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Monday, July 01, 2013

The Writing Life: To Pander or Not to Pander: That is the Question!

Must writer's pander to an increasingly illiterate audience?

Lucy Barfield
Too much of what passes for literature these days is made up of strings of naughty bits held together by slim ropes of dialogue, designed to appeal more to inflamed teenaged hormones than to any sort of intellect. I won't name names. They know who they are.

Reading such stuff makes me mad.  I know I'm being manipulated by the author; hurried along through pages of "action" with a hint of something hormonal about to happen.  Makes me tired.

Thankfully we still have some good writers about that do write things with some depth to them.  I think the cheesy stuff we see is a result more of pandering to an increasingly almost functionally illiterate crop of children than to a lack of will on the part of authors.  That doesn't mean there isn't an intelligent group of kids and young people out there who read stuff with meat on its bones.  J.K. Rowling proved that you don't have to lather your prose with sex in order to sell books. The big thing she did right with the Potter novels was to keep the kids as kids.  Of course, they grew up and formed relationships, but at least they weren't levitating in and out of each others' bedrooms all the time.  They behaved as children, not as hormone-ravaged sex-maniacs.  And the story had real depth to it.  Publishers were stunned that kids would force their parents to buy a two inch thick $25 hardcover book, much less read it cover to cover repeatedly and demand sequels.  

Occasionally I discover that someone likes a book that I treasure as well.  Most of the time they describe the book with the preface, "When I was little my Father (or Mother) used to read it to me...."  I read many of my favorite books like Caddie Woodlawn, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and the Chronicles of Narnia to my own children at bedtime night after night.  I hope one day they will read these stories to their own children.

The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time novels and even The Little Prince have depth to them and draw young readers even in this day and age where reading good books is increasingly spurned in favor of garbled text messaging with other semi-literates.  The ability to self-publish these days, however, will hopefully bring more intelligent books to out electronic bookshelves and we shall see some books that might never have passed muster for some New York book editor because it might sell a mere 20 or 30 thousand copies.  Such books, marketed as ebooks on Amazon, can make passable money for an author.  In addition it may allow readers to see authors in their natural state, writing what they really wanted to write rather than what someone thought would sell.  Who knows, there may be some real classics lurking there for us to discover.

To would-be authors of books for both young people and old people, I would refer you to the dedication from C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe".   I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand, a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather,  C.S. Lewis

You write not to this year's children, but to tomorrow's parents and grandparents.  Write what you love even if like Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell you only have one book in you.  Make it the best you can create.  We look forward to reading it.

Tom King © 2103

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