“The Gyspy Bride” was authored by “Carmen Mola,” described by a publishing house owned by Penguin Random House as a college professor in her 40s who lived in Madrid with her husband and three children. Mola gave interviews offering details on her life and career. “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 as saying to her agent, as told to the French daily Le Figaro.
Now we know now that none of that was true. Carmen Mola was actually three men, better known as screenwriters and eager to sell books in a market where women are the main consumers. Their novels are set to become a television series on Atresmedia, a television company owned by Planeta, one of the largest editorial groups in Spain. Planeta just gave the authors behind Carmen Mola a 1 million euro (about $1.16 million) literary prize.
The authors drew comparisons to Elena Ferrante, a pseudonym of a popular Italian writer, and came up with the name jokingly. (“Carmen mola” translates to “Carmen is cool,” in Spanish slang.) Ferrante gives interviews via email, as Mola did, but does not claim to have a particular profile, talks mainly about the craft of writing, and avoids discussing details about who is behind the novels.
In Mola’s case, however, the authors and their agent, a woman, fed a marketing campaign around a false identity, relying on cliches such as the idea that women don’t write gory thrillers and that, if they do, they would probably be ashamed to admit it. Some readers now say that they always thought Mola was a man because of the level of cruelty in the books. Other authors claim to have known this for a while and blame Spanish journalists for not doing their jobs properly. A Madrid-based feminist bookstore called Mujeres y Compañía made the point of sending Mola’s novels back to the publishing house, saying “what’s cool is that men don’t take all the space.”
This is not the first time readers and journalists fell for a marketing stunt, but it’s still disappointing to know that some of the most prestigious names in editing and publishing didn’t feel the need for basic standards of truth. Mola was not a pseudonym to protect someone from backlash or make them more free to write.
Admittedly, the stakes may not be that high. We are not talking about a figure likely to change literary history or provoke empathy in the same way George Eliot, Jane Austen or Ferrante did. But in this lonely world, with people searching for answers in words and stories, fiction is not irrelevant. And in this age of fakery and manipulation from politicians, platforms and advertisers, trust in publishers of both fiction and nonfiction is a valuable currency.
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).
Big publishers always seem to be ready to publish any author willing to attack feminism and #MeToo or cry wolf about “cancel culture.” Meanwhile, Pulitzer Prize winners Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s groundbreaking book “She Said” was published in Spain by Libros del K.O., a small, independent publishing company.
Despite what the men behind Carmen Mola jokingly implied, women are successful authors in their own right and are not bound by the limits of literary genres and stereotypes. There is no need to hide identities for fear of being judged or not being read. And yet the uneasiness with this episode might come from the fact that, in an industry with so many female writers, editors and agents, many of the key gatekeepers who determine who gets published or awarded are still men. Maybe this stunt will help highlight that, too.