Happy Meal Literature

the First of Four Meandering Rants on Originality

Someone showed me this gem of a new release the other day, and I have to say, it looks awesome. Instant number one on my summer beach read list.   It’s a little paranormal mystery, the first in a new series, called Murder Buys a T-Shirt.

Can murder do that?  What does that even mean?  How is that possible?  Is murder a proper noun here, is that a character?  If Murder is one of the characters in a murder-mystery novel, I have to say, kind of gives it away.

Is it like Neil Gaiman naming a character Door or the Dark Half where Stephen King writes Thad Beaumont writing as George Stark names one of his villains Machine?  Ok, Alexis Machine—but this fictional character within a fictional world is best known simply as Machine.

I don’t think Murder is a very good name for a killer, even a ghost killer, and even in a book that promises to provide “Down-Home Dinner Menus.”  Better than quilting patterns, I suppose.  If you have to add something to your mystery to generate interest, beyond, you know, writing a good book, I suppose I’d rather have recipes than needlecraft patterns or tea time tips, brainteaser puzzles, or crosswords.

 Is this the same idea as one of those baking soda submarines in your Corn Flakes, or a Fraggle Rock race car in your Happy Meal?

This isn’t the only book series to do that, to throw in some extras to supplement fun little mystery stories spanning only a couple hundred pages.  No doubt they all center around some sassy independent woman, trying to start a new life or get over some tragedy, and whoops! there she goes getting caught in some murder mystery with a quirky ghost or some other clever sidekick.

Maybe that’s a good way to look at this new series, the Haunted Souvenir Shop series, or the  Pizza Lover’s Mystery, or the Hemlock Falls Mystery series, the Good Buy Girls or Cats in Trouble series that have come before.

 They’re the junk food of mystery series.  Good going down, fast to be forgotten, and has a crappy toy to amuse you for a few minutes.

But again, how the fuck does murder buy a t-shirt?  That’s a damn talented souvenir shop.

I want to write a book like that.  Two hundred pages of brainless, mind-numbing fun.  Forget meaning and layers, psychological undertones, multiple interpretations of characters’ motivations.  Maybe the good guy’s of questionable moral standing or the villain is found redeemable in that he’s acting out of desperation rather than acting out some sociopathic god complex.

Nah, screw it—I want a haunted souvenir shop in Florida and a talking foul-mouthed parrot named Bluebeard who only swears in special f@$&ing characters.  Let’s read that.

I guess sometimes you need to read a fun book, a short lighthearted story.  You can’t read James Joyce all the time, right?  I’ve read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I’ve read A. Lee Martinez and some Simon Green.  These are by no means juggernauts of literary excellence, but they’re also not the only books I read.

These fun, quirky series seem to have a huge fan base, one that is devoted to this type of book and only deviate from it when Oprah says so.  Why do anything in moderation, right?  Where’s the fun in that? One can argue that it’s all Debbie Macomber’s fault.  It was her damn Blossom Street series with its knitters and wholesome feel-goodiness.

That’s where it all started, isn’t it?  Although she had the decency to offer the knitting patterns inspired by the books as standalone volumes, companion books.

These other mystery series are just streamlining it all.  Why buy a second book of patterns when you can insert a few into the crappy book you’ve already written?

All those series with their crosswords and recipes and knitting patterns, and even the others with their clever titles like Fire Engine Dead and One Book in the Grave, that don’t offer any Happy Meal toys, those are towards the bottom of the ladder in terms of selling out.

Now, you want some quality sellout literature, you need to go the king, James Patterson.  According to my best friend Wikipedia, James “New Book Every Week” Patterson, used to work in advertising.  He retired about ten years after his first book came out.

He became more than just an author; he made himself into a brand name.  Before those twenty Alex Cross novels, before those eighty other novels of varying levels of collaboration, that first novel he wrote in 1976, the Thomas Berryman Number?  It won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.  Yeah, he won that, the bastard.

Even worse than that he may actually be talented is that he has a great sense of humor about what he’s become as an author.

He doesn’t see himself as a modern Dostoyevsky or American Victor Hugo.  He knows what he is and isn’t above making fun of himself on “the Simpsons” or “Castle”.  And why should he?  He’s a thriller writer who’s name sells books, whether he’s written them in their entirety or not.

Over the last few years he’s outsold Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown combined.  Combined.

I want to sell out like that.  At this point, I’d settle for selling out to that.

Did I say settle?  Actually, I think that should be my career goal.  Sell out like James Patterson.

About mattS

Couch potato, burrito aficionado, whiskey sour drinker, handyman, writer of interesting things.

Posted on June 11, 2012, in Books, Rant, Things I Come Up With While I'm At Work and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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