"On Writing as a Fantasist" by Dave Wolverton (LONG)
Melissa at Proffitt.com
Sat Jan 22 17:13:53 EST 2000
Dave Wolverton is the author of many science fiction novels, including _On
My Way to Paradise_ and _The Courtship of Princess Leia_. Under a
pseudonym, he has begun publishing an epic fantasy series. This article was
written in 1995 and, according to Wolverton, is his attempt to describe the
postmodern literary movement as he saw it in 1985. It was published in
"Tangent Online" in Spring 1997. (I've added a few of my own comments here
and there, set off by asterisks, just because I'm that brash.--Melissa
"On Writing as a Fantasist"
by Dave Wolverton
I recently read in Tangent #17 James Gunn's response to a question by
Cynthia Ward. She asked about the dichotomy between mainstream literary
standards and those of science fiction and fantasy, and asked someone to
I respect Gunn's work a great deal, but I disagreed with his response,
partly because I began my writing career in the literary mainstream, made my
first money in that field, and eventually came to recognize that
fundamentally I disagreed with much of what was being done in that field.
There are differences between my approach to writing as a modern
fantasist (who makes no apologies for being a commercial writer) and the
approach taken by literary mainstream writers. The issues aren't trivial.
**Earmarks of the Literary Mainstream
Cynthia asked what the earmarks are of a mainstream story, and Gunn
responded by saying that its "distinguishing characteristic is that it has
no distinguishing genre characteristic."
This is of course what my professors taught me in English Lit 101. And it
is somewhat true. The Western genre is defined by its setting. The
romance and mystery genres are defined by the types of conflict the tales
will deal with.
Speculative fiction is sometimes defined by the fact that we as authors and
fans typically agree that nothing like the story that we tell has ever
happened--though one could well argue that speculative fiction isn't a
"genre" in the classical sense anyway.
But I contend that over the past 120 years, and particularly in the last 20
years, the literary mainstream has evolved into a genre with its own
earmarks. It is just as rigid in its strictures and just as narrow in its
accepted treatment of characters, conflicts and themes as any other genre.
The postmodern literary establishment grew out of the philosophies of
William Dean Howells (1837-1920), the "Father of Modern Realism," who was
an editor for The Atlantic Monthly from 1866-1876.
Howells claimed that authors had gone astray by being imitators of one
another rather than of nature. Rather than defining his proposed genre
based upon what it had, he merely proscribed a number of things. Here are
the earmarks of his genre.
1) He proscribed writing about "interesting" characters--such as famous
historical figures or creatures of myth.
2) He decried exotic settings--places such as Rome or Pompeii.
3) And he sought to limit the types of conflicts that authors dealt
with to "realistic" conflicts. He denounced tales that told of uncommon
He praised stories that dealt with the everyday, where "nobody murders or
debauches anybody else; there is no arson or pillage of any sort; there is
no ghost, or a ravening beast, or a hair-breadth escape, or a shipwreck, or
a monster of self-sacrifice, or a lady five thousand years old in the course
of the whole story." He denounced tales with sexual innuendo. He said that
instead he wanted to publish stories about the plight of the "common man,"
just living an ordinary existence. In short, Howells defined his new genre
by limiting the types of characters, settings, and conflicts that an author
can write about.
Because Howells was the editor of the largest and most powerful magazine
of the time (and because of its fabulous payment rates, a short story
sale to that magazine could support a writer for a year or two), his views
had a tremendous influence on American writers.
But as a writer of fantastic literature, I immediately have to question
Howells's dictates on a number of grounds.
Howells contended that good literature could only be written if we did
three things: 1) Restrict the kinds of settings we deal with. 2) Restrict
the kinds of characters we deal with. 3) Restrict the scope of conflicts we
Is he right? What evidence did he base his judgements on? Can no "good"
literature be written outside the scope of these dictates? What was the
basis of his reasoning?
