A response to a call-out

Maybe it’s that I’m in a slightly melancholy mood today; maybe it’s the sudden warming trend outside (-15 degrees? It’s like freakin’ Hawaii out there!); or maybe it’s irritation. Pick one. Whichever you choose it be, I have decided to respond to a ‘call out’ by a literary peer.

Yes, this is rather silly, and I enter it into the spirit in which is was intended, i.e. just for fun. Nevertheless, a call out is a call out, and if it be either a schoolyard scuffle or jailhouse rules free-for-all, dammit, I’m no chicken.

To summarize the events to date:

On my last post as online writer-in-residencec with Open Book Toronto, I made a snide little comment. To whit:

A friend suggested that I end on something controversial to get people talking, but that’s not me. I have my opinions, but this is not the venue. Oh, but if you ever meet me in person, I have some doozies to get off my chest.

Okay, one quick rant.

The breathless anticipation of Dan Brown’s next piece of hackneyed plotting to save the slumping publishing industry makes me weep uncontrollably. He’s a horrible, horrible author truly undeserving of his fame. Seriously.

There, I said it. Let the hate mail commence!

So, there you have it. I know what you’re thinking; “Oooh, controversial!” I believe from the tone and context that you can surmise

a) it was all meant as a little joke, and

b) I don’t care that much for Dan Brown (Not the most surprising of sentiments from myself, if you’ve ever met me or read my novel [and if you haven’t, why are you still reading this?])

I thought that would be the end of it, but it appears this was not to be.

Last week, I was perusing the entries of Rick Blechta, my follow-up W-I-R at Open Book Toronto. I’m not familiar with Mr. Blechta’s work, but he’s written a slew of novels, and has been nominated for an Arthur Ellis Award, so he clearly knows his stuff. He also appears to be a nice guy.

But as I scanned, I came across the following:

My predecessor, Corey Redekop, took a run at this author in his last posting and it’s rankled with me a bit ever since. This certainly won’t be a flame, Corey, but I think it was a cheap shot on your part: say something controversial and then run for the door.

I don’t think Dan Brown is a great author; I don’t think he’s a poor author, but he certainly isn’t — how did you put it? — “a horrible, horrible author”. What is that pronouncement based on? His prose is reasonably polished, sentence construction not bad, he makes his thoughts understood. A lot of published authors (and critically praised, too) don’t do as well.

Now, Rick admits that Brown is no genius; “Dan’s characters are not very well fleshed out. I didn’t really know much more about what makes them tick when I got to the end of the book. Dan also gives one the feeling that all his historical pronouncements are based on fact and meticulous research. I think time has proven that this was not the case, and it was stupid on his part to present it so.” He concludes:

So why did the book sell so many copies? Because people got caught up in the story. I know that I did. When I finally turned the last page, I sat there wondering why I’d read the darn thing so breathlessly, but the fact of the matter was that I had. In speaking to other people, I found the book had had the same effect on them. There is certainly some writing skill involved if an author can do that.

Come on, Corey, his plots aren’t what I would call “hackneyed”. It had some neat twists and the puzzle aspect of it was pretty cool. Bottom line: Dan Brown can tell a good story.

I guess it could all be summed up like this: don’t judge a book by its sales.

So, my response:

First, you’re right. It was a cheap shot. It was a joke, but maybe I should have backed it up. I think Dan Brown can handle the criticism (millions of dollars in sales do tend to create a comfortable buffer zone), but yeah, it was cheap.

And yes, while I could expound at length on my subjective view that Dan Brown’s prose is horrid, I could never reach the heights of Mark Steyn’s concise dissection of Brown’s style (and believe me, it kills me to agree with anything Steyn has to say).

But I take some offence at the notion that I do not care for him because of his sales. That’s silly. Many, many talented authors sell well, as do the no-talents. And many, many, many talented authors languish in obscurity, along with a healthy amount of hacks. The argument that Brown’s sales in some way cloud my judgment is laughable.

I do not like Dan Brown because (and I will not back down from this) Dan Brown is no good. I rarely read novels that cause me to physically throw the book across the room in disgust (repeatedly), but Brown achieved that distinction handily. Twice. I read Digital Fortress, and that novel took a severe beating. I read The Da Vinci Code because I felt it couldn’t be worse, and everyone was telling me it was so much better. Yeah. That copy was lucky it wasn’t mine; I probably would have fed it to the shredder otherwise. Brown’s prose is frankly awful, his grasp of narrative flow nonexistent, and his characters (as Rick notes) are so one-dimensional as to be invisible.

It is not his hackneyed plots. I fully subscribe to the notion that it is not the story that is important, but how it is told. Terrific fictions have been written from the most ridiculous ideas imaginable. Do I believe that vampires could destroy a small town? No, but Stephen King makes me believe it. Can I find it plausible that there are schools of witchcraft in England? Nope, but J.K. Rowling convinces me. Dan Brown does not convince me.

But maybe that’s too strict a guideline. What about the entertaining novels you never fully engage in? Sadly, Brown doesn’t even qualify as good pulp. Or good bad pulp. I never for a moment buy anything that occurs in The Destroyer series, but darned if I don’t read them (go Remo!).

Brown is awful, a one-trick pony whose trick ain’t that great. He has one plot, and recycles it again and again; the hero has 24 hours to overcome a series of ludicrous plot twists. There’s a killer with a weird physical quirk (a deaf-mute, an albino). There’s a mysterious mastermind behind it all whose identity is secret, yet is obvious to anyone who has sat through a few episodes of Murder, She Wrote.

Now, to give Brown credit, at least he presumably writes his own material, and has not taken to writing by committee a la James Patterson. He does a lot of research, and the stuff he digs up is kinda neat. But who cares, when the product is so poor?

I hope I’ve laid the criticism to rest. If you like Dan Brown, then fine. Different strokes, different folks. I care not if he sells a zillion copies of his next work. I would likely sell my soul for a piece of the action. But Rick, it is a cheap shot of your own to assume my dislike is based on sales or jealousy. I’ve inter-library loaned a few of your novels, and can’t wait to read them. Unlike Brown, I’m positive you’ve got talent.

Let’s lay the feud to rest, and agree to disagree. I don’t want to be like John Irving and Tom Wolfe sniping at each other like fifth-graders at recess.

Now, about James Patterson…ugh!