For this reason, he cautioned, "The true artist is never so lost in his imaginary world that he forgets the real world, where teenagers have a chemical propensity toward anguish, people between their thirties and forties have a tendency to get divorced, and people in their seventies have a tendency toward loneliness, poverty, self-pity, and sometimes anger. The true artist never chooses to be a bad physician. He gets his sense of worth and honor from his conviction that art is powerful--even bad art" (Gardner, The Art of Fiction, 201-202).
Writers' conferences, workshops, and blogs insist that we strive for commercial viability. Is our work marketable? Is it entertaining? But Gardner confronts us with a question even more insistent: Is our work encouraging?
Our readers may be caught in the gears of daily life, like Charlie Chaplin in "Modern Times." They read our stories to find respite from the pain; and yet, because we try to portray life as it really is, we run the risk of drawing them in deeper and making their pain acute. Even fatal.
I remember reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby in a high-school study hall. The book left me in such despair that I struggled with depression for months afteward and swore off reading novels for years. Great literature? Yes. Great reading for a teenager trying to find his way in the world? It certainly wasn't that for me.
The next novel I read four or five years later was The Bishop's Mantle, by Alice Sligh Turnbull. I suppose Turnbull will never be as well-known as Fitzgerald, and I'm sure her novel didn't sell as many copies, but God used it as a healing balm for my soul. Turnbull helped me to see that the world still had room for compassionate, sacrificial young men, and I could be one of them.
Joe Allison and his wife, Judy, live in Anderson IN, where Joe serves as Coordinator of Publishing for Church of God Ministries, Inc. Joe has several nonfiction books in print, including Swords and Whetstones: A Guide to Christian Bible Study Resources. He's currently writing a trilogy of Christian historical novels set in the Great Depression.
Visit Joe's blog at http://hoosierwriter.wordpress.com