The fact is that Howells himself never bothered to show his reasoning, nor
did he try to justify his stance. He merely set these principles down as if
they were personal taste.
Amazingly, regardless of the apparent lack of reasoning behind his dictates,
Howells's dictums form the nucleus of what is being taught today as "good"
literature in mainstream college literature courses. Good stories must be
contemporary, set in the locale that the author knows best, and must be
about everyday events. These dictums also provide the framework for nearly
all of what is published in the largest of the mainstream literary
magazines--the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly, and in the smaller
literary journals. If you don't believe it, simply read the magazines. Pick
out a hundred stories and see how many of them fly in the face of what I'm
Now, the realists have been so hide-bound in their views about what
constitutes great literature that the work of fantasists has generally been
overlooked--if not actively rejected--for well over a hundred years. How
many writers of science fiction or fantasy in America have won a major
award--say, a Pulitzer? (Answer, none.) How many American fantasists get
their work published in the New Yorker? (Answer: up through the
mid-eighties at least, the only fantasists that we saw were either Latin
American or foreign born.) How many American fantasists have teaching
positions at modern universities. (Answer: most universities have at
most one token fantasist on staff. This person is almost never a tenured
professor.) ****Melissa's Note: Brigham Young University has a tenured
professor whose doctoral work was a study of Tolkien's _The Lord of the
Rings_. He is, however, considered too valuable a resource in other ways to
spend any time teaching about fantasy, despite the very high student
response whenever his "Christian Fantasy" class is offered.**** How many
science fiction and fantasy novels receive critical attention from
reviewers? (Read the New Yorker's review columns, and you'd think that the
genre doesn't even exist.)
For decades novel of science fiction, fantasy, and horror were seldom
allowed to appear on the New York Times bestseller list, regardless of
how many copies such a novel actually sold. Why? Because in New York, the
work of fantasists wasn't considered literature. (The same can be said
for other genres. Romance, Westerns, mysteries--all forms of "genre"
literature were at one time considered beneath mention.) The principle
still holds true today. For example, no Star Wars novelization has hit
number one on the New York Times Bestseller even though the books outsold
three-to-one those novels that are listed as number one. I suspect that
romances generally sell much better than the list-makers would like to
(Author's Note: Many authors both in the mainstream and outside have
decried the injustices foisted upon the American public by the makers of the
NYT bestseller list. The list is supposedly constructed after polling some
800 bookstores (many of which are small bookstores that don't sell genre
fiction at all). However, the polling never actually takes place. The
list-makers actually base their list upon guestimates and wishful thinking.
Polls are then faxed to the bookstores with the weekly list, and the
"polled" stores are then invited to respond if they disagree. So the NYT
list doesn't seem to accurately reflect American tastes at all. The
list-makers in some cases will put a book on the list because they
anticipate that it will sell well, or because they hope to boost the sales
of a worthy title. Other lists have their own problems. For example, some
lists are built based on the number of books the publisher has shipped in an
effort to fill existing orders--not accurately reporting sales. The fact is
that any effort to build an accurate list is doomed to failure for various
reasons, which take too much time to go into here. My concern with the NYT
list is that it pretends to be something that it is not. It pretends to
gauge readers' tastes, when in fact it is merely a sales tool designed to
push the literary agenda of the list makers.)
****Melissa's Note: Things have changed since this article was written,
probably in response to the outrage Wolverton describes. Ironically, one of
the titles that has made it to the NYT #1 bestseller spot is _Star Wars,
Episode 1: The Phantom Menace_.
So the works of North American fantasists have been consistently passed over
for literary awards and publication in the mainstream magazines. Regardless
of how original the piece is, how moving, how insightful, how enervating, or
how beautiful, our own fantastic literature is considered incapable of being
the equal of mainstream literature.
