Friday, June 27, 2008

Perhaps I Am Insane.

Because I argue with agents on their blogs. And yet, I do so cheerfully. The topic in this case? Well, an agent suggested that writers should learn from Dan Brown, because he has so many readers. Ten million readers, I am told, cannot be wrong.

Yes, I say, they can.

And here I fall into a philosophical ditch. Because Dan Brown knows what Danielle Steele and the rest know. Simple entertainment. And is that not valuable? Of course it is.

Good show! Valuable! People work hard. They drive a zillion billion miles on four-dollar gas. Their kids are texting what-have-you on iPhones that their mother/father bought them when they promised not to, their cars are eight seconds from breaking down, their neighbors have fallen into foreclosure and whatever, and they just want an easy read. Ten points for settling for a book and not a beer or twelve and a hundred points for choosing a book over whatever crap NBC is now offering in prime time.

But just because many people like it does not mean it is good. I'm sorry, but what Dan Brown is doing is appallingly obvious, and I don't want to do it.

What I told the agent was that ten million readers can certainly be wrong, in terms of what is good writing and what is not. Because they do not read enough to separate the good from the bad.

I drive a 1989 Porsche 928 S4. The 928 raced at Le Mans. There are not many of them in North America. Maybe a thousand in the model year. They are crazy expensive to run. Fifteen miles to the gallon? On high test? On a 23-gallon tank? A splitter that raises the cost of an oil change to over a hundred bucks? Ignition wires that run $75 each and there are eight of them? A car with tires that run $850 minimum and cannot be rotated?

This is a magnificent car. The sound it makes coming off the fire is brobdignag! A deep rumble only elephants can hear. A sound that will make Boxster drivers weep.

If anyone said that the engineers who built the 928 should have learned from the designers of the Toyota Camry because it sold more units, I would punch them in the face.

The Camry exists for people who care nothing about cars; they just want them to start every time. And that's fine. They have places to go and other priorities. Groovy. I can dig it. But I am out of my mind. I want a fantastic car. I want a car that makes me feel I could turn down and drive at speed through the center of the Earth. A car that could grow giant demon wings and fly. A car made of male that could not possibly bear a female name. A weapon. I am willing to take the chance that it will break down once in a while and leave me on the side of Wilshire Boulevard on a Friday night.

I want a car that can go 170. I want a car that can make other drivers cry. That's me. I seek the epic.

Same with writing. I want to write like Doris Lessing or Cormac McCarthy or Louise Erdrich or Steven Hall. Want to tell them to learn from Dan Brown? No. I believe William Burroughs when he said "If I really knew how to write, I would write something, and someone would read it, and it would kill them."

Yeah, like that.


Anonymous said...

Invalid analogy.

Books cost the same, no matter the content.

Porsches cost more, and cost more to operate. (Your old one may cost less, but has no warranty plus all the other costs you mentioned.)

If a Camry and a Porsche costs the exact same, more people would choose the Porsche.

So your tastes aren't more refined. You just have more money.

Lorelei Armstrong said...

Unless my Porsche cost $19K ten years ago, which it did. And is now worth $9K.

And books all cost the same? Seems I had to pay about $24 for The DaVinci Code in hardback. And yet I just picked up Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding for $8 in paperback.

Old books, new books. Old cars, new cars. Different quality. Seems to hold up to me.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that Porsche cost 19K ten years ago, which was less than a new Camry at the time. (Not by much, though.)

However, as I pointed out, that Porsche was already out of warranty, so you were responsible for all repairs.

And as *you* pointed out:

"They are crazy expensive to run. Fifteen miles to the gallon? On high test? On a 23-gallon tank? A splitter that raises the cost of an oil change to over a hundred bucks? Ignition wires that run $75 each and there are eight of them? A car with tires that run $850 minimum and cannot be rotated?"

So, you've chosen a car that is more expensive to operate. A lot of poor people wish they could drive a Porsche and piss away 850 every time they get a flat or a few thou every time they have a transmission problem.

You have more money, not more taste. It's fine. A lot of people with money confuse the two.

As for your taste in books...

You're comparing what you can buy a 60 year old book for *now* with what you could buy The DaVinci Code for in *2003*?

Take a moment and compose yourself before you fire off another reply. You're doing yourself no favors.

(A quick check on Amazon shows that I can now get a used copy of The DaVinci Code for 1 cent. Just to further show how intellectually lazy your argument is.)

Lorelei Armstrong said...

Never had a transmission problem. Last time I had a flat the repair cost... Hmmm, nothing. More money? I certainly do have more money than any number of people. I haven't considered it a moral failing. I have far less than many other people. I don't feel morally superior to them.

