There is a strange misconception when it comes to, well, Art in general but writing in particular. You walk into a bookstore or look online and there’s Fiction, and Literary Fiction, and then the many types of genre fiction. It’s a strange dichotomy. The notion that a horror novel cannot be literary or a literary work not be horrific. It’s the same silliness that plagues horror films. The word ‘horror’ has such a rigged connotation that people, while they will secretly watch the movies at home, will turn their nose up at the notion that their film would be horror. No, no, it’s a thriller, naturally. Of course it is. Thriller has become code for ‘classy horror’.
Like I said, silliness.
But with fiction it’s bothersome because there’s a divide in thinking that is perpetuated by the market, the reviewers, the sellers, and the public. It’s this notion that storytelling and art-telling are not the same. It’s the idea that someone like Stephen King, who has always been prolific is nothing but a storyteller when someone like Toni Morrison, who takes years to produce a book, is an artist. Now, I love both writers. Both have influenced me. Both are amazing storytellers. Let’s not act though as if Mr. King is just a hack pushing words and Ms. Morrison a great artist. No. They are both writers, both influencers. Both geniuses of the word. I don’t like putting people on pedestals though because it makes their flaws too distant and when they do become visible they suddenly appear unforgivable. When I read Song of Solomon was in college, taught by an instructor that wept while teaching it. It’s an impactful, important book. But you know what, so too is The Shining. Now, I will never tell you that they should stand shoulder to shoulder as to their impact and message, no, but that doesn’t mean that can’t both be classic pieces of fiction. This notion of Literature versus Fiction is just silly. Literature to me means self-important and boring. That’s my bias and I admit to it. It’s high-minded and always comes with a cleared throat – AHEM, the book is Lord Blah-Blah of Blahblahberry. It’s very important. And we seem to see the rest of fiction as throw away summer reads that we hand away as soon as we’re done.
We assume that writers are either artists or storytellers. They can’t be both. While I have always looked at myself as a writer and not an artist, that’s more about me and not anyone else. That’s how I see myself is all. My self-focused bias. I grant you, there’s a difference between a story and a Story, an art, but that is true of all artistic endeavors. There are books that want to tell you a story, as well as they can. Whatever else you get out of them is great. There are also books that want to do more, that have deeper layers to them and while you may not always pick up on the themes and nods they are there. These are books that are crafted and that may take longer to create because there is more to them. A story’s focus is more on the telling of a tale, and that it is that journey that draws and brings you. We need the artistic books just as we need artistic movies, to show us things we don’t always see and to tell the stories we don’t always hear. But we also just need stories. We need to see the world through other eyes to learn to better see them through our own.
I think every writer has more going on in their tales than people see, even if it’s just the influences for the story. For some reason we treat books as if they are chores we must get through. We seek out those ‘summer reads’ because they are fun but cringe at the notion of a book with more depth. Or we turn our noses up at something meant to primarily tell you a story when we feel like we’re better than that. You see it in everything. People frown at the mass-produced art because they feel it’s not as important if it’s for the masses but those people forget that part of what Art can do and should do is to inspire us and if it’s produced en masse then hey, it must be working. We can still go to a gallery and take nourishment from work and then go home and enjoy our pop art piece at home. There isn’t an either/or. There’s no one telling you to choose this or that. It’s us, restricting ourselves at every turn.
We need to let the stories tell themselves and let the people discover them. We need to stop penning these tales in and let them roam. Let that vampire story be about loneliness and loss and coming to terms with what it means to be mortal and let that story about the woman with cancer be funny and charming. Let these things be what they want to be and if there’s more to them to see then let us discover that for ourselves. Stop trying to make everything fit in a nice box. Let things be messy. For me, I focus on writing the stories. I want to tell a compelling story above all else. Are there other things going on though, below the surface? Sometimes. Sometimes a story is just a story for me, but others times there are things deeper. My novel A Shadow Over Ever has a lot of moments that have something deeper to say and the book itself has a deeper message but if people don’t see it then that’s fine. It’s still there. If I want to go read The Bluest Eye and just find a great story then that’s great too. Don’t shame me for not being moved by the deeper themes. Let Art speak for itself and stop shaming people for simply wanting something to enjoy. I know I have been guilty of judging people that read romances and why? It’s petty and silly. Just like thinking someone is wasting their time by reading a celebrity bio or a book of scary stories. It’s our time, we should spend it as we want. The joy of e-books is that you CAN delve into these works without people over your shoulder giving you grief. It allows you to simply get lost in another life or world.
Yes, there are books and paintings and poems and songs and drawings and on and on that rise above the medium. They are works that speak to the deeper parts of us and which move and inspire us. But you can also be inspired and moved by something simply being what it is and being from the heart. The faster we learn that for ourselves the better we’ll be. We make the meaning for our lives, no one else. Critics are meant to be guides, not prophets. Why should I trust their opinion about something they hate more than the layperson’s opinion about something they love?
The more time we waste trying to divide, sub-divide, and shame works that we don’t appreciate means less time for doing things we love and which enrich our lives. Our hate and disdain invests into a well that will never fill. Me, I don’t partake of the stuff I don’t have an interest in and I leave it at that. Sure, I spout off from time to time but I don’t expect people to take my opinion, my NEGATIVE opinion, over their own. Read what you want to read. Listen to what you want to listen to. Watch what you wanna watch. Love what you wanna love. There is so much stress and worry in the day to day world that we need to cling to the things that enrich our hearts and minds and make us feel better about the world, or heck, just to find the things that give us joy.
There’s too little joy in the world and we shouldn’t let some arbitrary rules of what’s good and what stinks keep us from that joy.