For this reason, it's difficult to find a university in the United States
that teaches any kind of courses at all in fantastic literature (or any
other genre literature), yet students must study realism for hundreds and
thousands of hours. And in many--if not most--college writing classes
across the country, students are forbidden to write fantastic literature at
all. ****Melissa's Note: This happened in a creative writing course I
took, as I think I've mentioned before. The teacher didn't say "fantasy is
bad," and was apologetic about not understanding the genre well enough to
feel comfortable critiquing such stories. However, his reaction confirmed
the premise that most writers look at "mainstream" fiction as the only one
worth learning about.****
But Howells's limiting dictates don't describe the worst aspects of the
realist movement, which served as a precursor for our own postmodern
**Realism and Elitism
The realist movement quickly developed a trend toward elitism, gaining a
certain snob appeal, that I find very distasteful.
Under the influence of Ezra Pound, for example, the Imagists began writing
in the early 1900s. Taking his cue from ancient Chinese monarchs, Pound
sought to capture the essence of a story in one or two concise, overpowering
images. Thus we end up with poems like this one by William Carlos Williams:
"The Red Wheelbarrow."
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
the white chickens.
Now, for those of you who have never heard that poem before, I beg you, what
does it mean? Please tell me. "So much depends upon" it. . . .
Of course you can't figure it out by studying the text. The clues aren't
there. This poem wasn't meant to be appreciated by common people. It was
only meant to be admire by a "elite"--those who were educated, those who had
learned the back story. (Williams was a doctor, and he wrote the poem one
morning after having treated a child who was near death. The red
wheelbarrow was her toy.) ****Melissa's Note: I didn't know this and I've
studied this poem.****
Similar elitism was touted as a higher art by James Joyce, who used voice
rather than image to astonish his readers. Practically no one today can even
understand, much less appreciate the ravings of Irish bar patrons in Joyce's
tales. One student who complained to Joyce that he had read his works and
didn't understand them was told, "You can only understand my works if you
spend your own lifetime studying mine."
Another type of elitist fiction was put forward by T.S. Eliot, whose
astonishingly powerful poems gained much of their strength only if you were
well-acquainted with English and Greek literature.
Now, I'm not saying that any of these authors are bad practitioners. Far
from it. I love their work dearly. Each author that I've mentioned has
some truly brilliant works, and it is worth educating yourself so that you
can enjoy them.
But the attitudes they engendered are, well . . . dismaying. Today, many
critics consider a work as being somehow poorly wrought if it doesn't have a
certain opacity. They worry that it's probably not good fiction if it can
easily be understood and enjoyed by, say, a thirteen-year-old.
But the realist movement didn't restrict itself to the attitudes I've
mentioned. It has some other dismaying facets.
**Realism and Amorality
Another argument began to evolve as early as the 1870s. Social Darwinists
began to decry "moralizing" in literature. They expressed the opinion that
since there is no god, then it must be true that there is no absolute good
or evil. Instead, the terms "good and evil" are mere artifacts and are only
relative terms defined by culture and circumstance.
The Social Darwinists attacked the moral writers of the 1800s. Now, it is
true that much of the fiction of the day was written to teach Johnny how to
be a good boy, but the reaction against such moralizing was extreme. It
came to the point where by the 1970s one was allowed to deal with very few
types of moral issues--and woe to the writer who sought to take a
traditional Christian stance when doing so.
So, in addition to restricting the characters, setting, and conflicts one
dealt with, as a postmodern writer, one also now had to be very careful not
to handle the wrong themes. One had to fear the very possibility that
somehow, inadvertently, moralizing might have crept into a story, tainting
it. However, it's important to remember that a politically correct writer
who is explicating an important theme--such as the degeneracy of American
society--isn't engaging in moralizing. Such a writer is only disseminating
truth, and must therefore be encouraged. Thus, we entered a scenario in the
postmodern era where the only "good moral writing" was one that shunned
traditional virtues, one that was in fact immoral.