Not more taste? Well, I will be delighted to stack Carson McCullers up against Dan Brown any day. And yes, I will stack my Porsche up against a Camry on the original terms. The Camry will certainly win the reliability contest. It will win every basic transportation contest out there. That's not really what the Porsche is about. Again, the terms of the original argument.

This is the first time I've received Anonymous mockage on my blog. Very exciting! I do hope my reply was suitably well thought-out.

Anonymous said...

"I do hope my reply was suitably well thought-out."

Sadly, no.

After bragging about how "crazy expensive" it is to run, suddenly your costs are nonexistent. Fascinating! The more cynical would say "convenient."

And how interesting that you've injected morals into this conversation. "Moral failing." "Morally superior." Why would you feel the need to deny something that no one's accused you of?

Could it be because you *do* conflate money and a sense of moral superiority?

I'll leave that for you and your therapist to puzzle through.

I'll step through the flaw in your car analogy one more time, because I think it's important for you to understand.

If a Porsche and a Camry cost *exactly the same* to own and operate, the vast majority of people would choose the Porsche. So your choice of a Porsche reflects your ability to own one, not your enhanced appreciation for its broudaibingbundation that the unwashed masses could never comprehend.

You know why they only made a thousand of your cars? Because that's what the demand was. If ten million people had been willing to pay for them, they would have made ten million.

You've confused lack of popularity with exclusivity.

Perhaps I shouldn't drive this point home too strongly. If you've gone to all this trouble to construct a reality where quality of writing is inversely proportional to the number of books sold, there might be a reason. One better left unexplored.

Why'd they stop making the 928, by the way?

Lorelei Armstrong said...

The 928 was originally created to replace the 911, which did not go so well with the 911 crowd. Ferry Porsche, whose pet project the 928 was, grew old and retired the year mine was made, so the company killed his pet soon after.

Intriguing. You remain Anonymous, and yet I must almost certainly have crossed your path somewhere. I'm guessing where, and almost who. I do know someone who enjoys offering me improving lessons.

Carson McCullers unpopular?

Anonymous said...

"The 928 was originally created to replace the 911, which did not go so well with the 911 crowd. Ferry Porsche, whose pet project the 928 was, grew old and retired the year mine was made, so the company killed his pet soon after."

That's a very long answer. Here's the short one: it wasn't popular.

"Carson McCullers unpopular?"

Who said that, Yoda?

Lorelei Armstrong said...


Anonymous said...

I accept your apology and admission of error.

Anonymous said...

From Another Anonymous --

You say that Dan Brown is a bad writer. And that Dan Brown sells a lot of books.

You say your Porsche is a great car. And that there are far more Toyotas.

From there, you strain to imply that because you sell so little of your writing, it must be good writing.

Instead, try applying your "good taste" to evaluating your own work.

And please, don't assume that there is only one person who finds you silly.

Lorelei Armstrong said...

Okie-dokie, more sales = better! Congratulations to McDonald's for selling the best restaurant food in the world!

And as it happens, my book isn't out yet.

Anonymous said...

From Another Anonymous --

No, no one is saying that more sales mean better writing.

Just as poor sales doesn't mean better writing.

You have trouble with logic. And with taste.

No, of course your book isn't out yet. But clearly you are already anticipating its sales volume.

Lorelei Armstrong said...

In that case, I'm not following anybody's logic. Is Dan Brown a better writer than Carson McCullers regardless of sales? The original point put by the agent was that writers should learn from Dan Brown specifically because of his sales. If driven from analogy to simplicity, I would say that most writers understand what Dan Brown does.

Appreciate the dig about my "anticipating sales." Imagine a writer hoping for success! What an ill-informed idiot! She should be mocked by those who know better. I would, in fact, madly love to sell out my gigantic 5,000 hardback run. Even to my mother.

No, nobody needs to explain to me that that is not, in fact, a gigantic run.

Anonymous said...

Original Anonymous here:

"Appreciate the dig about my "anticipating sales." Imagine a writer hoping for success!"

You know, if you really want to sell a lot of books, you should study Dan Brown.

Lorelei Armstrong said...


Andy Badeker said...

The Camry and the 928 scratch different itches. The Camry itch has been shown to be khaki-induced; the Porsche has deep metaphysical, Faustian and psycho-sexual roots.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned this.

I drive a 1960 MGA coupe, which apparently means I like being tied down in sweaty, confined, slow-moving spaces. How veddy English.

Good luck with the book, Miz L!


Lorelei Armstrong said...

The Porsche definitely answers some masochistic need, true. I've given myself heat exhaustion twice in the last week, what with the a/c being broken for the last eighteen months. We like the pain!

And mahalo for the kind wishes!