit snooty about their craft. I remember talking in class one day about how writers like Stephen King or Janet Evanovich were “sell-outs” because they let the market and their publishers determine what they wrote and how much.
Really? These writers have found what the public wants and are raking in the $. They are living their lives as writers and are thriving. I hardly call that selling out…especially if they are having fun with their art and feel fulfilled. It is their choice, after all, to write. They could always quit if they felt they were being taken advantage of or losing touch with their initial motivations to write.
But, for some reason, these student writers, felt that it should be only about the work…the ever-so-lofty work…and that the image of the starving artist, tucked away in a dilapidated apartment, earning meager wages waitressing by day so she can fulfill her true calling of writing the great American novel at night, which will only be printed by a small, independent press (because they are more ethical than big publishers, use recycled ink, and donate all proceeds to the starving children in Africa), and her book will only be sold by small-town bookstores, where she will visit (Greyhound bus? Hitchhiking?) to read from her book to a small group of “writers” in black, smoking cigarettes, and taking details notes in their moleskin notebooks, nodding emphatically and clapping with aplomb.
Yes, I’m being sarcastic. But, the reason I am writing about these writers now is because I feel they have infiltrated even the world of sex writing (and blogging).
I’ve given 50 Shades (and similar titles) a hard time myself. It’s a “crap” read in my opinion, and not very well-written…but damn did it sell a bazillion copies, so the author (and the marketing department) must be doing something right. It also did an amazing thing, in my opinion, for the world of sex writing in general. It got the public interested. It made them clamor for more.
Even though I thought it was uninspiring and trite and gave an inaccurate view of some things in the BDSM world, I have to admit I don’t really have much of a right to criticize 50 Shades. After all…what was the last bestseller I published? That’s right…nada.
Anyone who has the balls to write about sex, put their name on it, and publish it deserves what they get…and if that includes praise, criticism, and a lot of money – so be it. It doesn’t make the writer a sell-out. It doesn’t ruin or bring down the entire world of sex writing to have dozens of poorly written works.
And classics re-written as erotic? I don’t think they ruin the original work at all. The reason I read them is because I loved the original. I love the idea of parody and interpretation, so reading them just brings back the original as I compare and contrast to see what was altered. I also think it gives classics a new life. I would imagine (as I have seen) that some people who read an erotic re-write of a classic, would actually be inspired to read the original, which they might never have picked up otherwise (I personally get a huge kick out of the parodies like Jane Slayer and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…and I love Bronte and Austen to pieces, and I don’t find these re-writes to be disrespectful in any way…in fact, I think it’s a homage to these great classics that newer writers feel the work speaks to them in such a way that they have something to add).
I also find it wonderfully creative when screenwriters adapt classics and disguise them as contemporary films (Clueless/Emma, 10 Things I Hate About You/The Taming of the Shrew, The Orphanage/Peter Pan).
Basically, what I’m getting at is…people write for a lot of reasons…some for fun, some for enlightenment, some for profit, some for fame, some to inform, some to revolutionize. Whatever a writer’s reason, their writing is no less important. Writing is communication, and there is room in the world for every voice. We don’t all have to be Pablo Neruda. Some of us can be Dave Barry…or Clive Cussler…or Stephanie Meyer (another writer who has gotten a ton of flack for a, in my opinion, lackluster novel/series that exploded in the book world to a public hungry for her brand of paranormal romance).
We spend too much time as a culture cutting others down for what they do…claiming that someone else has done it better. What is the point of that? Must everything be a competition? I think it is a bit snooty to say that one person (or a group) has the right to anoint certain written works as worthy and others as worthless. We like what we like. We don’t have to like every book…but we should at least honor what the writer was trying to accomplish. If I find a book to be a failure…that means it was a failure to me. It might be a roaring success to someone else. That is the important thing to keep in mind about (literary) criticism. It is always just an opinion.
Besides, if a “crap” writer is pubished by an “evil” company and the public eats it up…that says less about the writer than the people who pay to read her books. Maybe rather than complaining about how someone should be more literary or more original, we should investigate what makes our society more likely to read Sexcapades of a Lonely Housewife than The Awakening.