The modern movement of the 1930s and 1940s took a further downturn when the
existentialists of that time put in their two cents. According to the
existentialists, life is meaningless. But stories in stories authors often
seek to discover meanings, to explicate themes, or to show that we can make
sense of the world. To do any of these, the existentialists contended, is
dreadfully wrong. The average person goes through his life, and events
happen in a totally random and haphazard way. Shit happens. To
intellectualize those events, to organize them into a cohesive whole and try
to make sense of them, to seek for cause and effect, was considered by the
existentialists to be a dishonest act. The artist who engages in this act
was accused of being the worst kind of liar.
And so, about that time, we see the dissolution of form in mainstream
iterature. The "slice-of-life stories" became popular. Virginia Woolf did
some beautiful work in this vein.
Other writers achieved similar effects by truncating stories, removing the
beginning or end to achieve a feeling of incompleteness, as Ernest Hemingway
did in his truncated story "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." In this story,
Hemingway cuts off the beginning of his tale, only hinting through tone that
his protagonist has just heard bad news (his son was killed in the war). He
then also cuts off the ending of the tale (in which the protagonist goes
home to hang himself).
So, by the time that the late seventies and eighties rolled around, a
postmodern writer who wanted to write a story with a beginning, a middle,
and an end found it nearly impossible to break into the mainstream literary
markets. Such work depended too much on "formula" for effect. There were
some exceptions to this rule. Older writers who had achieved notoriety
before the sixties could still publish stories under some kind of
grandfather clause. For example, the New Yorker has a policy of paying
annual stipends to some of the more noted authors so that they can exercise
a right of first refusal on any short stories written. It would seem rather
pointless to pay such a stipend to a writer for thirty years and then not
publish the formed stories that he submitted. In the same way, certain
foreign writers who were perhaps considered a bit more quaint and naive
could still publish formed fiction.
But all in all, you just couldn't sell a formed story to mainstream American
In the mid-eighties, I did a survey of stories from the New Yorker, from the
Atlantic Monthly, and from some of the smaller review magazines. I found
that of the thousands of stories published, virtually none had a detectable
**So What is Postmodern Literature Today?
Eventually, the attitudes and restrictions I've discussed all coagulated so
that the literary mainstream evolved into a genre all its own. While some
pundits still might claim that the literary mainstream "has no distinctive
genre elements," no single type of conflict or setting that must be included
in the literature, I contend that one can now easily define the mainstream
genre by what it excludes.
To some degree, this has been true since the 1870s. Remember Howells? He
defined his popular modern genre by excluding certain elements. But through
the process of accretion, the tales became more and more formulaic.
In the 1800s, Oscar Wilde looked at the fiction that Howells had published
and derided it as boring drivel. He called the tales "Teacup Tragedies,"
for it seemed that all of Howells' stories dealt with families who had to
deal with the tragedy of a broken heirloom teacup as it dashed into pieces
on the floor.
The mainstream short fiction of the 1980s was, in my opinion, no better.
Authors tried to incorporate disparate literary standards into a sellable
fiction, and so backed themselves into a corner.
By insisting that we write elitist fiction with powerful images, opacity,
and a distinctive poetic voice; by insisting that the tales lack form; by
limiting the types of characters, conflicts and settings; by favoring
political correctness over other types of honest questioning or exploration
of themes; and by insisting that tales lean toward existentialism rather
than some more affirmative world view; a very restrictive genre emerged.
Postmodernism became as completely formulaic to a well-trained practitioner
as any other literary genre is today.
Unable to explore setting, conflict, characters or themes in their fiction,
the mainstreamers wrote more and more eloquently about nothing at all.
Sit down and study three year's worth of 1980s fiction from the New Yorker,
and you will discover a remarkable number of very similar stories. These
were the bread and butter of the literary mainstream, and I'll call them
"Manhattan Angst" stories. They dealt with a person--often a literature
professor--who goes to a New Year's party in a big city and there meets an
old fling, a lost love. The height of comedy is attained when some woman
enters the party who is not properly dressed for the occasion. On returning
home, the meaninglessness of the protagonist's life is brought home as he
watches "dirty brown maple leaves swirling down to lie amongst the bones of
Pointless, derivative, vapid, tedious--much of the literature had all the
earmarks of every other lesser "genre." It became the equivalent of
literary novocaine, nothing at all like the exciting works of the 1920s.
