In the cult movie The Decline of the American Empire, a young intellectual confesses he has sexual fantasies about sleeping with Susan Sontag. The movie was released in 1986, so Susan Sontag was about 53 years young. Times were different then. Men in their early twenties having fantasies about sex with fifty-something writers was considered a screwball of a subplot to sneak into a pretentious indie movie. I doubt there is anything so odd about the concept now. If there was such a geeky young man out there who was looking for an object of sexual fascination, may I suggest Joyce Maynard?
I don’t really need to suggest this. I am only trying to describe that she has some really hard core fans. People don’t just read her, love her and respect her. People get creepy over her. She was a celebrated liberal teenager in the ’60s, she corresponded with J.D.Salinger, and her characters were played by Nicole Kidman and Kate Winslet. She even appeared in a cinematic adaptation of her novel in a brief cameo. Almost all of her novels are described as “cult classics” and many have been translated into French (but not any other language). She is the sort of literary saint that not many people read, but some of those who do are sick in the head over her. She is a walking, breathing cult icon. You get my drift.
James Patterson is, by contrast, a one-man industry. If he is not the best selling author alive, he is definitely one of the best selling authors alive. There are some conflicting reports on how many volumes he has actually sold but they are in the hundreds of millions. His net worth is calculated to be between $150 million and $430 million. He has an enormous fan base and a small number of obsessive detractors, as most rich people do. He allegedly works with an army of ghost writers and co-authors and churns out three to four novels a year, most of which hit the best seller lists. He travels by private jet. By every measure, a writer like him is statistically non-existent. If your child says he wants to grow up to be James Patterson, tell him to play football and aim for the Super Bowl instead. This man is most likely a figment of your imagination. It’s a mistake that he exists.
So now that we have established the lion and the unicorn, let’s see them duel. I’m not kidding. There was an article in which Joyce Maynard takes an online course by James Patterson on how to write a best seller. It is titled “An Accomplished Writer Takes a ‘MasterClass’ From a Gargantuan Selling Writer“. James Patterson described as “a gargantuan selling writer” sounds reasonable. Joyce Maynard described as “an accomplished writer” does not. How about “Minor God takes Business Lessons from Gargantuan Monster”?
The irony of this article is not sufficiently projected by the subdued title. We live in an age, where I can get more useful instructions about writing and selling novels through a few hours of surfing the internet than I could in a decade of frantic searching during my teenage years. It seems that everybody wants to teach you to write. And the culmination of this crazy trend is James Patterson teaching Joyce Maynard how to write a best seller. This is the fable of our age. The lion takes on the unicorn on the page of an online magazine. It leaves a writer at a loss for words.