I went on a bit of a Twitter rant earlier. I try to be a positive person as much as I can, but sometimes I see something happen that just sets me off for no good reason. In this case, it was the world exploding at the announcement of Inferno, the forthcoming Dan Brown novel. I’m not a Dan Brown fan by any stretch. I find his characters dull and shallow, his plots predictable and his prose simplistic and boring. And so I ranted. From a place of jealousy, or misplaced arrogance, or a misguided sense of justice, I took it upon myself to decide that Dan Brown doesn’t deserve the success he’s had. Because I don’t like him. Yeah.
It doesn’t feel good looking back on the things I said earlier. They’re still there, I’m not going to take them down, even if I’m not proud of them. The realisation I reached is, who am I to judge Dan Brown unworthy of success? Who am I to judge Stephenie Meyer or E.L James unworthy of success? I read all four Twilight books, and thought they were awful. I’ve seen enough of Fifty Shades of Grey to know I don’t want to touch it with a barge pole. But somebody must.
These writers are all wildly successful because they’re telling stories that resonate with people. Or they’re telling stories that people can sit and read easily. They’re not designed to make the reader really think, they’re there to be full of action and excitement. They’re like comfort food, or CSI. They’re not caviar or Breaking Bad, but they maintain a level of quality and are easy for people to digest.
And honestly, looking at my bookshelf, a lot of my favourite authors are the same sort of thing. There’s a scene in IT by Stephen King where the writer character (because there’s always a writer character) hands in a science fiction story to his literature professor, and it’s returned with “PULP CRAP” written on it. Pulp crap is a perfect description of what Dan Brown writes. But here’s the thing. It’s also a perfect description of what Stephen King writes. Chuck Wendig, Adam Christopher, Max Brooks, Neil Gaiman, Alex Grecian, Alastair Maclean, G.M Hague… It’s all pulp, and I love all of it. Even my favourite author China Mieville. He has a fascinating command of the English language and a vocabulary that puts mine to shame, but he still writes pulp. It’s just more literary pulp.
Even me. Shit, the manuscript I have open right now is called Post-Apocalipstick for heaven’s sake! Sure, I’ve done my best to incorporate serious themes like feminism and free will, but it’s ultimately wrapped in a story about a group of women driving across post-apocalyptic America in a Cadillac, kicking ass as they go. The chief inspirations were films like Death Proof, The Warriors, Mad Max: The Road Warrior, and music like Bikini Kill, The Runaways, Gallows.
I guess the upshot of all this is that it’s pretty hypocritical for me to judge what other people are reading, or to judge what people more successful than me are writing, without taking a good look at my own influences, and my own favourite stories. When the millions of people show up at shops to buy the new Dan Brown, I won’t be joining them. But I hope they enjoy it half as much as I enjoy my own brand of pulp crap.
Incidentally, just for fun I wrote out a plot summary of what I think Inferno will be about. I put it up on Reddit earlier, shortly after the title and brief concept were announced. I’m going to post it here, because I think it’ll be fun to do a follow up post when the actual synopsis comes out to see how close I really got. Here is mine:
“The original manuscript of Dante’s Inferno contained some kind of secret or prophecy, possibly related to some form of disaster or apocalypse that just happens to be occurring in CERN or some other science lab. The Vatican or some other religious organisation tried to cover it up by destroying or hiding the original manuscript, but now Robert Langdon and a sassy female sidekick must follow clues and go on a quest in a European city that mirrors Dante’s journey through the nine circles of hell in order to decode the manuscript and stop the disaster before it’s too late.”