Sometimes art is just for the sake of art. That is true. Yet the older I get, the more obnoxious that seems - and pointless.
The truth is, even if we do not consciously decide why we create something, there is still a reason. Something forced us to make that thing. Maybe it was fame. Maybe it was yearning for one more story about those manga characters. Maybe it was just because we wanted something fun to read. But good literature isn't derived from these.
The difference between artful literature and pulp is not just craftmanship. It is purpose. Why else would the Ray Bradburys of the world be so influential? Why else would the Asimovs get under our skin with their writing? It is because ideas were written in a new way that allowed us to engage them. I can think of numerous science fiction stories that still unsettle me because of their poignancy. And these are read in English classes across the country along with Tolstoy, Steinbeck, and Joyce.
This is the difference.
It is the difference between immortality and 15 seconds.
I am increasingly convinced of this as I move through various art forms. The more I ingest, the more I realize how much fluff is out there. Yes, many will ingest fluff. Fluff is necessary sometimes. But I don't want cotton candy any more. I want vitamins and minerals arranged in a way that leaves me with a pleasant after taste.
The problem with purposeful meaty prose is often it leaves me feeling torn open. I feel raw and unsettled so much that I actually hate the book. I hate it so much I may stop reading part way and never pick it up again.
That's just as awful.
So what is a writer to do? Well, I decided to do something along the lines of my favorite children's authors, L'Engel and Lewis. I let there be some fluff and fun in the books. There are even happy endings (mostly). But there are some real issues to discuss too. Just because something ends happily doesn't mean we can't talk about some difficult things along the way.
I hope this is the magical recipe. It is what I believe in, and I tend to stick to my guns. Give me a few more years and when classes start using excerpts to discuss tough issues, I'll know. Maybe Jeremiah will be an Uncle Tom's Cabin.