My readership is much better read than I am. I've had two people — Finn (di di) and Somebody post about the Last Camel issue. Clearly I need to do some reading. Thank you both for weighing in.
John Gardner's The Art of Fiction has been on my book shelf for at least five years.
Okay. Weird. Seconds after I typed that another anonymous Somebody posted a quote from that very book in the comments on my last post.
So. As I was saying.
I've had it for years. I tried to read it once, but I got annoyed with it early on and quit for reasons that I couldn't quite recall until last night. I have so many books on writing, many of which have been and will continue to be very valuable to me, but this one kept getting mentioned at the conference, so I figured I'd best pull it off the shelf. I decided that I will read this book, and I will blog about it.
I started it two nights ago. I got to page 'x' and remembered why I had put it down. It was this:
“Whatever is said here, whatever use it may be to others, is said for the elite; that is, for serious literary artists.”
Five years ago I think my internal dialogue went something like “Bite me.” Not so much, today. Today it produced a series of questions.
Is that what I want to be? A “serious literary artist?”
I'm not sure.
Who are my heroes? Who do I want to emulate? Those are easy questions to answer: Gaiman. Bradbury. Adams. Ellison. Card. They are, hands down, my heroes, the pinnacle of what I aspire to. But are they “serious literary artists?”
What leaps to mind is an episode of “Inside the Actor's Studio” with Mike Meyer. Do you remember it? He said something that changed my attitude toward every form of art there is, up to and including the art of fiction. He said (and forgive me if I paraphrase slightly due to my notoriously porous memory):
“There is no high art, there is no low art. There's just art.”
I think that I fundamentally agree with this position. It's “Austin Powers” vs. “Citizen Kane.” Arthur Dent vs. Jean Valjean. Michelangelo vs. Mark Ryden.
I do not think that Douglas Adams would normally be considered a serious literary artist, and perhaps neither would his forebear, P.G. Wodehouse. But in my view, comic art is no less important than “serious” art. Art of all kinds describes and reflects the human condition. Sometimes it pushes boundaries, sometimes it shines a spotlight on our darkest traits, and sometimes it makes the intolerable tolerable.
So what do I want to be?
I want to be competent. I want to have the skills required to tell the stories in my head and heart, whether or not they are considered “serious literary art” by anyone or not. Whether or not I am ever one of “the elite.”
I'm not closing the book this time. I am certain that I have much to learn from it. It's certainly got me thinking already. But I suspect that I am one of the “others” that Gardner mentions.
I'm comfortable with that.
So. What do you want to be?