Girl About Town: A Prologue with Unpopular Opinions

Please note that what follows are personal observations.  I have no actual experience in the area of co-writing a novel, publishing a novel, or really anything to do with writing except for this blog right here.  This collection of words came together as I was struggling to read a new book I received as an ARC, called Girl About Town.  I'll review the actual book tomorrow, but for now, I wanted to talk a little bit about some of the thoughts that informed my reading of the book.

Co-authoring works really, really well for some authors.  My favorite co-authors are Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston.  I do have moments where I suspect they have fused their brains somehow, although I do remember reading an interview with them where they talked about how they bounce off each other--one's more detail-oriented, the other just lets it fly when it comes to plot--and it's fascinating.  It's proof that co-authoring can work.

And then there are other books.  I fully admit to being skeptical of screenwriters, YouTubers, and actors writing books.

I await your virtual rage.  You know, the throwing of digital tomatoes and so forth.

I'm not saying that people whose profession is acting or talking about makeup or writing for films or writing music can't be novel writers--that would cut out a big swath of people.  But there are fundamental differences in the way one would write a screenplay, for example, and a novel.  In screenplays, you have tons of other people--directors, editors, actors--to interpret and flesh out your script.  In a novel, you have to do a lot more of the heavy lifting while simultaneously (and invisibly) prodding your reader to create worlds inside their heads.

However, what I am leery of, and what I think a lot of teens don't really think about when they see a book by their favorite YouTuber, has to do with writing credit.  Last year, fans were shocked to find that Zoe Sugg (Zoella)'s novel had been ghostwritten.  As a skeptic and overall cranky person, I assume that to be the case unless it is explicitly proven otherwise.  For the record, I certainly don't think ghostwriting is a bad thing, but I do have objections to a "famous person" taking all the credit and not admitting they had help (or at least until after someone has loudly asked the question on the internet, necessitating a response).

I'll  also bring James Patterson into the discussion.  I think it's pretty well-known that he writes the outlines for his novels and they're fleshed out by his co-authors.  So he provides the ideas, but the majority of the prose belongs to someone else.  And yet whom do library patrons or customers ask for when they want the next book?  "The new James Patterson," not: "The new James Patterson and Maxine Paetro," which makes me feel uneasy and a bit sad on behalf of the co-author.

Another issue is that of diversity.  The CCBC, Lee and Low's study and good ol' empirical observation clearly demonstrate that the majority of authors are straight white people (but as YA Interrobang's article also shows, of said straight white people, men are hailed as the literary ones and women as the pfft-whatever-fluff genre fiction authors).  So.  Let's say you're a queer author of Malaysian descent.  You pitch an idea for your novel.  At the same time, the publisher is approached by an actor/director/screenwriter/makeup 'guru' who wants to sell a book.  Given the history of "meeting the quota" of POC/WOC/members of diverse groups of humans in publishing (see Daniel José Older's article here, which makes its point with Dhonielle Clayton's story), we know that publishers are out to make money.  They would rather use a marketable name--even if that person's story is tosh--than "take a risk" on supporting an author who wrote a bang-up awesome novel that accurately represents society.

I feel an attack of Weltschmertz coming on.

So, I guess this is what it boils down to: you can do whatever is within the law to do, technically.  Hopefully you have ethics, but I'm finding more and more people do not.  Even so, you are totally and completely free to do whatever you want creatively.  I mean, right now, there's a fascist running for President, so ... you know, freedom of choice and all that jazz.  If you are an actor, you can write a book.  You might even write a great book--a fantastic book.  That is awesome.  We all need new, amazing books in our lives.

But if you write a crap book, you should not be rewarded for that on the basis of being an entertainer.  You don't get a free pass because you've already "made it."  "Expanding your brand" is not ethical if it means pushing deserving authors out of the way.  And if a publisher chooses your poorly-written, derivative book over that of a wonderfully diverse book by an Native writer or a black writer or a Latinx author, then shame on the publisher, too.

I swear, if Michael Bay writes a book, I will get a spot on one of those SpaceX flights even if they explode half the time because the moon is definitely preferable to a book that would be, in essence, one gigantic explosion.


Comments

  1. So, I take it your main point is that you're uncomfortable with ghost writing when the real author hasn't been acknowledged? Well, I understand that. Before Michael Robotham became a world-renowned crime writer, he was ghost writing and he told some fascinating stories about it at the Melbourne Writer's Festival(though not naming the celebs, of course). In one case, the book won an award and the celebrity accepted it at a dinner, brought it home and wouldn't even let the real winner look at it! (Michael sneaked into the living room and looked anyway)
    I guess it's a business decision. Fans of Hugename Star would rather see his/her name on the cover than Fred Nerk's. Publishing, in the end, is a business. And then there's supply and demand - what can you do when books are so popular that fans pretty much want a new book a week? I guess you hire hack writers to write to a story outline. It may be better to have a book ghostwritten by a professional than actually to allow the actor to write it, in some cases. I recall one British actor in a popular SF TV series who did write a novel about his character. It was so dreadful, I considered ways to get rid of it. I think I still have it somewhere and may ask my nephew to sell it on EBay. I'm talking about a novel that was so awful, I've taught kids in Year 7 who wrote ten times better. But the publishers knew they'd make money and it sued the cost of a ghost writer. And fans thought it was LOVELY! Urk!
    Some actors actually can write. Peter Ustinov, for example. And there is a wonderful novel by Tom Tryon, Harvest Home, which I haven't heard was ghost written, which was Stephen King before Stephen King picked up a pen.

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    1. Yes--absolutely. Even if the book says FAMOUS PERSON and Blah or if book wins an award/is on the bestseller list, FAMOUS PERSON should have the ethics to say, "I couldn't have done it without X (or help)"

      Good for Michael Robotham! And that's why I'm so leery of publishing as it stands. It's very monolithic-yay-white-people-yay-famous-people. I have heard Peter Ustinov was quite a good writer. And I generally enjoy memoirs by comedians--I think it's their inherent storytelling abilities that allow them to write. And I honestly love Dave Barry's novels because they're simply, completely ridiculous!

      I am now thinking of ways you could get rid of The Dreadful SF Novel. Donate it to a local animal shelter to put the pups to sleep at night? Use as prop for tippy table?

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    2. Sounds good, but I might go for the EBay option; some idiot would buy it and I'd get some money for REAL books. ;-)

      By the way, I've just read that Tom Tryon, who won an acting Oscar at one stage, actually gave up acting for writing when he realised he could make a living out of it. And he really was a pre-Stephen King Stephen King type of writer.

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