About now, if you aren't familiar with literary mainstream works, you really
ought to be wondering, "Do such monstrosities as Wolverton describes really
exist? Or are they mere phantoms, the literary sasquatches of his
Let me give you a perfect example--or three. Since movies are the most
popular medium of storytelling in the twentieth century, I'll illustrate
my point with movies. However, you should also note that every movie I
mention here was based on a novel.
So, for my perfect example of this literary sasquatch, let's consider Il
Postino, The Postman, that was up for best foreign picture in the 1995
It was billed on its dust jacket as a romance and a comedy. It is neither.
It is existential and serious--literary mainstream in genre. Il Postino
tells the story of an Italian peasant who lives in a small fishing
community. In the first scene, two conflicts are brought up--the town
has no drinking water, and the young man gets seasick every time he gets on
his father's boat. Just then, the poet Pablo Neruda, a communist who is
exiled from his homeland, comes to live in the protagonist's village. This
means that Neruda will need to have someone deliver mail to him. Since
everyone else in the village is illiterate, the protagonist takes a job as a
part-time mailman. He tries to become Neruda's friend. But Neruda is
completely self-absorbed. When the postman falls in love with a fetching
woman in the village, he begins to steal Neruda's love poems and use them
to try to win the woman's heart. The woman's ugly aunt and the local priest
learn of the postman's attempt at seduction, and try to put a stop to it,
but the postman gets the girl to bed and then marries her. At the same
time, the water problem persists. The postman adopts Neruda's communist
sensibilities and makes the mistake of publicly criticizing his local
government representative. By now, it seems that Neruda and the postman
are good friends, but when Neruda is able to return to his homeland, he
quickly flees and quite literally never again thinks about either the
postman or the villagers. This is a terrible blow for the postman and
others who have attached great significance to Neruda's friendship. They
try, unsuccessfully, to lure Neruda back. Eventually, the postman comes
to terms with his loss and writes a poem in honor of Neruda. When he is
invited to recite the poem at a communist workers' rally, he is murdered by
Now, this could have been a tale that was "about" something. It could have
been a tale of friendship between two men--but Neruda is incapable of
friendship, and so the story fails on that level. It could have been a
romance--but the love interest, Beatrice, as a character is never rounded
out enough for us to really love her, and the postman meets, seduces and
marries her in thirty minutes. It could have been a comedy, but ultimately
the story is depressing. It could have been communist propaganda, but no
one ever takes communism very seriously, and in the end communism doesn't
ever offer a solution to the city's water problem--or any of its other
The story could have been many things, but in trying to avoid being about
any one thing, the film ends up being about nothing. Ultimately the message
of the movie is, "Life sucks, then the cops beat you to death, but if you're
lucky you get to screw a beautiful woman and write a poem no one will ever
The tale follows all of Howells's dictates. It limits the protagonist to
being a simple man, the conflicts to being minor (almost all of them handled
successfully within the film, each in a matter of moments), and the milieu
to being local (for Italy, of course).
The tale is elitist, with heightened language (the scenes with Neruda's
spontaneous outbursts of poetry are electrifying), gorgeous imagistic
scenery, and a plethora of literary allusions.
The tale skirts moral issues in a way that is typical for modern literature.
Indeed, the only two people concerned with morality are Beatrice's aunt and
the priest. These two caricatures--for we really can't classify such
shallow beings as characters--are presented as ugly (the aunt has a homely
exterior, the priest an ugly interior), simple-minded, and laughable.
(You'll find similar treatments in most literary genres today. Even in
fantasy, no religion is ever depicted as being good. Religious leaders
are immediately recognizable as "evil" cultists.)
