John Ramsey Miller
I am happy for Dan Brown, I’m happy for his publisher, Random House, and I’m happy for his broker. I think he deserves his success, even if I do not fully understand it. None of us knows what readers will hit on, but I do know that chasing a wildly successful book by taking the elements you feel are what struck the chord with the audience is usually a waste of good keystrokes. I don’t think most people can write what they don’t feel and hit home runs with an audience. You know what sells? Entertainment. I can break that down. Readers want to feel good, to know their dreams can be realized, that they can escape reality by getting involved, that good kicks evil’s wide ass, and that hope exists despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary.
Look at the how the lowly Vampire of a few years ago has suddenly been lifted to the heavens. We have vampires drinking synthetic blood, walking about in the daytime, flying like superman, fangs that open like switchblades, feeling emotions, being all sensitive, falling in love, and next we’ll have them procreating like the living, roasting garlic to sprinkle on their popcorn, and ordering scotch and Holy water on the rocks. And now werewolves, ghouls, witches, ghosts, zombies, voodoo priests, magical beasts of every description, are all lining up in the wings waiting their turn to elbow their way into the middle of the stream. Because readers want to feel fear from the safety of their armchairs, and triumph over it without breaking a sweat. They want to believe that there are things they don’t see in their own lives. They (we) want to imagine they can live forever, only if it’s just at night, and they want to believe in monsters, but want even their worst monsters to have a smidgen of goodness buried in there somewhere. And most people believe that animals in jeopardy are more important than people in the same fix. Seriously you can have a monster kill a child that toddles too close, but one that kills curious cats or protective dogs is beyond redemption.
Successful authors gravitate toward subjects, characters, and stories that attract them. I suppose I could write a convincing vampire novel, if I were interested in vampires it might even be interesting, but I’d rather write about gangsters. I’d love to write about the wild West. I’d like to back off to a time when there were no cell phones, few if any telephones, no TV sets and maybe just a radio here and there and newspapers instead of CNN.
The thing about Dan Brown is that his work isn’t a fluke. About anytime a writer is successful, critics pick at his style, impugn his accuracy, and generally rain poo-poo on his ability. Dan Brown is into his story, cares about his characters, and likes slaying giants. Brown is a great writer, and his financial rewards are well deserved because it is a gift to Mr. Brown for what he is offering them in exchange. Maybe Dan Brown won’t win an Edgar, or the ITW for best novel, or any other rewards his contemporaries can bestow. Like so many great commercially successful artists jealousy keeps those prizes away. But authors like Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, JK Rowling, John Grisham, James Patterson, Stephen King, Stephanie Meyer, and Dan Brown, the people are voting, and they are voting yes, yes, yes. When millions of people think you are a great writer, the Nobel, Pulitzer committee, and the critics are irrelevant and should be. Would you rather have a line of awards on your bookshelves, or some producer from the Today show begging you for the fifteenth time to make an appearance, or a Gulfstream V taking you and your family to Europe so you can watch your book being filmed. For most authors I know, it isn’t even close. Of course, all of the above would be heaven.