Monday, January 18, 2010

Da Vinci Code, symbology, and Scottology

Being the kind who is usually 10 years behind the cultural trends, I'm just now getting around to "The Da Vinci Code," listening to an audiotape from the library. I can see why this is so popular. It's accessible, fast-paced, reasonably well-written, and provides a lot of information. I've known some writers who sneered at the book, considering it hack work. Of course, that comes from the position of assuming that 10 million people have to be "wrong" in a subjective matter. I have to admit, I picked up one bestseller and when I got to the line "I did a shrug," I thought, "Well, maybe I'm not in this book's audience."

But in thinking about my own work, I can't afford to take any kind of elitist position. I thought after 10 years I'd know how to write. The truth is, after 12 years, I am finally ready to LEARN to write. A big distinction. A little unsettling, a little intimidating, but also strangely freeing and transformative. In the last post, I was musing on my past. I can't disown it. Yet I also don't have to be "just my books."

By looking at the kind of books people like, instead of what I think they should read, I am more like the student I say every writer should be. I used to shudder when I heard about writers who calculated their plots and characters on whatever was popular at the time, deliberately copying big beats like First Kill, First Punch, First Kiss. But there's wisdom in it because it is the rhythm of our popular storytelling, and it didn't emerge in a vacuum. The reader completes the journey that the writer embarks upon alone. Everything is not Shakespeare. Sometimes you need some Patterson or Brown or Evanovich or Meyer.


Jeanne said...

Since I read the DaVinci Code in hardcover, I saw the various "clues", etc. posted throughout the book and, frankly, found them simplistic. I didn't care for his writing, but I can see how the theme (missing progeny of Jesus) would be a grabber.
Not sour grapes...just as you say, recognizing what is being read is paramount if you want your material to be read and published.
Sorry, but the "book of the heart" as the romance genre dubs that baby you've slaved over for x amount of time, doesn't often see the light of day. Love what you write, but if you truly want to share your words with others, realize what others are reading.

Scott Nicholson said...

Very true, Jeanne. I think the genrefication of books, while perhaps a marketing necessity for the industry, is a detriment to literature. Young adult books are all over the map but they all are classified YA, with some authors writing in multiple genres and readers still finding and loving them.

Da Vinci Code actually is a crossover in the Koontz manner, blending a number of genres, which helps account for its wide appeal. Nobody's out there arguing whether it should be a romance or a mystery or a thriller or a historical fiction, as it would have been if it had not been labeled and marketed simply as a "bestseller." Which is the simplest way to market any book!

Jeanne said...

Hi, Scott
Let me get this straight. The DaVinci Code was labeled *before* it became a bestseller *as* a bestseller?

author Scott Nicholson said...

Yes, there were 10,000 advance review copies printed of it--more than most books get in their regular print run. Bestsellers are made, not born, and almost always determined by the amount of the advance.