The tale is existentialist in nature, pointing out that, ultimately, our
protagonist's life was meaningless. He dies for having written a poem that
no one ever hears.
Now, I know that one Italian film does not a genre make. So let me give
you the American version of the same tale: "Sophie's Choice"--writer screws
a beautiful woman who kills herself. Or how about "Bridges of Madison
County"--writer screws beautiful woman and dies. Or how about "Out of
Africa"--which proves that the writer can be a woman who screws a handsome
man who then dies (and also proves that some writers had modern literary
sensibilities well before the whole charade got tedious in the 1980s). I
could go on ad nauseam, but I think you get the picture. In Hollywood,
everyone knows that no one will go to watch a Manhattan Angst picture, so
the whole postmodern literary movement has been refined into what might
better be called the "Dead Lovers in Picturesque Settings" movement.
By following all of the mainstream writing proscriptions, you get gorgeous
cookie-cutter movies that are sure to be contenders for all of the top
Now, the realist, the modern, and the postmodern movements all had their
good points, and if the movements were merely boring, I'd have no quarrel
But my real concern with the whole realist literary movement and its
resulting postmodern spinoff is that it was founded on a lie.
William Dean Howells claimed to have been "tired" of reading fantastic
literature. But how did he formulate the proscriptions that led him to
define what "good" literature should be?
Did he look at the best of existing literature and derive his proscriptions
from that? Or through some vivid and overwhelming insight did he envision a
more fertile literary landscape?
No. He did neither. He never claimed to have done either.
Howells never did bother to put forward an objective argument when he
attacked the fantastic in literature. He said that he valued literature
that was true and honest, while he himself was being dishonest.
Any nitwit can point out that literature does not have to show the world
as it is in order to be true. Metaphor suffices.
Howells never presented an objective argument because he knew that he was
lying. The finest literature the world has ever known has almost always
been fantastic literature: Shakespeare's best works--"The Tempest,"
"Hamlet," and "Macbeth"--feature exaggerated characters from poorly
researched histories and are set in faraway lands. They feature ghosts
and monsters and witches. They feature powerful characters in
life-and-death conflicts. They feature everything that Howells decried.
Were they by any standard of Howell's day, or ours, bad? Boring? Weak?
What of Milton or Homer or Sophocles? Was their work in any way inferior to
that of other writers of their day?
On what grounds?
What rational basis did Howells have for trying to limit the scope of our
The answer is that he did have a rational basis. The truth is that Howells
was a socialist, and he was trying to encourage--nay, dare I say
bribe--other authors into writing propaganda for him. He wanted American
writers to tackle economic issues, much as he did in his own fine work, The
Rise of Silas Lapham. Howells's own literary vision attained full fruition
in the works of America's great socialist writer John Steinbeck.
Now, I don't have a bone to pick with the socialists. They deserve to have
their own literature, just like anyone else.
But my question is this: if Howells was indeed wrong--if fantastic
literature cannot be beautiful, true, and moving--why should we follow his
Howells didn't seek to understand how literature really worked; he tried
instead to make it serve his political agenda.
And what of the other proscriptions that now are hallmarks of postmodern
The elitists--Pound, Eliot, and Joyce--all made interesting discoveries, but
they practiced their art at a great price. Why should a fiction that is so
convoluted as to appeal to only two or three people be considered "superior"
to a fiction that appeals to millions?
Those who attack "moralizing" in fiction never seek to stop moralizing, only
to supplant it with their own propaganda.
The existentialists may believe that life is meaningless. Indeed, if you
believe that your life is meaningless, it probably will be. But does that
mean that art must also be meaningless?
As a modern fantasist, I find it difficult to conceive why anyone would want
to obscure the fact that there are cause-and-effect relationships in our
lives. Eat too much, and you'll get fat. Breathe vacuum, and you die.
The existentialists who shout "Stop making sense!" do so at a terrible
price. The fact is that we can make some sense of the world.
Literature allows us to share experience, to communicate, and to grow not
just as individuals, but as societies. Literature allows us to evolve.
