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.