[Photograph produced by European Southern Observatory (ESO).]
Sometimes people decry a perceived lack of great modern writing the way old men in the corner coffee shop pine for the so-called good old days. I understand. I love the classics and literary fiction, a market which has declined. However, the emergence of new genres is inherently a logical reason for that decline. Lots of good writing exists today in a variety of genres, writing replete with subtle associations that do not hinder a story’s progression.
Symbolism involving nature and the cosmos particularly intrigues me because it paints such remarkably vivid scenes inextricably tied to our spiritual awareness. Rather than quelling the spirit, scientific discovery often demonstrates the improbability of the cosmos and life on Earth. The more we attempt to explain, the more questions we create. How can a planet like Corot-7b, for instance, exist? Based on what we know, it shouldn’t. In the words of astrophysicist Michelle Thaller, its presence is “impossible.” Yet, there it is—a hellish vision with an approximate mass four times that of Earth orbiting its star in only twenty hours. That’s orbiting, or a twenty-hour year, not rotating. How can such a large planet maintain such a close distance (1.6 million miles, or twenty-two times closer to its star than the much smaller Mercury is to our Sun)?
Perhaps there are forces at work we have yet to understand or may never understand during this life. We obviously lack answers to many things, but we should be excited about our new discoveries like the proposed Planet Nine—which is a virtual certainty based on a number of factors. It’s amazing to think we can theoretically look back to near the beginning of time but know so little about our own solar system and even our own planet. Can we even imagine what lurks in the ocean depths?
As mentioned, there is good writing out there. Various collections of award-winning short stories produced annually are sometimes great. The O. Henry/PEN collection is usually instructive and enjoyable, although I frankly don’t understand why certain entries are chosen. But that’s to be expected with rotating judges and the inherently subjective nature of literature. De gustibus non est disputandum. (There’s no accounting for taste.) Nonetheless, Goodreads and sites like that are useful for reading reviews and determining what’s most worthy of your time based on your personal interests.
I haven’t mentioned my own novels specifically yet because there can be no good writing without reading lots of great writing. My first novel is literary. There are lots of dead darlings (or lines that have been removed during editing) associated with that story because layers are the reason many of us write. Writing is how we explore both known and unknown worlds, probing both common and unexpected relationships to discover new truths while reaffirming—and sometimes invalidating—old ones. Three Rs (Reading, Writing, and Reasoning) push us forward. As John Irving wrote in The World According to Garp, “Garp discovered that when you are writing something, everything seems related to everything else.”
My second novel is a supernatural story about an unsettled man torn between, in the simplest terms, good and evil. Two pivotal events in the story are precipitated by lightning; one strike is supernatural and one is conventional. In all my writing, I’ve tried to avoid settling on random choices. Just as we sometimes sweat over a single word, attempting to write each chapter better than the next one, we don’t make any simple choices as driven writers. When we weave them together thoughtfully, seemingly inconsequential things like clothing, routines, hobbies, musical tastes, and on and on can reflect profound beliefs, values, desires, and even psychoses. Readers don’t need to see all the associations, but some will recognize them and be glad we made the effort.