Good Muses for People Who Like Bad Writing
There's a great, possibly apocryphal story about Lester Dent, the man who wrote 200 or so 60,000-word Doc Savage pulp adventure novels. Dent, who wrote a novel a month for 16 years, finally took a vacation in the Bahamas. A new writer was filling in, so Dent could relax a little bit.
But then a chartered jet arrived, and a messenger informed Dent that the new kid cracked up and couldn't handle the work. Dent was to return to New York and write next month's Doc Savage immediately. Reportedly, Dent cursed under his breath, grabbed a typewriter, sat under a palm tree, and wrote a novel in an afternoon. He sent the novel back and returned to his vacation.
This should be inspiration for the 2,000 Seattleites who are trying National Novel Writing Month this month. If someone can type a 60,000-word novel in an afternoon, surely a 50,000-word novel in 30 days is featherweight. Also, NaNoWriMo novelists should keep away from literary fiction, which is time-consuming, fastidious work. Instead, write about fucking and fighting and adventure, and make Dent and Harold Robbins your twin muses.
For three decades, Robbins was the most popular novelist on the planet, according to Harold Robbins: The Man Who Invented Sex, a new biography by Andrew Wilson. Robbins wrote gaudy soap operas that practically reeked of sex. His plots were always ripped from the headlines of the day, and every chapter was thick with the kind of melodrama that keeps even nonreaders turning pages (and it was turning pages; just as Robbins didn't really write, it's impossible to actually read one of his books).
Robbins knew he wasn't Nobel material, but he believed he'd earned a certain amount of respect. He definitely earned money, and Robbins, a tiny ugly balding man, became renowned for throwing coke-fueled orgies attended by models, actors, and political figures. It's the kind of literary fame that doesn't exist anymore, a one-time deal that died when Robbins did, broke and depressed.
The Man Who Invented Sex isn't the best biography of the year—that's easily David Michaelis's Schulz and Peanuts—but it's fun, and weirdly inspiring for any would-be hack.
Aspiring novelists should buy a Doc Savage and a Robbins novel. One cover will feature a tawny man in a ripped shirt, fighting a lion, gorilla, or shark. The other will have a naked woman sprawled in a gaudy boudoir. Both will boast how many millions of copies they've sold. Horny chicks, rough and ready men, and bucketfuls of royalties: Was there ever a more honest reason to write?