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"the rarest and most valuable kind of writer there is"

Thursday 4/23/20

Near the end of his life--he died at the age I currently am--F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked that he was the last of the writers for a long time now. I agreed with that line when I first saw it, and I knew I would be the first of something--whatever it was--when my time came. A re-starting of writers and reading, and a start of something else. Two different things, with overlap. Any fiction writer in the world right now--and I use the term loosely, not as Fitzgerald meant it, or I mean it--is going to fall into one of two camps. They are going to be a genre writer--that is, they are going to write romance, thrillers, mystery, horror, and that will be largely plot driven, there will be no depth, no rich characterization, little emotional content--or they will be so-called literary writers, which is what you see on here in the examples of awful writing I share.


I'm not a genre writer. I'm not a literary writer. You should never term what I write literary fiction. Even as I invent new modes of fiction, and innovate daily. I don't write literary fiction. Literary fiction isn't written to connect with you. Genre writing isn't written to have any real resonance with your life. No resonance at all, in fact. I'm what I call a connection writer. (And many other things, but that's one of them.) I write to connect with you. And I do it with the whole package--the story, the characters, the depth, the action, the voice, the musicality of the prose, the fearlessness, the probity, the overlap with your own life, the power of the emotion. There have not been very many writers in that category. When you are in that category, there is really no limit to your audience, to your demographic. Potentially. Allowing that you get a chance, some degree of fair play, exposure, coverage, if not a tiny push out into the light, well, then at least not shovelfuls of dirt over your head in a hole in an attempt to bury you so that the world can never see you or your work. I'm fending off shovels and dirt right now, in the blackest of nights. That's the reality of my situation at present. I refuse to just lay down in that hole and die in my midnight grave. And eventually--I will be out, I will be in the light, and I will be seen. This morning I completed a 3100 word essay on F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise a college novel in what is now the post-liberal arts age, and "Bernice Bobs Her Hair"--a story written by a man about a mid-teen girl--which are both marking their 100th anniversaries. It's a good piece. This is from the end of it.


***

In somewhat priggish fashion, Fitzgerald, at nineteen, had written a series of letters to his sister Annabel, then fourteen, instructing her on to behave with boys, how to be popular, things that Amory Blaine would care about but also not really care about. (Fitzgerald will do a sweeter, less overweening, more mature version of this later with his daughter Scottie, advising her about books to read to shape her soul.) The letters stuck with him more than with her, and I bet he must have looked them over in his mind later—his memory of them—and reflected on his own callow youth.


Say this for Fitzgerald—he aged very quickly, and I mean that in a good way. He acquired sagacity at a rate that someone like a Hemingway was never able to approach. Fitzgerald’s longtime foil couldn’t keep the life he lived and the work he made—with its straining, desperate machismo—separate. Fitzgerald the artist was always the perfect person to give someone like Fitzgerald the man advice. I just don’t know how much he took it.


Fitzgerald, starting with “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” after swimming through the chum—necessary chum—of This Side of Paradise, could maintain that distinction without sacrificing the emotional quality of his work. At times, he was the most emotionally powerful writer of the last century—think of “Winter Dreams,” “Basil and Cleopatra,” “Babylon Revisited,” the miraculous scrap called “Our April Letter” from his notebooks, those Crack-Up essays that caused Hemingway—clearly threatened by a level of courage beyond him—to all but call Fitzgerald a sissy. The failed Big Man on Campus became the wise owl in the trees, the bird understanding that departure—flight—and concomitant risk—so rare in academia—was integral to writerly growth


The object of that growth? Connection with readers. And the growth of every damn person that a writer really cares about, which is a whole lot of people, for the best writers.


Fitzgerald wasn’t a genre writer, he wasn’t a literary writer, he was what I call a connection writer, the rarest and most valuable kind of writer there is. You can’t measure that with any kind of degrees or cum laude citations. To give up the ghost of that which does not matter and is rubric, is to acquire the flesh, the pulse, that does, the purpose, the drive, the focus—the mastered originality, if you’re good enough to possess any to master, to tweak that earlier Fitzgerald line. That’s why even Fitzgerald’s earliest works, before he became a prose virtuoso, remain so resolutely alive. In the post-liberal arts age, they may well be more alive than ever, as you will find if you are wise enough to visit with them, or let them visit upon you.