You’ve probably already heard about a writer named Lynn Shepherd and her diatribe on HuffPo about that dastardly J. K. Rowling and how she’s (Rowling) a success and she should just quit writing and give everyone else a shot.
After I finished shaking my head to get the wrackspurts out and start thinking clearly again, I posted comments and linked to the article (with comments) on my Facebook page. I won’t link to it here — you can find it if you really want to read it (again or for the first time) but I don’t have to drive traffic to her drivel.
At least I did her the courtesy of reading the article before I commented, which is more than she did for Rowling. In my mind, besides the sheer effrontery of one writer telling another writer not to write (well, except for the patronizing little tap on the head which was: “By all means keep writing [...] for your personal pleasure – I would never deny anyone that – but when it comes to the adult market you’ve had your turn.” Gosh and golly, Ms. Shepherd. I guess Ms. Rowling should be grateful and tug her forelock because you will let her write for her own pleasure! How big of you!) the idea that you should criticise someone’s work when you’ve never even read it(!) is mind-blowing.
There were two other places where I thought she really missed the mark. One had to do with the idea that adults who read YA lit are wasting their time somehow. Some of the most interesting and enjoyable books I have read or remember reading when I was somewhat younger fall into the YA category. Beyond Harry Potter, I would classify the following as YA:
- The Earthsea Trilogy, Ursula LeGuin
- The Hunger Games books, Suzanne Collins
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Rick Riordan
- A Wrinkle in Time (and subsequent books), Madeleine L’Engle
- The Chronicles of Prydain, Lloyd Alexander
- Several space novels of Robert Heinlein that were written for the YA crowd
If you add in Tolkien’s Hobbit along with the Narnia books and the Space Trilogy of C.S. Lewis (and I’m not entirely sure what age level Lewis was aiming for with Narnia) that’s literally hundreds and hundreds of hours of wonderful, thought-provoking and entertaining reading for people at any age. The very idea that adults shouldn’t read them horrifies me. That takes some arrogance on the part of Ms. Shepherd (but I think it’s obvious by now that she has no shortage of that quality).
I thought Chuck Wendig, blogging on Terrible Minds, found the right response to YA naysayers:
“… for now, I’ll leave you with this lovely Nick Hornby quote: ‘I see now that dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or a dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I’ve discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that’s filled with masterpieces I’ve never heard of.'”
Finally, and most incredibly, Shepherd seemingly believes that the success of writers like Rowling, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, et al. somehow puts a roadblock in front of writers like her. First off, as one commenter expressed it, publishing is not a “zero-sum” game, where writer X keeps writer y from getting published. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that the success of the megawriters keeps publishing houses in the money they need to bring in the next level of writers. Ms. Shepherd, your books got published because Ms. Rowling’s did (or someone else like her). If you’re not seeing her level of success, maybe you need to examine what you’re writing.
Speaking for myself, new writers get four pages when I’m at the library looking for something to read. If you can’t hook me so that I want to keep reading, you’re going back on the shelf. I’ve even stopped reading one or two of Stephen King’s books (and I read Carrie in the original paperback right after it was published — he’s one of my favorite writers, period). It’s not the name on the front of the book I care about, it’s the words inside. I didn’t particularly care for The Casual Vacancy either. I felt what Ms. Rowling was trying to do had been done much better by British crime writer Robert Barnard in Political Suicide. But at least I opened the book and tried before I decided not to read it.
I find myself thinking that Ms. Shepherd’s 15 minutes of fame have come at a cost. There are a lot of YA fans and Potter fans who will never forgive her for her rant. I’ve heard (courtesy of the BBC website) that there are a lot of people who have hit her author page on Amazon and one-starred her books. It’s a pity – she might have a good product (or not) but she may well wind up writing under a pseudonym herself. I wonder if she’ll get any more shelf space that way?