Carmen Mola’s crime-thriller book series gained “her” recognition as Spain’s Elena Ferrante.
One of Spain’s most celebrated female authors, Carmen Mola, won the prestigious Planeta literary prize last October 15 for penning best-selling crime novels. Her 2018 debut title, The Gypsy Bride, kickstarted a three-part book series and translated to almost a dozen languages.
However, to the public’s surprise, television scriptwriters Agustín Martínez, Jorge Díaz, and Antonio Mercero got on stage to claim the trophy and one million euro award (almost P59 million). Did they pretend to be a woman for book sales?
Under the pseudonym, the three men sold over 400,000 books, hiding behind a profile that Mola is a 40-something mother and university professor from Madrid. When they revealed themselves at the awarding event attended by Felipe VI, Spain’s king, many concluded that it was all an unprincipled stunt meant to reach a female-dominated demographic.
Behind the pseudonym
Martinez, Diaz, and Mercero were quick to dodge the accusations, telling Spanish newspaper El Pais that hiding behind a woman’s name was not a conscious effort. According to Martinez, deciding on the name Carmen Mola came after “a minute and a half of throwing around names of men, women, foreigners.”
“I don’t know if the feminine pseudonym sells more than the masculine one, I don’t have the faintest idea, but it doesn’t seem like it to me,” Mercero added. “The three of us have not hidden behind a woman but behind a name.”
However, their statements raised eyebrows as the men, all in their forties and fifties, accepted email interviews and even explained why Mola didn’t want to be publicly recognized.
“I didn’t want my colleagues at the office, my sisters-in-law, or my mother to know that I wrote a book where someone kills a woman by getting larva worms into her skull. For my circle, I am much more conventional,” Mola was quoted by French news site Le Figaro.
In a Tweet by Beatriz Gimeno, writer and former head of the Women’s Institute, she says she doesn’t buy the “it’s just a name” press release the T.V. scriptwriters disclose in interviews.
“It’s not just the name— it’s the fake profile that they’ve used to take in readers and journalists. They are scammers,” Gimeno wrote.
The revelation prompted establishments like the Madrid-based feminist bookstore Mujeres y Compañía to pack up their stocks of Carmen Mola novels and send them back to its publishing house. “What’s cool is that men don’t take all the space,” they tweeted.
Given that Carmen Mola’s publisher is Penguin Random House, the biggest publishing house globally, it’s a shock that its executives let such a scheme come to fruition.
“Somehow, the charade is now being used by some men to argue that women writers have an edge in the editorial industry. This argument feels misleading, as men are still the authors of most of the books published in Spain (more than 60 percent, according to official figures of solo authors from 2020),” writes journalist Maria Ramirez in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.
She adds that big publishers always seem ready to publish an author willing to tackle feminism, the #MeToo movement, or “cry wolf about cancel culture.” But in contrast, Pulitzer Prize winners Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s “groundbreaking book She Said” was published in Spain by Libros del K.O., an independent company.
According to a report by the Financial Times, Diaz said, “Carmen Mola is not, like all the lies we’ve been telling, a university professor. We are three friends who one day four years ago decided to combine our talent to tell a story.”
In contrast to Martinez, Diaz, and Mercero’s initial book-sales success rooting from 2018, it seems no one is buying their stories as of late.
Banner photo from @sonhandoentrelinhas on Instagram.