The publishing world debates whether Carmen Mola is a commercial success or an ethical skid

The publishing world debates whether Carmen Mola is a commercial success or an ethical skid

Carmen Mola was not just a pseudonym, it was a literary construction with many implications. The failure of the Planet award it has sparked an intense debate within the cultural world. On one side are those who consider it a fun reveal and brilliant business strategy. In the other, those who believe that Planeta, the three winners and the publisher responsible for the strategy have crossed several red lines.

The Minister of Culture, Miquel Iceta, is among the first. “This has been surprising because there are three men, but they had already published and were successful. I know the jury of the Planeta award and they have surely valued quality,” he said at a press conference this Monday. Since Friday there are also people highlighting the prose of the three screenwriters separately, while Mola has climbed positions in the sales charts: top 10 in general literature and top 3 in crime fiction.

However, the most critical defend that it is not necessary to lie to preserve an identity or to avoid annoying criticism or promotions. The case of Carmen Mola exceeds the creation of a pseudonym, and that has outraged part of those who read, sold and wrote about her.

The three authors –Antonio Mercero, Jorge Díaz and Agustín Martínez– have said in an interview in El País that the choice of Carmen’s alias was fortuitous because it sounded “simple, Spanish” to them, but that could perfectly have been a male name. “I don’t believe it at all, it was totally premeditated because it responds to boom of the black novel writers ”, believes Alba Varela, owner of the Librería Mujeres, one of the seven in all of Spain that only has female authors in its catalog. It did not happen to her like her Madrid colleagues from Mujeres & Compañía, who after learning of the ruling removed Carmen Mola’s novels from their shelves and returned them to Alfaguara, owned by Penguin Random House.

“We have never had those books because I read the first one and I knew there was a man behind it,” she says. Even so, she empathizes with her colleagues and regrets that “for three years they have usurped a space that did not correspond to them.” “This bias helps us to promote the creativity of women in the face of social ignorance of their value. It is a social policy. Being deceived and used like that is despicable,” says Varela, who thinks that the Alfaguara commercials should have warned them.

Feminist or women’s rights institutions that once recommended reading it face a similar debate. The Institute of Women of Castilla La Mancha included two titles of Mola –The gypsy bride (2018) and The purple net (2019) – in su batch of “gender perspective” readings from 2020. The Catalan Minister for Feminisms has criticized the strategy of the pseudonym for being a “trivialization” of discrimination against women in writing, which has been echoed by public bodies, but not only.

Elle magazine also included Carmen Mola on a list of women “who inspire us and change the world” in the wake of March 8. “If before you knew that they were men, you considered that they were good examples of gender perspective, you have to keep thinking about it, because they have not altered a single letter of the texts,” defended the writer Sergio del Molino, who despite everything admits that it is not an ideal option. “Removing the books, as the Madrid bookstore has done, is as bad or worse than the previous one because it implies recognizing that they recommended the books without reading them and with no other criteria than to have a female name stamped on the cover,” he adds.

The relationship of the publishers and the three authors with the press has been another of the most delicate issues of the matter. Is it ethical to involve the media in a strategy of marketing? Mathieu de Taillac thinks not. The journalist is a correspondent in Spain for several French media and in the summer of 2018 proposed to Le Figaro an in-depth topic on the literary phenomenon of the moment.

“I went to a trusted bookseller and he advised me on three titles, among which was The gypsy bride. I read it and chose it because of the pseudonym, “explains the journalist. For the article, he interviewed the editor of Alfaguara, María Fasce.” She told me what to everyone, that what Carmen Mola writes is from a violence such that it could damage the image that her environment had of her as a conventional woman “, she recalls. She also acknowledges that she could have investigated more, but found no compelling reasons to do so as she was not specialized in culture or literature.

On Friday, when the hare jumped, “I felt angry because he lied to my face and I published some lies about the supposed life of an alleged author.” Taillac has spoken with María Fasce again, who has justified herself saying that she had a confidentiality contract, although she does not go so far as to admit that she was aware of the deception. has contacted the editor to obtain its version, but has not replied. “I feel like an accomplice in spite of myself. I don’t like to transmit lies to my readers. I feel dirty,” acknowledges the French envoy.