Literature makes sense.
The Realists of the 1800s and their Postmodern spawn often say that their
goal is to "communicate their experience," to "show life as it is."
So what? How does that goal differ from the goal of the journalist or the
biographer? Even when you do try to show life as it is in fiction, it can't
be done. The realist agenda is futile. Every story is so much smaller than
life, so much a simplification, that no single writer can ever capture the
whole of life in all of his works combined, much less in a single story.
As for the argument against form--
It so happened that just about the time that artists began attacking
formalism in short stories, they also did the same with poetry.
Robert Frost responded by writing poems that were so artfully formed that
the form itself disappeared. He said that "Writing unrhymed poetry is like
playing tennis without a net." His point was that the artist who shuns form
gives himself permission to become lazy and, eventually, inept. More
importantly, he discards a valuable writing tool.
Unfortunately, we had no similar champion for formalism in the literary
mainstream, but I submit that the same principles apply to writing formed
stories as apply to writing formed poetry. One can do it oafishly and end
up writing literary doggerel. Or one can write beautifully, seamlessly, so
that no one ever even notices whether form lends power to your tale.
I recall after one class in modern American literature, our professor took
a survey of the class, trying to find out which of the tales we responded to
most positively. She had taken the same survey for years. Far and away,
the artfully formed stories were the best received (though no one else in my
class seemed to recognize the trend, and thought instead that perhaps Eudora
Welty was a more gifted author than the others).
As a fantasist, I reject realism as a literary movement. I'm offended by
the postmodern proscriptions that some of my writing professors crammed down
my throat in college. Their whole approach to writing was based on blind
acceptance of values that served as "defaults" for creating good literature
in the absence of any other more rational approach.
I insist that my literary tools come from honest observation of what works
in storytelling, rather than being derived from someone else's political
When I pick up a story, I don't particularly care if it is formed or
unformed, written to a wide audience or a narrow. I look for certain
qualities. Keeping in mind that any of my standards can successfully be
violated, here is how I value a story:
A story that fascinates is better than one that bores.
A story that is eloquent is better than the baboon howlings of the
A story that is profound, that transmits valuable insight, is better
than one that is pedestrian or that is opaque.
A story that speaks to many is better than one that speaks to few.
A story that is beautiful in form is better than one that is
inelegant, rambling or clumsy.
A story that transports me to another world or that transmits
experience is better than a story that leaves me sitting alone and troubled
in my reading chair.
A story that artfully moves me emotionally or intellectually is
better than one that leaves me emotionally or intellectually anesthetized.
If we are to have great art, it is important to recognize what makes great
The hodge-podge of literary "rules" that you learn in college will destroy
your writing if you make them your master and not your servant. As writers,
I believe we should study the mainstream. We should learn the works of the
best practitioners of our arts, study their craft. Seek to improve.
Now, I agree with Gunn that there aren't any editors in speculative fiction
who hold with all the tenets of the postmodern realists. At the same time,
there are those who hold with certain attitudes. More and more, I see
authors and editors trying to establish themselves as members of some cadre
of literary elite. Their work is increasingly enamored of postmodern
techniques and values, and therefore becomes correspondingly mundane.
Everyone deserves good literature--the old, the young, the fantasists, the
realists, the Republicans, the Communists, the Christians, the Wiccan--men,
women, and people of every nationality and color.
To define any one literature as the only possible "good" to the exclusion of
all others seems about as preposterous as trying to establish one flavor of
ice cream as "good" to the exclusion of all others.
I'm offended by anyone who says that art "Must be done my way."
The art of Steinbeck is great. The art of Shakespeare is great. One is a
realist. One is a fantasist. Maybe it's just a question of taste. But I
think it's more than that.
I like Shakespeare best.
To unsubscribe, email dwj-request at suberic.net with the body "unsubscribe".
Visit the archives at http://suberic.net/dwj/list/
More information about the Dwj