Planeta Prize: The truth about Spanish novelist Carmen Mola: “We didn’t hide behind a woman, just behind a name” | Culture
The three men who, it turns out, were truly writing Spanish novelist Carmen Mola’s best-selling thrillers have spoken out to tell their story, following the controversy sparked last week when their true identities were revealed during the award ceremony for a major literary competition.
Jorge Díaz, Agustín Martínez and Antonio Mercero, professional screenwriters in their 40s and 50s, were persuaded to come forward when their manuscript The bestie (or, The Beast), a bloody story of child murders set in Madrid during the cholera epidemic of 1834, was named the winner of this year’s Planeta Prize, presented by the publishing house of the same name. This year, the prize money had increased from € 601,000 to € 1 million, exceeding the Nobel Prizes in the amount awarded to the winner.
Díaz, Martínez and Mercero said the idea of choosing a woman’s name as a pseudonym was not a deliberate one. According to Martínez, it only took “a minute and a half to throw out names of men, names of women, names with a foreign sound …”
“I don’t know if a female pseudonym sells better than a male pseudonym, I have no idea, but it doesn’t sound like that to me,” Mercero added. “We didn’t hide behind a woman, just behind a name.”
Carmen Mola had become a literary sensation, producing a blockbuster trilogy about a police detective named Elena Blanco who solves horrific crimes. The first novel, The gypsy bride, was released in 2018 and a fourth volume in the series is expected in March from publisher Alfaguara, owned by Penguin Random House Group, Planeta’s main rival in Spain. Under the Planeta Prize, which accepts only unpublished manuscripts, The bestie will be published by Planeta.
Mola, whose Elena Blanco trilogy has already sold 400,000 copies, had also been marketed as a college professor in her forties and a mother of three who wrote fiction in her spare time and preferred to remain anonymous using a pseudonym. She even gave interviews to written news agencies. EL PAÍS conducted an interview with Mola in 2018 via email, the only way for “her” to agree to speak to the media.
When the three authors finally revealed their true identities on Friday at the awards ceremony, it caused a stir in literary circles and on social media. Beatriz Gimeno, writer, legislator and former director of the Institute of Women of Spain, said the deception goes far beyond the literary realm. “Beyond using a female pseudonym, there is the fact that these people have been giving interviews for years,” she said in a Twitter message. “It’s not just the name, it’s the fake profile with which they duped readers and journalists. Crooks. “
All three writers now say that if they had guessed the success of their first thriller about Detective Elena Blanco, they would have thought more about it and maybe come up with a different name. “But it all started to gain ground and turned into a wave that we couldn’t get out of. There were translations, we were asked for another novel … ”said Díaz. “We had to write something about the author for the jacket sleeve, so we made it up that she was a university professor in Madrid. But she might as well have tasted the gin and tonic … first we said she had two children, then we forgot and said she had three … we weren’t very rigorous about it, ”Mercero added.
Penguin Random House downplays the relevance of the fact that rival publisher Planeta lured writers in with its $ 1 million check. But María Fasce, editor at Alfaguara, called it a “marketing operation”. Screenwriters are increasingly sought after by publishing houses due to the growing popularity of often book-based television series.
In fact, the story begins with a former employee of Penguin. Justyna Rzewska, who worked in Penguin’s international rights sales department, founded a small literary agency named Hanska in 2017 and sent Alfaguara Negra the manuscript of the first novel she would portray. This department, specializing in detective novels, was looking for a writer in Spain who would have a similar impact to foreign authors like Pierre Lemaître or Joël Dicker. The manuscript was received by María Fasce, who was fascinated by the story, but soon learned that Carmen Mola was a pseudonym and that the real writer wished to remain anonymous.
“In these cases, when a publisher enters into a deal with a writer, the deal is strictly honored. You act like he’s a writer who doesn’t want to talk to you and you’re waiting for his great novels, ”she said in a conversation with EL PAÍS. The book was an immediate bestseller.
The editor said she couldn’t comment when she knew Mola was really Jorge Díaz, Agustín Martínez and Antonio Mercero. Secrecy has always been part of the process, even after The purple network was released in 2019 and the girl in 2020.
“We’ve been lying like dogs for four years and several months,” Díaz laughs. “It has been a long time since [I published my own] last novel, and more than one person had criticized me for not writing anything else, for being lazy. And I would think, ‘If you only knew …!’ “
There was a circle of people who knew something was up, but very few (and very discreet) who knew that one of the three could be behind Carmen Mola. But no one knew it was the three of them.
Díaz, Martínez and Mercero said they did not expect to start a new saga with The Bestia. Then again, they also didn’t expect to write several books about Elena Blanco. “We had a great time working in this genre,” Martínez said. “We live by the principle of pleasure. We are hedonistic writers, not authors who suffer when they write, and I believe that when you have fun, the book comes out better. That’s what we’ve always wanted to do, have fun writing.