Without being a journalist, the same thing happened to the literary popularizer Mikel Fernández. “On the channel I talk a lot about thriller and crime novels because it is a genre that has always interested me. They recommended me The gypsy bride as something different, letting me know what it was gore, but it also caught my attention because it was written by a woman. I dedicate much more space to the writers of the LGTB collective, because the men and women are already promoted in the press and put on the front line in bookstores “, defends the head of literary YouTube account Mikey F.

These days there has been an intense debate on the uses of pseudonyms, a common practice in literature. Some people, such as the Catalan Minister for Feminisms or those responsible for the Women’s Bookstore believe that “it is not acceptable to keep gender hidden”. The latter take as an example Ben Pastor and Fred Vargas, two writers who write under a male pseudonym but have never hidden that they are women.

“Women have used pseudonyms to survive in an industry that is not made for us,” justifies Alba Varela. “Many have had to hide behind men or ambiguous initials to be taken seriously. On the other hand, in the case of the three authors behind Mola there is something else. There is no pseudonym and that’s it. They created a fiction, giving They are interviews that you now read, and they are even more embarrassing than before, “adds Mikel Fernández.

This is one of the main criticisms of the publisher: the promotional apparatus has gone beyond the quality of the novels – which has not been questioned – with press interviews and informative notes that revealed details about the modest professor of institute and mother of three children. “They could have been like Elena Ferrante, another woman super careful about her privacy who writes under a pseudonym by personal decision”, bought the bookstore. Even as Greta Alonso, the pseudonym of success of Planeta and a profile similar to that of Mola: young woman, crime novel writer but who, instead, he does offer interviews over the phone.

The case of Ferrante is the great mystery of modern literature and an example that differs from that of Carmen Mola. Since the first publication in 1992, the author has traveled several continents without having to do interviews or appear at book signings. Perhaps it was the curiosity of anonymity or that there were readers willing to recover the romantic sense of reading, but the Italian author has achieved record numbers without entering the promotion wheel.

During all these years, different identities have been shuffled, including that of a man, but it has never provoked a discussion at the level of Carmen Mola. Varela also mentions the case of Yasmina Khadra, pseudonym of the Algerian author Mohammed Moulessehoul. “He used the first person feminine as a vindication, but he never denied that it was a man.” Instead, they “created a story, used it in the press over and over again, and it was sold by both the authors and Alfaguara,” Fernández compares.

In addition, and primarily, what bothers is the commercial issue. “In Spain, the most exported and sold crime novels are those written by women,” says the popularizer. “They have taken advantage of the space gained by other writers to sell,” he says of the three winners. As for the labels, “they are companies and they take advantage of this type of situation. Expecting that Penguin or Planeta are NGOs does not make sense either.”

Some of the followers of Carmen Mola have surprised these days in the networks with the affirmation that they knew the male identity of the author. One of those who first got the issue was Mikel Fernández, who revealed it in 2018 on his channel. “Inspector Elena Blanco’s characteristics were forced on me and with a component of what the man who writes expects from his female protagonists: the way they describe their libido, their addiction to grappa or singing Mina songs in karaoke. It seemed cartoony to me and that it did not marry the most realistic version that a woman or a man deconstructed enough not to move into clichés would have created, “he details.

Matías, an avid reader of the series and defender of its quality, admits that he also suspected it was a man. “I’m not sure why, but it didn’t seem like it was written by a woman. I have read crime novels all my life and at that time I was with Carmen Mola, Ilaria Tuti and Lorenzo Silva. The female characters reminded me more of Silva than of Tuti The latter delves more deeply into the role of women with power in the police and in motherhood. For Mola, it is something fundamental in the plot, but she treats it based on “topics.” That is why she suspected it would be a man. A man famous, “he acknowledges.

Of course, Alba Varela detected it at a first glance. That is why the trilogy never made it to the Women Bookstore. “It felt obvious to me because of how he portrayed lesbian relationships or violence against women,” she explains. And it is not because women do not know how to write gore, “there is Mariana Enríquez, with a very hard prose,” acknowledges the bookseller.

“I think they have lost readers with this,” he warns, which is why she has begun recommending other thriller novels written by women. On the other hand, Matías already recommended Carmen Mola at the time and he will continue to do so. Mikel Fernández takes the opportunity to rescue Paloma Sánchez-Garnica, the finalist for the Planet award “and one of the best historical novel authors that we have right now.” “Nobody is talking about it because everyone talks about the circus of the gentlemen: it is the invisibility behind the invisibility.”


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