Another piece I wrote during the Sydney Writers Festival. Fucked if I remember where. Maybe Time Off.
Kim Scott, Roger McDonald, Shirley Hazzard and Alex Miller all have Miles Franklins. You’ve never heard of any of them. J K Rowling, Tom Clancy, Stephen King and Dan Brown steal plots from vintage Scooby Doo cartoons, and construct characters out of processed cheese — but if you haven’t got one of their books, you’re probably dead.
Remember when reading Literature was interesting? Hemingway, was literature, you know. He had to be. They 'teach' him now. And Hemingway would shit hedgehogs if he saw the state of the Art these days. Back in Earnesto's day, you couldn’t bang out an Art novel and spend the rest of your life necking wine and cheese on the festival circuit. Back in his day, you weren’t a writer unless people actually wanted to read your stuff.
We can’t ask Clancy, King and Rowling to help out. They’re too busy rolling in mountains of money. This problem has to be solved by the people who created it. By people like Gail Jones, for example.
Jones is an Aussie literary lion. Twice shortlisted for the Miles Franklin, she wipes her talented bottom with literary awards. Her most novel Sorry, is an “exquisite story of ... troubled childhood” which “ ...explores the values of friendship, loyalty and sacrifice....... ad;flk;lkjlkjjjjjj
What? Oh. Apologies — I dropped off for a moment there.
Okay, Gail. Cred is good, but coin is better. You can’t eat artistic integrity. It tastes like sawdust. So the first thing we need to do is figure out what genre Sorry belongs in, because genre fiction is the stuff that sells. Luckily this is a no-brainer. Set in Western Australia in the ‘thirties, we’ve got a story about white men clashing with the natives. So, if you’re looking forward to the ching-ching-ching of major cash at the local Book Barn, Sorry should be retooled as a Western.
With a bit of guidance from cowboy opera legends Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey, a writer like Jones should be able to tickle this turkey ‘til it crows like a rooster.
First, though, we have to fix the writer. Zane Grey was a rogerer and roisterer. Louis L’Amour travelled the world as a merchant seaman and fought as a tank commander in WWII. You're a lecturer in cultural studies, Gail? Hmm. You should think about driving big trucks full of sweating gelignite for a day job. Zane woulda done it. Just for fun. Louis woulda smoked few sticks as novelty cigars.
And that title? Nothing turns off the punters like a limp, ambiguous title. Zane and Louis never said sorry. They were too busy beating back Apaches and gunning down rustlers in Riders Of The Purple Sage or The Quick And The Dead. Sure, Sorry sort of reflects the theme of the novel. But how about: A Man Called Sorry.
I smell gunsmoke, saddlesoap and a Clint Eastwood movie spin off already.
Then it’s just a matter of swapping out all that character development and exquisitely layered narrative you wasted so much time on, and replacing it with some gun fights and horse riding. Maybe throw in a dynamite duel too. Dynamite is always an excellent narrative choice.
But Gail Jones can't carry the revolution by herself. Yes, I'm looking at you, Helen Garner. How many years have you been the righteous front-persyn of rational academic Feminism in Oz? You've got more cred than a whole netball squad of Germaine Greers armed with crutching irons. So what do we get from you? The Spare Room:a searing drama of a woman taking up space on someone else's fold-away futon so she can die – very slowly, for sure – of cancer.
Dammit, Helen – you got leverage. In Australia, Feminism is whatever the frock you say it is. Take a couple-hundred pages from Danielle Steele. Peek through the saggy vinyl blinds into that spare room, and show us some serious boobage! You can still do all that deep affirmation-of-life and acceptance-of-death stuff, except you make sure your female lead has bodacious taa-taas and a string of swaggersome boytoys with whom to make thunderous rumpy-pumpy.
And lingerie. You're gonna need lingerie for the cover art, plus a whole bunch more to splash around the storyline. Can't remember the difference between a bustier and a merry widow? Your audience won't care anyway, so long as it's lacy and silky and tears away easily in the hot, sweaty hands of the hero. And the villain. And the main girl's best girlfriend too.
Of course, the really big bucks come from the US market. Luckily, the Yanks have sent us an author for the SWF. Junot Diaz is a nerdy Dominican-American from the East Coast, whose Pulitzer-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is (kind of unsurprisingly) about a nerdy Dominican-American from the East Coast and his quest for love. And, um, stuff.
Oscar Wao is big on the fan-boy SF scene, and for some reason, confuses his homeland with Geek Country: "What more sci-fi than Santo Domingo? What more fantasy than the Antilles?"
Nice try, Junot, but it won't wash. Science fiction is good, and fantasy pays like a mint run by Swedish hookers, but everybody knows the Dominican Republic isn't science fiction territory. That's Clancy-land down there.
Tom Clancy, that is: a world of drugs, guns, spies, killer satellites, terrorists, assassins, and hard-bitten American special forces. Writing a Clancy novel is easy. All you gotta do is start every new scene with a dateline, like this – San Cristobal Beach, April 22nd, 0035hrs. Those twenty-four hour time-stamps just ooze the militaristic authenticity that Clancy's readers really dig. Other than that, you gotta remember the Americans are the good guys, drugs are bad, and Clancyland characters never go anywhere without a silenced 9mm fully automatic Grunder-Schloss microgun packed with HEAP ammo stuffed into their undies.
Stick to those rules, you can have Oscar Wao do pretty much whatever the hell he wants and the techno-thriller crowd won't care. They'll be too busy emailing you with details of how you got the safety catch wrong on the left-handed model of the Skorpion submachinegun featured on page fifty-six.
Not that it matters, because ultimately the goal is to spin up the zeroes on your bank balance. You can do it with horses, hooters, guns, spaceships, dragons, or any mixture of the above. The only rule you really have to remember is this: five sequels and a movie deal trumps a Miles Franklin every time.